TV capitalizes on Red Sox-Yankees rivalry


William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Some will claim that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has lost intensity ― that the long-standing acrimony between the two teams and their respective fan bases has subsided considerably to the extent that sports fans don’t pay close attention any longer.

Plainly, TV media doesn’t believe that to be true.

The teams opened their season series in the Bronx this weekend, and TV fanned the flames of controversy to capitalize on the attention given to the games.

In Thursday night’s series opener, MLB Network focused attention on Yankees starter Michael Pineda. The pitcher, too obviously, had pine tar smeared on the heel of his throwing hand.

The use of pine tar for pitchers, assisting them with a better grip of the ball in which to better manipulate their pitches, is against the rules. Despite that fact, anyone familiar with the game of baseball above the youth level will acknowledge that that pitchers’ discreet use of some foreign substance as “assistance” is common. Pineda’s real transgression was how carelessly blatant he was in flaunting the rules.

As a result, TV attention lit the Twittersphere ablaze and the smudge on the pitcher’s hand quickly disappeared.

The controversy caused both teams to backpedal under postgame media questioning. Pineda claimed the shiny spot on his hand was dirt. Yankees manager Joe Girardi deftly refused to answer questions about it, bringing chuckles from the assembled reporters.

Red Sox manager John Farrell was forced to defend his action for not calling the matter to the attention of the umpires, to which he feebly claimed that by the time he learned of it, the “problem” had been corrected. What Farrell didn’t want to admit is that had he called a foul on Pineda, the Yankees likely would retaliate.

Truth is, despite being outlawed by the rules of baseball, it’s an accepted practice. A manager can’t point a finger at an opposing player without exposing his own player as well.

For the media, however, all bets are off. Controversy brings attention. Attention boosts ratings. Ratings enhance revenues. Revenues improve profits. Profits give media executives and shareholders happiness.

FOX apparently didn’t want to bank the possibility of some indiscretion or happenstance to boost its own ratings for the nationally televised game between the two teams yesterday. Precisely 30 minutes before the start of its broadcast, FOX posted a web story by its lead baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal, who took to the air in the pregame show, claiming that the Red Sox had severely jeopardized their chances of resigning Jon Lester by offering him and insultingly low level of compensation as part of their preseason contract negotiations.

Again, Twitter went wild and interest in the game was piqued.

Of course, there was no chance that Rosenthal had uncovered this “information” the night before and would have reported it as Lester was taking the mound for his start (and win) against the Yankees. FOX wasn’t broadcasting the Friday night game.

Controversy did arise in the game, however, when the MLB’s new video replay system failed miserably in reversing an incorrect umpiring call. Though the TV audience saw the error plainly, apparently the replay booth officials were not tuned in to FOX and upheld the erroneous call for lack of evidence.

Whatever the case, it would seem that the storied, century-long rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees is safely intact and worthy of every amount of media stoking.

As the two team prepare the square off in the final game of the series under the lights on national TV tonight, only one question remains: What juicy item will ESPN’s Buster Olney have for us?