Tonight, for the first time ever officially*, the Dodgers and Giants will meet in the postseason. The only bad thing about that is that it comes in a best-of-five series, instead of best-of-seven.
And it will provide an opportunity to show to a national audience that the greatest rivalry in baseball is not Yankees-Red Sox, but rather Dodgers-Giants.
For one, it is older. These two franchises have been going at it in the National League since 1890 (and they’d met in the now-considered-an-exhibition proto-World Series in 1889). Benjamin Harrison was president when this rivalry started. At that time, the pitcher stood 50 feet from the batter, not 60 feet and six inches. Brooklyn wasn’t even officially part of New York City yet, but rather a separate entity.
Speaking of Brooklyn, that’s another thing: this is a rivalry so heated it literally spans a continent. Whether representing different parts of New York or different regions of California, the rivalry has been continuous. The locations changed, but the rivalry still remained.
It also has had more changes in fortune. For all the claims of a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, the fact is that for 86 years it was no more a rivalry than it was a competition between a freight-train and hapless pedestrian: the Yankees would win almost every major confrontation. Even in those times where the Yankees were bad or fell to the Red Sox in the pennant race, the Red Sox were never able to do anything to break the image of being the lesser of the two, their days as the true leader of the rivalry (back when the Yankees were known as the Highlanders) a distant often-forgotten memory. While the two have been on more equal ground since the curse was broken, and at times Boston has actually had the upper-hand, it is unlikely that anyone will ever look at the rivalry again any time soon with the idea of the Red Sox as anything other than the underdog- even as their spending habits and success become increasingly like New York’s.
Compare that to Dodgers-Giants, where the “top” team has changed several times. The Giants dominated the early days, the Dodgers ruled the final years in New York City. The two have gone back-and-forth since arriving in California. Although the Dodgers have won more rings in California (and began winning them far earlier than the Giants), it is far harder to declare that the Dodgers will always be the top dog of the two. They have matched up well throughout history. The overall status of the rivalry is 1,269–1,247–17 in favor of the Giants- only a 22-game difference. By comparison, the Yankees currently lead the Red Sox 1,232–1,033–14, for nearly a 200-game lead.
Perhaps the fact there has rarely been a clear favorite of the two has contributed to the fact that there have generally been fewer players who have worn both uniforms for extended periods of time (Jeff Kent comes to mind as one of the few exceptions). Babe Ruth, Wade Boggs, and Roger Clemens all had extended time with both sides of the Northeast rivalry. Not so in the California showdown. Juan Marichal‘s stint with the Dodgers late in his career lasted just two games. Duke Snider‘s twilight time with the Giants only lasted 91 games in one season. Jackie Robinson, it is sometimes said, retired rather than play for the Giants. Ask about how Roger Clemens did in a Yankees-Red Sox game, and you need to ask what year it was. In Dodgers-Giants, it isn’t as needed.
It is also, admittedly, a far more ugly rivalry. While of course this is a bad thing, it does speak to how intense the rivalry is and has been. For all the talk of the intensity in the Boston-New York rivalry, the honest truth is that it is surprisingly civil and tongue-in-cheek, even among many fans. While there certainly have been ugly moments among both fans and participants, they pale in comparison to that of Dodgers-Giants. If you go to Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park in the opposing team’s jersey, may end up getting cussed at, insulted, and possibly have a beer poured upon you. If you do that in San Francisco or Los Angeles, and there is a legitimate chance you will be physically assaulted (still very, very, small, but far greater than probably any other rivalry this side of European soccer hooligans). I am not making this up when I say that the Dodgers-Giants rivalry can be connected to at least two homicides as well as a few assaults, including one that left a man in a medically-induced coma for months. Pedro Martinez once threw Don Zimmer to the ground, but Juan Marichal once went at Johnny Roseboro with a bat. It was a horrific incident that left Roseboro needing 14 stitches and Marichal’s reputation in the gutter for decades, to the point where Roseboro himself had to appeal to writers to get Marichal into the Hall of Fame. If such a thing were to happen in Yankees-Red Sox, it would be impossible to find out anything else about baseball since it would be the only thing talked about the rest of the year.
Which leads to perhaps the number one reason why Dodgers-Giants is better than Yankees-Red Sox: it hasn’t been done to death by the national media. ESPN, MLB Network and other outlets go all-in on Yanks-Sawx, to the point where even those interested grow sick of it. Not so the California rivalry. It is the often-forgotten gem of the three biggest rivalries in baseball (the other one of the big three is, of course, Cubs-Cardinals). Perhaps it is because of East Coast Bias, or perhaps it is because they haven’t faced each other in the playoffs until now. Regardless, starting on Friday night the secret will be out: Dodgers-Giants is the superior baseball rivalry.
*(I say officially because the 1951 tiebreaker series that ended with Bobby Thomson‘s famed home run was technically regular season, the equivalent of a Game 163 in modern times. In addition, they met in some pre-modern World Series that are generally not recognized by MLB.)