On Tuesday it was announced that former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis had agreed to a one-year contract with their historic hated rival New York Yankees. From the Yankees perspective, the signing makes perfect sense; since their incumbent slugging third baseman Alex Rodriguez will miss a portion of the season following hip surgery. For Boston Red Sox fans though, this move will likely be talked about all winter and even past the first encounter between these two teams on the field.
As can be expected, there will be those that wonder how a Red Sox player could possibly conceive playing for their team’s arch rival. Looking more closely, it was clear that Youkilis had worn out his welcome in Boston, at least in the eyes of team management. The belief that his skills have eroded made his trade to the White Sox last season acceptable to the team but not to the fans that cheered for the corner infielder.
So how should Youkilis be perceived by Red Sox fans going forward? There is a long list of players from the past that may give some indication of what to expect. In looking back at Red Sox history, there has been a total of 215 players how have played for Boston and New York. Beyond the famous selling of Babe Ruth to the Yankees following the 1918 season, here is a list of the most notable perceived “traitors” that changed their red stockings for pinstripes.
Before there was a Mariano Rivera, there was Sparky Lyle.
After five solid seasons for the Red Sox; where he would win 22 games and save an additional 69 others, Lyle would depart the Red Sox prior to the 1972 season and proceed to play a pivotal role for the Yankees for seven seasons. While with the Yankees, Lyle would become one of baseball’s best closers of his time, winning 57 games while saving 141 more.
The highlight of the three-time (all with New York) all-star’s career was winning the Cy Young award in 1977 while with the World Series champion Yankees. After being one of the Red Sox’s great early closers, his production with the Yankees made the role of closer even more prominent. When many baseball fans look at Lyle, on the surface they likely see him in a Yankee uniform and not donning a cap with a “B” on it. For die hard Red Sox fans, that alone makes his move to New York even more bothersome.
One of the images that ignite the ire of Red Sox Nation was the sight of Wade Boggs riding a police horse upon the team’s 1996 World Series title. After playing 11 glorious seasons in Boston; where he earned the reputation of being one of baseball’s purest hitters, Boggs would proceed to play five additional years with the Yankees; not with the same plate excellence that saw Boggs compile a .338 career average with Boston, including seven straight 200-hit seasons and five batting titles.
While hitting above .300 in four of his five seasons with the Yankees, the production put forth during his time in Boston was what contributed to his 1999 Hall of Fame enshrinement. The “chicken man” based on his pre-game ritual of eating chicken before every game, the highly superstitious Boggs will be known more for his play in Boston than that of New York; which as a Red Sox fan gives me a small measure of satisfaction.
After playing a pivotal role in the Red Sox reversal of the 86 year “Curse of the Bambino”, Johnny Damon would end his Red Sox tenure in 2005. In his autobiography, Damon was clear in his severe dislike for his three-hour neighbor to the south; stating that he would never play for the Yankees.
To the chagrin of Red Sox Nation, Damon would defect the Red Sox following the 2005 season and sign with the aforementioned hated rival. Making matters worse, Damon agreed to cut his trademark long hair and shave his caveman-like beard to adhere to New York’s grooming standards. It was Damon’s looks which added visual symbol of his era’s Red Sox “idiots” persona. The short hair and clean-cut face did little to mask the image of Boston’s latest traitor; booing Damon early and often upon his return to Boston.
While Damon will find difficulty proving to be Hall of Fame worthy, his contributions to the Red Sox 2004 World Series will provide him a small pass from some critical Red Sox fans. While 2004 will alter his place in Rex Sox lore, his defection will always serve as an asterisk on an otherwise solid professional career.
Currently one of baseball’s most polarizing and controversial figures; Clemens built his Hall of Fame resume while toeing the rubber at Fenway Park; winning 192 games and striking out 2,590 during his 13-year tenure.
Approaching the end of his time in Boston, team management began to express their concern that Clemens had approached the decline in his skills and would not be worthy of a long-term contractual commitment. To the displeasure of Red Sox fans, Clemens would initially defect to the Toronto Blue Jays; where he would win consecutive Cy young awards and re-establish himself as one of baseball’s best hurlers.
After his two seasons in Toronto, Clemens would be traded to the Yankees, where he would win 83 more games, including his sixth Cy Young award. A small measure of satisfaction was gleaned by Red Sox Nation when the Yankees would lose the 2001 World Series in Clemens’ best season in pinstripes.
Today, much is speculated relative to his use of performance enhancing drugs; including when he began that use. The common belief among many is that his performance resurgence while with the Blue Jays was attributed to his begun usage of the banned substances.
Over 24 seasons, Clemens would win 354 games, good for ninth all time. Currently and for years to come, Clemens’ hall of fame worth will be debated based on his believed PED usage. For me, I will look at his Boston tenure with a measure of optimism that at least his time with the Red Sox was done cleanly. Despite that fact, Clemens’ embrace of the Yankee culture will forever tarnish his accomplishments, over and above what he may have injected or ingested.
What do the aforementioned former Red Sox players have in common? Among the 215 players who have shared wearing both uniforms, these players continued to play at a high level or reached individual or team accomplishments after leaving Boston. For this reason alone, their greatness while playing for the Red Sox will always have a tint of tarnish on what they achieved during their playing days.
Each of the players mentioned only reflect a small sample of those that have had the distinction of playing for two of baseball’s quintessential franchises.
Scott Duhaime is a Boston Red Sox fan for over 30 years; following the team’s highs and lows culminating with two World Series titles in the 2000s
Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime
Baseball-Reference: Players who have played for both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees