Right now, Red Sox, Yanks are polar opposites
It was a celebration of the 100th birthday of Fenway Park, with all its history and mythology and tears. The Red Sox tried to bring back as many of the living who wore the uniform, even finding 85-year old Harley Hisner, who pitched one Major League game in his career, a 3-0 loss to the Yankees in which he pitched six innings, struck out Mickey Mantle twice and faced five Hall of Famers: Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize and Yogi Berra.
The celebration was elegant and a testament to New Englanders' time-honored ties to their reverence for where they came, hence who they are. In some ways, Hisner's anonymous walk from the center-field entrance to the infield grass emphasized the histories of the franchises; the five Hall of Famers he faced were a reminder that the Yankees have always been about stars, the Red Sox about Fenway Park and the generations that have been bonded by the park.
That Friday afternoon, Terry Francona received one of the loudest rounds of applause, for 2004 as well as 2007, and when the reality of the past two months of the Red Sox seasons set in, Bobby Valentine was booed, a sound Francona knew well. Since Sept. 1, the Boston starters are 6-20 with a 6.57 ERA and 11 quality starts, one of which was a superb six-inning, one-run performance by Felix Doubront in Saturday's game that turned from a 9-0 lead to a 15-9 defeat that re-awakened the nightmares of the Boston Massacre of September 1978, and the August five-game sweep by the Yankees that effectively put the 2006 season to bed.
If there had been a possibility of a raindrop on the Doppler radar anytime within 10 hours of the scheduled Sunday night game, Red Sox management would have called the game and regrouped from the celebration that turned into disgust. After Saturday's debacle, owner John Henry, general manager Ben Cherington and Valentine huddled in the manager's office with the door closed, with no explanation other than this is not Valentine's fault; it is what Henry rightfully called "a two-month problem," one in which the manager jumped into the seat riding shotgun down the avalanche.
As ever, the Red Sox returned to their life-and-death history -- "dramatic theatre" as Kevin Youkilis called it. While Cherington and Valentine tried to reassemble a team that has nearly $70 million on the disabled list, a bullpen on high fire-danger alert and assessments being made on the comebacks of key players like Youkilis and Clay Buchholz, the Yankees stepped out on the stage and reminded The Nation of two underrated norms:
1. They play the game hard and right. Scouts at Fenway for the weekend and general managers who watched the 28 hours all talked about how Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson and almost every Yankee busts it every day. Maybe this is the "Jeter effect" that Don Mattingly discussed with Matt Kemp -- how when a team's face player plays the hardest, it impacts everyone else -- or maybe it's just this generation's embrace of the pinstripes, payroll or no payroll.
2. They are really good. Almost three weeks into the season, the underlying notion is that the Texas Rangers are the best team in the game, the separator being that the Texas pitching is deeper and more powerful than that of New York, where there are issues to be answered past CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, the latter of whom, incidentally, hasn't lost since last June 3. The Yankees left Fenway with a slight lead on the Rangers in runs per game, homers and OPS, but all that and October are months and injuries from being settled.
Watching the Yankees brings one back to the question raised by Buck Showalter: "Is it possible that when every one of their four infielders are retired, they will all end up in the Hall of Fame?" Jeter is a given, wherever he goes from his current 3,114 hits. No doubt.
So is Rodriguez. Save me the sanctimonious "cheater" incantation because he failed a drug test that was administered to determine whether or not there would be real testing; he's already at 631 home runs, 131 shy of the record held by Barry Bonds, he's a star whose past few years have been spent working through injuries, a star with few historic peers.
Then one turns to the right side of the infield. One can't claim that Robinson Cano is approaching his prime, because he's 29, but his career remains on an uphill plane. With the contracts recently signed by Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips, Cano seems assured of a long-term megadeal when his contract -- the Yankees hold an option for 2013 -- expires after next season. It will be a deal that will keep him in a stadium perfect for his left-handed power swing.
Cano has averaged 197 hits the past three seasons, his homers have progressed from 14 to close to 30 in his seven big league seasons and by the time he is 37 or 38, maybe playing first base, he could be eligible for Cooperstown with a .300-plus average, more than 2,500 hits, 300 homers and 2,000-plus RBIs.
Teixeira may be the biggest stretch. He is 32, but he is in exceptional condition, has altered his Yankee Stadium pull swing and could easily put together a six-year finish that could approach 500 homers with several Gold Gloves. His career 132 OPS+ is not historic; Dick Allen (156), Jeff Bagwell (149), Jim Thome (147), Lance Berkman (146) and John Kruk (133) surpass him, but he surpasses Tony Perez, Carl Yastrzemski and Dick Sisler.
This is the fourth season that Jeter, Rodriguez, Cano and Teixeira have been together in the Yankees infield. Think about where they may sit in history. The last time a team had three future Hall of Famers in its infield were the 1983 Phillies with Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez; actually, Perez played 69 games at first that season and the regular at the position was Pete Rose, who someday, somehow may still make it to Cooperstown.
There were some Giants teams in the 1920s with four Hall of Fame infielders, mostly thanks to the Veterans Committee. The most famous teams with three Hall of Fame infielders (to be included, one had to play at least 50 games in the infield) were the 1903-10 Cubs with Frank Chance, Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, and the 1938 Red Sox with Jimmie Foxx, Bobby Doerr and Joe Cronin.
Just thinking about the possibility of this Yankees infield all ending up in Cooperstown makes one appreciate what it is to watch them in 2012, and sometime, 10-15 years from now, realizing that we got to watch them play, play together and play as hard as they do.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.