Confrontation lies at the essence of baseball. Batter versus pitcher, American League versus National League, nachos versus peanuts. Competitive tension is good for the game and the box office. Baseball expects to sell more tickets this year than for any other season in its history, and in great part it can thank the simultaneous strength of its oldest and most rabid team rivalries in the Northeast (Red Sox--Yankees), the Midwest (Cardinals-Cubs) and the West (Dodgers-Giants).
As they are in talent and payroll, Boston and New York are a cut above the others when it comes to the temperature of their conflict. They do, however, have plenty of company.
1¬†- RED SOX VERSUS YANKEES Who's your granddaddy? This one's the crotchety old grandpa of them all. The fans don't like each other, the players don't like each other--this spring Trot Nixon called out Alex Rodriguez as a "clown"--and the owners don't like each other. They've met 52 times over the past two seasons, including two seven-game ALCS epics. (Boston holds a 27-25 lead.) Anybody up for 26 more this year?
2 - BARRY BONDS VERSUS THE WORLD The media are out to get him. The feds are out to get him. The alleged mistress is out to get him. Now he's out with a knee injury. Oh, well. There's always Sanford and Son reruns.
3 - STEROIDS VERSUS THE RECORD BOOK Now that so many players have made asterisks of themselves, do you believe what you just saw?
4 - ROGER CLEMENS VERSUS MIKE PIAZZA Wouldn't it be great if both retired after this year so they can go into the Hall of Fame together in 2010--kicking and screaming at each other?
5 - CHICAGO VERSUS CURSES With Boston's demons exorcised, the White Sox (87 years without a world championship) and the Cubs (96 years) make Chicago the official blues capital of the baseball world.
6 - STAT GEEKS VERSUS SCOUTS Baseball's holy war. Can pasty number crunchers who worship statistical analysis and leathery-necked, tobacco-spitting scouts just get along? Uh, no.
7 - LOS ANGELES (Angels) VERSUS LOS ANGELES (Dodgers) Angels owner Arte Moreno wants L.A.'s name, fans and TV market. The Dodgers, who haven't won a playoff series since Peter Ueberroth was commissioner, are ripe for the picking.
8 - PEDRO MARTINEZ VERSUS JORGE POSADA With the Red Sox, Martinez infamously yelled at the Yankees catcher in the '03 ALCS while pointing at his head. Posada and the Yankees took the gesture to mean Martinez was going to hit the catcher in the head with a pitch. Posada won't like Martinez any more now that the pitcher is a Met.
9 - MILTON BRADLEY VERSUS MILTON BRADLEY So far, when it comes to anger management, Milton Bradley is losing.
10 - DODGERS VERSUS GIANTS Just when the SoCal-NoCal rivalry couldn't get any hotter, Bonds's former sparring partner, Jeff Kent, signs with L.A.
11 - PETER ANGELOS VERSUS THE NATIONALS The Orioles' owner still hasn't cut a compensatory deal with MLB in the wake of the Nats' move to Washington, D.C.
12 - CUBS VERSUS CARDINALS Middle America's version of Red Sox-Yankees--without the need for riot gear.
13 - CUBS VERSUS SAMMY SOSA After a messy divorce Chicago thinks it's better off without its former captain, but the limo business in the windy city is already suffering.
14 - SCOTT BORAS VERSUS THE OWNERS A mismatch. The superagent so bamboozles owners that he no longer needs two teams to create a market--only one--as he proved again this winter by milking $75 million from the Tigers' Mike Ilitch for gimpy-kneed outfielder Magglio Ordo√±ez.
15 - OZZIE GUILLEN VERSUS BUCK SHOWALTER The feisty White Sox manager takes on all comers, none more spiritedly than the anal-retentive Rangers skipper, whom he derisively referred to last year as "the guy who invented baseball."
16 - ¬†MIKE SCIOSCIA VERSUS JOSE GUILLEN In the middle of a pennant race the Angels' manager suspended Guillen, a 100-RBI man, for insubordination. The rematch: Guillen's Nationals visit Anaheim on June 13, 14 and 15.
17 - RANDY JOHNSON VERSUS CURT SCHILLING The relationship between the former friends and Diamondbacks teammates has grown icy in recent years. The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry won't warm it up.
18 - VETERAN PITCHERS VERSUS QUESTEC Tom Glavine, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz are among those who have been roundly critical of the computerized video monitoring system used since 2003 to evaluate umpires' ball-strike calls.
19 - A.J. PIERZYNSKI VERSUS BRETT TOMKO The White Sox catcher and Giants clubhouse "cancer" (as one ex-teammate called him) paid teammate Joe Borchard a $100 bounty for homering this spring off Tomko, Pierzynski's ex-San Fran teammate. Said Tomko, "Once an ass, always an ass."
20 - CONGRESS VERSUS BASEBALL Smarmy politicians can't be trusted. So the lawmakers will keep an eye on them.
FIVE COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS
Illustrations by Barry Blitt