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In Sox-Yankees rivalry, first base is now the focus

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  March 14, 2011 10:38 AM

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At its best, the rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees always has been able to reinvent itself, from Williams and DiMaggio to Fisk and Munson to Garciaparra and Jeter. And now, as the Yankees stroll into Fort Myers for a meaningless spring training game less than three weeks before Opening Day, the spotlight moves to first base.

Mark Teixeira vs. Adrian Gonzalez.

Whom would you rather have?

We all know the history here, though it runs deeper for Gonzalez and Teixeira than it does for anyone else now residing in Boston in New York. In so many ways, these two men have been hopelessly intertwined. Teixeira was in his rookie season with Texas when the Rangers acquired Gonzalez from the Florida Marlins in July 2003, a curious move given what we know now. Roughly two years after that deal, Gonzalez and his agent, John Boggs, requested that the Rangers trade Gonzalez, the player’s path to a major league career blocked by a man who rapidly ascended to a group of elite players in the game.

And so, prior to the 2006 season, the Rangers sent Gonzalez to San Diego.

Had the Rangers known then what we all know now, maybe Gonzalez never would have gone. Maybe Teixeira, who was intent on going to free agency in 2008, would have been the one to go. And so as it turned out, in the span of roughly 18 months, the Texas Rangers traded away both Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira, potentially prolific run producers who, starting this season, will be front and center when the Red Sox and Yankees begin a revival of the superpowers of April 8 at Fenway Park.

And none of that even begins to happened here, in Boston, with the highly publicized pursuit and failure that became the Teixeira negotiations in 2008.

Before we get into the finer points of this debate, let’s make something clear here: there is no wrong answer. Of the 30 teams in major league baseball, all of them would be happy with either Teixeira or Gonzalez at first base. The only thing we know for sure is that the Red Sox would not have Gonzalez had they closed the deal on Teixeira, whose decision to end up with the Yankees forever will be a hot point of debate.

No matter what Teixeira says publicly – so long as he is wearing a Yankees uniform, is he really going to come out publicly, with or without Scott Boras, and say that his preference was to be in Boston? – some of us (ahem) believe the Red Sox had a chance to close the Teixeira deal. And that they blew it. Even in a two-year period, the fallout from the Teixeira negotiations was considerable.

Think of it. Since Teixeira went to the Yankees, New York has won a World Series and Boston has not won a single playoff game. The Red Sox’ television ratings on NESN plummeted. To make up for that mistake, the Red Sox had to sacrifice elite prospects and sign Gonzalez (wink, wink) to a deal that will effectively pay him as much as they would have paid Teixeira.

All things being equal, some of us still would take Teixeira ahead of Gonzalez, though we admit that is akin to choosing between, say, Giselle Bundchen and Bridget Moynahan.

“[Gonzalez] is an all-around baseball player,” said former Padres general manager Kevin Towers, the man who acquired Gonzalez from the Rangers. “When I think of guys like Teixeira, he’s a great defender and a great hitter, too. Teixeira is a switch-hitter, which probably gives him a slight edge, and when it comes to being a team player Teixeira’s the whole package, too.”

So there you go. Slight edge. Joe D. played center field and Williams played left. Fisk had more power but Munson hit for a better average. Jeter was a better defender but Nomar had more power. You saw coffee, they say caw-fee.

In the last decade or so, the competition between the Red Sox and Yankees has reached incredible heights, one team driving the other’s moves and maneuvers. The Yankees got Mike Mussina and the Red Sox got Manny Ramirez. The Red Sox got Curt Schilling, the Yankees got Alex Rodriguez and then Randy Johnson. Boston later countered with Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Slightly more than two years ago, in perhaps the greatest free agent competition of all-time, the Yankees got Teixeira and reclaimed their place at the top of the baseball world, all at a time when the Red Sox showed signs of slippage.

With their return volley, the Red Sox got Adrian Gonzalez.

Over the next six years or so, is there any doubt where the focal point of this rivalry will rest?

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

5
The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
4
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
3
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
2
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
1
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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