The Red Sox-Yankees Rivalry Turns Violent and Even Deadly

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Here is an article I wrote this spring for my Research and Methods graduate course at Northeastern.  Not as witty as my Big Lead work, but proof I can write in journalistic style.  Enjoy.

Charles Hillios joined a bus trip of friends to Yankee Stadium on Aug. 29, 2007 to watch his beloved Boston Red Sox play the Yankees. With the two teams battling on top of the American League East, Hillios expected a figurative fight on the field. The Chicopee native never thought he would face a literal fight off it.

A pair of Yankees fans heckled Hillios and his party of Boston supporters. “Two individuals were just being idiots and they kept going on and on about it,” Hillios said in an interview. “Security came up and told them to cut it out before you guys get thrown out. They calmed down a little bit.”

The two fans, Shawn Sellick and Daniel Benjamin, however, were not finished with Hillios. They followed him from his seat and attacked him. “A couple innings later, I went to the refreshment stand, and then I got kind of jumped,” Hillios said.

Benjamin threw Hillios to the ground and squeezed his neck, while Sellick kicked him in multiple areas of his body. The attack caused Hillios serious facial injuries. “I’m about to have my third eye surgery,” Hillios said. “I just had my second eye surgery last month and I go next month for another surgery. They’re still repairing my eye.”

The well-known and historic rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees inspires passion in both fan bases. Given the right people, the right environment and the right set of disinhibitors, that passion can explode into violence. The violence can be individual, such as in the Hillios case, or collective, such as the rioting on a college campus. It can range from common assault, to serious injury and even death.

“The whole word fan is short for fanatic,” said Edward Hirt, professor of social psychology at Indiana University. “The term itself refers to people who are really invested in their team. They put an emotional link to their association with that team to the point where they could do really random things.”

Red Sox fans can be equally violent. In March 2008, a group of them attacked a 23-year-old man wearing a Yankees’ cap outside the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge.

Bar patrons confronted the victim and his girlfriend about the Yankees’ cap. As the couple left for home, four men followed, attacking the victim in the street. The group threw him to the ground, kicking him incessantly. He was hospitalized with facial cuts and swelling.

Both the Red Sox and Yankees have cosmopolitan fan bases, so such incidents are not confined to the Northeast.

For example, on July 3, 2006, two rival fans fought in the Grand Avenue Bar & Grill in Carlsbad, Calif.

Red Sox fan David Sanborn and two other men, taunted Brooklyn-native Mario Melendez with a vulgar version of “Let’s Go Yankees.” Sanborn, who had been at the bar for at least five hours, challenged Melendez to a fight, before sucker punching him. Melendez landed one punch on Sanborn, injuring his hand before onlookers broke up the fight.

The teams were not playing each other at the time.

A subsequent civil case, resolved last May, ordered Sanborn to pay $15,267 of Melendez’ medical costs from his injured hand, as well as $10,000 in punitive damages.

These individual altercations between rival fans turned deadly, when a Yankees fan killed a Red Sox fan in an incident outside a bar in Nashua, N.H. in May 2008.

Ivonne Hernandez, 43, fought with another woman outside Slade’s Food & Spirits in Nashua. When she was driving away, the assembled crowd noticed a Yankees’ bumper sticker on the back of her Dodge Intrepid and chanted, “Yankees suck!”

Hernandez, who had been drinking, drove her car 200 feet straight into the crowd without braking. Her car struck 29-year-old Matthew Beaudoin of Nashua, who died of head trauma shortly after. Hernandez was charged with reckless conduct, aggravated drunken driving and second-degree murder.

Along with individual outbursts, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has inspired dangerous collective violence as well.

The University of Massachusetts in Amherst experienced a wave of rivalry-related riots in October 2003, when Boston and New York met in the A.L.C.S. Thousands of participants, not all of them students, flipped cars, threw lit firecrackers into the crowd and caused as much as $20,000 damage in one night.

