Emperors & Idiots
by Mike Vaccaro
The sale of Babe Ruth. Bill Buckner’s infamous grounder. The dreaded curse. The Red Sox winning the World Series. The Yankees winning 37 pennants in between the last two Red Sox World Series wins. These and so much more are what Mike Vaccaro covers in Emperors and Idiots. The difference between this and the hundreds of other books written about the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry is that this one is totally unbiased. Vaccaro interviews dozens of current and former players from both teams and you better believe that the war of words hasn’t come close to subsiding. But it is how Vaccaro combines those opinions with his fluid prose that not only describes each main event in the 100+ year outline between these two clubs, but he explains it in a way that allows readers who know nothing of the feud to understand what is going on without dumbing it down for the rest of the readers.
Vaccaro starts off with Aaron Boone’s shot off of Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the ALCS in 2003, which helped the Yankees win yet another pennant and sent the Red Sox home once again, stewing over how to beat the team that had dominated them for so long. He flows seamlessly into when the Red Sox dominated the Yankees over a century ago, back when the Sox were called the Pilgrims. He toggles back and forth beautifully from events that are still fresh in Sox and Yankees fans’ minds (such as the Yankees signing Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod going to the Sox was all but a sure thing and the war of words between Boston president Larry Lucchino connecting the Yankees with the “Evil Empire” and Yankee president George Steinbrenner essentially saying that Lucchino is a “chameleon” because he does what people tell him).
Jerald Podair, a history professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, quotes one of the best analogies of this feud, “The Sox’ chase of the Yankees is a modern version of Moby Dick. Ahab never lands the great whale, but his futile attempts produced great art. The Sox are great art and bad baseball. The Yankees are great baseball and bad art.” Vaccaro goes into great detail about what was said on the field and how everything transpired in the infamous “Running of the Zimmer” incident, when Pedro Martinez gracefully moved Zim off to the side and left him with a trickle of blood running down the bridge of his nose. There are quotes from some of the rivalry’s biggest names: Bucky Dent, Carlton Fisk, Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Carl Yastrzemski and many others.
Reading Emperors and Idiots will make you a fan of the rivalry (and possibly one of the teams) if you are not, or solidify your stance in the rivalry, even if you do see the other side in a different light. The Red Sox/Yankees feud is like no other in sports and Vaccaro succeeds in conveying that. Mike Vaccaro does something that no one else has been able to do: He has written a book about the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry that sports fans and non-sports fans alike can read, understand and enjoy without being biased. I may have seen the other side in a different light, but even this Western Nebraskan still says, “Go Sox!” Do you know why? Read the book. Then you’ll understand.