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Dan Shaughnessy

Empire has a new voice

Email|Print| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 1, 2008

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Camp Tranquility is a fine place when you are defending champions with a glut of talent and a dearth of questions and controversy.

But there's been something missing in Red Sox Nation . . . no threat from the Bronx.

Entitled Sox fans have virtually forgotten about the hated Pinstripers. It's been months since a hearty "Yankees Suck" chant broke out at a New England wedding or bar mitzvah. And in Tampa, the hound-dog Yankees now acknowledge they are the ones doing the chasing.

It's just too easy. Too calm. No fun.

Which brings us to Hank Steinbrenner, son of Czar George, and apparently a rightful heir to Blusterdom.

Here's what Hammerin' Hank says at the end of a lengthy profile that will run in tomorrow's New York Times Magazine:

"Red Sox Nation? What a bunch of [expletive] that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America and you won't see Red Sox hats and jackets. You'll see Yankees hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We're going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order."

Wow. Welcome back to the fight, Mr. Steinbrenner. This is reminiscent of the good old days when your dad regularly lobbed verbal grenades at the feet of Boston baseball fans.

Red Sox owner John Henry, responding by e-mail to Steinbrenner's comment, wrote: "A wise man once said, 'Don't poke the bear!' "

And Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino - no stranger to pie tossing with the Yankees - cackled when he heard the statement.

"I don't deny there are Yankee fans everywhere," said Lucchino. "But it's blind of him not to see the phenomenon that is Red Sox Nation. I expect he will become more aware of the passion and breadth of Red Sox Nation as long as he is actively involved in baseball. I do appreciate that he has picked up on the Star Wars metaphor, though. He said he was happy to be Darth Vader and we are happy to be the Rebel Alliance."

Red Sox-Yankees Star Wars started when the Yankees stole Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras out from under the Sox' noses in Nicaragua in December 2002. Theo Epstein, who had been Boston general manager for only a month, allegedly trashed his room at Hotel Campo Real when the Sox lost Contreras.

"The Evil Empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America," said Lucchino, when contacted by the Times.

Lucchino's comment was the Red Sox-Yankees equivalent of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and triggered a double-barreled return blast from George Steinbrenner. Things stayed that way for several years and at one point, commissioner Bud Selig asked the boys to knock it off. Sadly, Yankee resistance dwindled as Steinbrenner grew old and the Yankees' championship drought stretched into its seventh autumn.

Now there's new life, new blood. Hank is definitely going to be good for the rivalry. Tomorrow's exhaustive piece (written by Jonathan Mahler of "The Bronx is Burning" fame) paints him as just the kind of guy who can throw some fuel on the feud. We all know it's been too many years since King George lost his fastball.

The Boss's son got off to a rocking start a few weeks ago when he came to the defense of HGH-using Andy Pettitte, telling the New York Post, "I don't think they would want to be hollering too loud at Andy up in Fenway. They [the Red Sox] had plenty of players doing that stuff, too. It's just that those players weren't mentioned in the Mitchell Report. That's my biggest problem with the Mitchell Report . . . "

Hank's not-so-thinly-veiled remark is a broadside at the SS Red Sox, which still features the name of former Senator George Mitchell on the company masthead. Mitchell is listed as "director" of the Red Sox. His is the sixth name from the top, directly below Lucchino's. It's a hideous conflict, recklessly allowed by Mitchell, the Sox, and Selig. Hank, God bless him, wasn't afraid to call the Sox on it.

Lucchino was not amused when reminded of Hank's steroid scandal salvo.

"I don't think there's any point to be made reacting to comments of the Yankees that I thought were gratuitous and reckless accusations," said Lucchino.

In our quest for fairness, we checked with Vince Doria, ESPN's senior vice president and director of news, and asked what he thought about Hank's accusation that the all-sports network is populated by Red Sox fans.

Doria, who served as sports editor of the Globe for 10 years, said, "My e-mail from viewers indicates that a lot of people out there think we favor the Yankees over the Red Sox. I'd say beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Having Hank on board is certainly a beautiful thing. The torch has been passed to a new generation of Steinbrenners. The line in the Florida sand has been redrawn.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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