“It sort of snowballed,” said Dan Lamothe, who witnessed the riots as a student. “You had every single police officer for both the local town and the university on duty, and every single night you had to gear up for riot duty.”

The mob mentality of the uncontrolled crowd proved infectious, inspiring one man into a life-threatening leap from the top of a campus building.

“There had to be 3,000 people in one little quad, wall to wall people,” Lamothe said. “You have this guy that’s up on the roof of the dining hall. It’s a solid 15 to 20 foot drop. He’s on the edge and he’s obviously been drinking by the way he’s staggering around. Numerous cops below him in riot gear. The crowd started up with a ‘jump, jump, jump’ chant and sure as hell that guy decided it was a good idea.”

The intensification of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry off the field, resulting in violence and even death, may stem from the teams’ greatness on the field. “A lot of (rivalries) evoke from success,” Hirt said. “They are the most salient type of rivals.”

The Red Sox have become arguably baseball’s most successful franchise in recent years. Since 2003, the Boston team has made five playoff appearances, appeared in the American League Championship Series four times, and won two World Series championships.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have maintained their excellence, appearing in seven out of eight playoffs and two World Series since 2000.

The ascendant Red Sox and Yankees battle for the A.L. East division nearly every season. Baseball’s unbalanced schedule, implemented in 2001, has the teams playing 19 times during the regular season. The teams also have a high probability of meeting each other in the playoffs, upping the potential confrontations to 26.

When the teams don’t square off, local and national media stoke the rivalry’s fire, to the point where Pardon the Interruption host and Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon expresses his disgust at routinely discussing “The Yanks and the Sawx.”

Fueled by mutual success and a media barrage, both Red Sox and Yankees fans have seen fan tension escalate in recent years.

For Red Sox fans, the rivalry seemed to heat up toward the turn of the century. “It definitely has intensified going back at least to 1999, when they met in the A.L.C.S.,” said Lamothe, who also writes for the blog Red Sox Monster. “It’s really picked up since then. It’s sort of an arms race scenario.”

Joe Pawlikowski, of the Yankees’ website River Ave. Blues, believes the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 may have been the tipping point for New York fans.

“The definition of a rivalry is two sides competing,” Pawlikowski said. “There was no reason to chant ‘Red Sox Suck’ every time someone came up the aisle in a Red Sox hat. He knew he sucked. But, now that they’ve started winning, Yankees fans have become a lot less secure.”

The rivalry has caused Red Sox and Yankees fans to fixate on each other, even when playing different teams. “People are hyped up by the Red Sox when they aren’t even in town,” Pawlikowski said. “I’ll notice a lot more people at non-Red Sox games chanting ‘Sox Suck.”

Fans even get heated about it at unrelated events. “I remember being at a concert in Northampton,” Lamothe said. “Somebody on the stage mentioned the Red Sox and the crowd immediately launched into a ‘Yankees Suck’ chant. You could just see the confusion on the band members’ faces.”

Fixation naturally leads to demonization of the other group. “We imbibe them with a lot of unlikeable characteristics that we can make them an enemy,” Hirt, of Indiana University, said. “I think it has a lot of analogies to wartime. The whole propaganda thing is to hate the enemy and think of them as less than human.”

This demonization often leads to insults, which are taken personally. “We really feel a sense of affront, of people disrespecting us if they challenge our team,” Hirt said. “People get so intense and they will lash out because it’s basically self-protection on their part.”

Competition between fans of the Red Sox and Yankees creates an emotionally fraught powder keg. “It becomes a game of chicken,” Hirt said. “I can’t back down from a challenge. Someone wants to fight you or somebody wants to call you names, you can’t back down from that in front of people.”

Red Sox and Yankees fans seem destined to continue in shared animosity, but the one thing most fans can agree on is the senselessness of the aforementioned violence. “People need to get a grip about sports,” Lamothe said.

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