After Thursday’s interfaith memorial service for victims of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino walked out of an old church, his ears ringing with the echo of America the Beautiful , performed by a choir.
But another song was on his mind as he spoke with CNN. Lucchino mentioned Sweet Caroline , the unofficial Red Sox theme played by the New York Yankees and several other major-league baseball clubs on Tuesday in empathy with their Boston rivals.
“It was almost surreal,” Luccino said. “I have tremendous fond feelings for my colleagues in baseball and particularly for the Yankees, reaching out as they did. It may not seem like much of a gesture. But to us folks ... it meant a great deal.”
Three spectators died Monday afternoon and more than 100 were injured when two bombs exploded near the finish line of a world-class sports event that is loved as much as a joyous civic festival as for its elite participants.
The blasts came a few blocks from Fenway Park, where fans sing that old Neil Diamond hit every eighth inning. This moment of solidarity underscored the role of music in groups, the healing power of sports during crisis and the mixed bond between fans of Boston and New York, the Athens and Sparta of the East Coast since colonial times.
Fans in both towns nurse long-standing grudges in every sport and sometimes claim to hate each other. Kevin Youkilis, a first-year Yankee who played nine years for the Red Sox, called the playing of the song “a great tribute” after a tragic event and a chance to recalibrate perspective. “The players don’t hate each other,” he said. “The fans shouldn’t either. Keep things civil. Take a step back and consider. In the scheme of life, sports are important, but only so important.”
Perhaps players don’t hate, but sometimes they get very angry. Such a scene took place in January when the New York Knicks played host to the Boston Celtics, two teams that will renew a historic rivalry when they begin a first-round NBA playoff series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
In January, superstar Carmelo Anthony of New York tried to confront Boston’s Kevin Garnett after the game near the Celtics’ dressing room and outside Madison Square Garden by the Celtics’ bus.
Later reports indicated that Garnett enraged Anthony by telling Anthony that Anthony’s wife, La La, tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios. Them’s fightin’ words, for sure, but much in tune with what goes in the sports rivalries of the two cities.
In baseball, hostile moments between the Red Sox and the Yankees have involved Youkilis. Beginning in 2007, Yankees’ pitcher Joba Chamberlain developed the habit of throwing hard pitches near the head of Youkilis, who once had to be restrained from charging the mound.
A more ludicrous scene came in the 2003 playoffs when Don Zimmer, the 72-year-old Yankees’ coach and former Red Sox manager, charged from the dugout during a larger brawl and tried to slug Pedro Martinez, a 31-year-old Red Sox pitcher who threw the senior coach to the ground.
But even that incident lacked the visual absurdity of Dec. 23, 1979, when the Bruins climbed over the glass and into the stands at Madison Square Garden after a victory over the Rangers.
A Rangers’ fan had bloodied a Bruin, Stan Jonathan, with a rolled-up program and stolen his stick. Among those entering the seats without a ticket was Mike Milbury, then a Boston defenceman, who pulled a shoe from the foot of the stick-wielding fan and beat him with it (the shoe, not the stick) before throwing the shoe onto the ice.
And New Yorkers recall with ire the machinations of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. In 1999, he quit as head coach of the Jets after just one day on the job to take over the Pats. The Jets protested and got a first-round draft choice as compensation and the Patriots got very, very good. The Jets? Not so much. But in the past five years, Belichick’s Patriots have met New York’s Giants twice in the Super Bowl and New York won both.
These sports rivalries were set aside the day after the marathon bombing when Yankees’ communications director Jason Zillo suggested playing the song in their Bronx ball park.