With Jacoby Ellsbury’s departure for the center field pasture of Yankee Stadium (to the tune of seven years and $153 million), yet another Boston star sleeps with the enemy. Recent defections include Ray Allen to the Miami Heat and Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos, but none can top the indignity of signing with the Bronx Bombers: the Boston-New York rivalry is so polarizing that the two teams haven’t partnered on a transaction since August of 1997, when Dan Duquette swapped Mike Stanley for Tony Armas, Jr.
Ellsbury may have been the catalyst for two World Series champs, but he shouldn’t expect a hero’s welcome at Fenway. He could find it hard to navigate center field with a cascade of jeers comparable to the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 washing over him. No matter how green the money is, no player likes to be vilified in a place he was once loved. But all is not lost in Boston for the man who once blessed an entire region with free tacos on a glorious autumn afternoon in 2007.
Over more than a century, 217 men have played for both the Red Sox and Yankees — from Babe Ruth to Kevin Youkilis. Even Medford legend Bill Monbouquette, owner of a Red Sox no-hitter, donned the pinstripes in his final act. Though the organizations don’t often collaborate on trades, the era of free agency has allowed for greater player movement.
The first big fish lured to the giant New York pond via free agency was the great “El Tiante” in 1979. A folk hero and absolute workhorse of the 1970’s Red Sox, Luis Tiant thrice topped 20 wins in Boston and twirled three complete game victories (two shutouts) in the 1975 postseason. Tiant’s two-year stint in the Bronx resulted in a 21-17 record, a 4.31 ERA, and a legendary commercial for Yankee Franks in which he proclaimed (in his trademark Cuban inflection), “it’s great to be with a weiner.”
Years later and hot dog puns long forgiven, Tiant remains a Red Sox icon, active in the region and within the organization. He’s a fixture at Spring Training. Few speak of the seasons the man with the Fu Manchu and the funky delivery cashed George Steinbrenner’s checks.
Wade Boggs, like Ellsbury, sprouted from the Red Sox farm system and immediately set the bar high: while Ellsbury carved up Colorado pitching in the 2007 World Series, Boggs hit .349 out of the gate in 1982. Ten years later, after 2,098 hits, Boggs stumbled to .259, became a free agent, and the Yankees came calling.
Both homegrown talents left fans hungry for more: while Ellsbury sandwiched a creme-filled, near-MVP outing in 2011 with two Oreo cookies of injuries, Boggs frustrated by eschewing the home run (he parked 24 homers in 1987 but never again cracked double digits in Boston) in favor of the base hit. It didn’t help that he discovered a Gold Glove in New York, took a widely-publicized horseback ride to celebrate the Yankees’ 1996 World Series win, and later attempted to wear a Tampa Bay Devil Rays hat to the Hall of Fame.
Boggs hasn’t had his number retired by the Sox despite being in Cooperstown; he’s respected for his hitting acumen and contributions to some good Sox teams but doesn’t conjure the warmth among fans like Tiant. Yet, Boggs is given a hand in the Fens, twenty-one years after his defection. Even Roger Clemens received an ovation at Fenway in August of 2003 under the guise of impending retirement, though he undid whatever goodwill he accumulated with his ace-for-hire act and never ending parade of courtroom appearances.
So take heart, Jacoby. Next year might be tough, but it’s not the end of the world. Just ask Johnny Damon.