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Original Issue

Bitter Rivalry 101

A survival guide to the slew of Red Sox and Yankees books

BOOKS ON the Red Sox--Yankees feud have been popping up like hordes of gerbils lately. And like gerbils, their appeal lies mostly in the eye of the beholder. A Sox fan might consider a gerbil an adorable little critter, while a Yanks fan might see a mutated rat. This guide will help fans of all stripes distinguish the pets from the vermin.

By Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King
Scribner, 403 pages, $26

Bruce Springsteen fans know that nothing turns stale faster than stories of glory days. Even the most skillful retellings of the 2004 American League pennant race--Dan Shaughnessy's Reversing the Curse (Houghton Mifflin, 256 pages, $23), which offers many new details, and Mike Vacaro's Emperors and Idiots (Doubleday, 351 pages, $24.95), which ambitiously tries to put the whole thing in historical perspective--can't overcome the essential problem: Every reader already knows how the story ends. It takes a master storyteller, or better yet, two, to make a familiar story fresh. And by a stroke of remarkable fortune, novelists King and O'Nan chose 2004 to collaborate on a book about what King calls their "addiction" to the Red Sox.

King is a moody fan--he swears like a gangsta rapper in some of his e-mails, then gives way to macabre ruminations on, say, the death of his friend Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist, who rooted for both the Red Sox and the Yankees. "Maybe," writes King, "that was what killed him." O'Nan is more fun-loving. For instance, when Fox TV mikes a Red Sox player, O'Nan yells from the stands, "Rupert Murdoch sucks!" at every opportunity, hoping it will be picked up on the broadcast. Only one event challenges his descriptive gifts: beating the Yankees. "Gloating," he writes, "is such an ugly word for this creamy and delicious feeling."

By Leigh Montville
Public Affairs, 182 pages, $22.95

The best baseball stories are only nominally about sports. Montville commences with a story about a Sox-loving yoga instructor who travels to India and pays a shaman 15,000 rupees to remove the Curse of the Bambino with a sacred bone. Dozens of crisply told stories later, Montville ends with a whopper about himself: After the Red Sox' victory, the former SI writer celebrates by flapping his arms, taking flight and soaring over Boston Harbor. Don't believe it? "If the Red Sox can win the World Series," Montville insists, "then I surely can fly."

By Robert Sullivan
Emmis Books, 186 pages, $18.95

Raised not far from Massachusetts's Merrimack River, Robert Sullivan absorbed New England's history, literary traditions and, of course, the Fenway Park experience. But now, as an editor at Life magazine, he lives in a suburb of New York City. "How," he asks his wife, "do we bring up the kids to be New Englanders?" The answer: Hook 'em on the Red Sox. Sullivan's first trip to the ballpark with his young daughter Caroline, in 2001, begins perfectly. As they walk to the park, Caroline excitedly coos, "Pedro?" But their idyll turns nightmarish when Caroline is struck in the head by a foul ball. The incident puts Sullivan in a unique frame of mind (though he never loses his estimable sense of humor), and his memoir of the 2004 season is exceptional. The highlight may have been the card he got from Caroline during the playoffs: New York Yankees Stink. Red Sox Rock ... Happy Birthday.

By Johnny Damon
Crown, 258 pages, $24

Damon writes like Shaq shoots free throws. He's obviously a nice guy, but evidently his off-field life is not terribly interesting. He and his wife, Michelle, get "cra-zee" by tossing water balloons and pumpkins off hotel balconies. Damon admired A's third baseman Eric Chavez "for the way he wore his pants." And that shaggy 'do? "Hey, what can I say?" Johnny writes. "I'm just blessed with good hair." Of course, a book of this sort is not meant to be read. It's meant to be handed to Johnny so he can sign it. In this sense Idiot is a damn-near-perfect book.

By Jim Gerard
Chamberlain, 197 pages, $9.95

Jealousy, according to Shakespeare, is a green-eyed monster that mocks "the meat it feeds on." He meant that Red Sox fans who scream, "Yankees suck!" succeed only in making themselves look like ... well, idiots. In the same spirit, this unfunny compendium of envy and spite ranges from the vicious to the inane. For instance, Gerard argues that David Wells's boorishness is one reason the Yankees suck, which raises the question: Since Wells now toils for Boston, do the Red Sox suck too?

By Matthew McGough
Doubleday, 240 pages, $22.95

It's not just about the bats! It's also about buffing the spikes, arranging the cold cuts and making a potato cannon with Matt Nokes. And yet there's a disarming innocence about Bat Boy that makes it fun to read. The author assumes so earnestly that someone will care about his experiences as a Yankees batboy that you find yourself wanting to be that person. And why not? The Red Sox are world champs, Leigh Montville can fly--anything is possible! ■