Red Sox-Yankees, Giants-Dodgers, Cubs-Cardinals … Reds-Indians?
It may be a stretch to compare the Battle of Ohio to some of baseball’s most storied rivalries, but I would say it has potential to be one of the best interleague rivalries in Major League Baseball and deserves to be mentioned with the Subway Series between the New York Mets and New York Yankees, and the Crosstown Classic between the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.
With any rivalry, geographic proximity is relevant. The Reds and Indians have this as these two teams come from two of the most populated metro areas in the state. White Sox-Cubs and Yankees-Mets are too concentrated on one area or city, while the Reds-Indians rivalry envelops an entire state.
Here at Ohio State, we are at the epicenter — support for the teams is split across campus.
There also needs to be polarizing players on each team to spice things up. One such player is Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. He has a history with both teams, coming to Cleveland from the Nationals (then-Montreal Expos) in the 2002 Bartolo Colón trade that also netted the Indians pitcher Cliff Lee and outfielder Grady Sizemore.
After failing to establish himself at the major-league level, Phillips was shipped to Cincinnati in 2006 for a player to be named later. Since then, he has become an All-Star and Gold Glove second baseman. He makes sure that Indians fans do not forget either, terrorizing his old club with a .342 average and .898 OPS in 31 career games against Cleveland. To go along with that, he knows how to spark a rivalry. Comments and actions by
Phillips has been at the forefront of a developing Reds-Cardinals rivalry in recent years.
As for the Tribe, I nominate mullet-headed, adrenaline-packed pitcher Chris Perez, who came to the Indians through a trade, as the other figurehead of the rivalry. Now the team’s closer, Perez is second in the American League in saves and is a leader for the young Cleveland team.
The all-time series between Cleveland and Cincinnati is tightly contested. The Tribe hold a 37-35 all-time advantage after its three-game sweep of the Reds this past weekend. However, a rivalry needs parity accompanied by significance, and it does not matter how close a series is; you have to be playing for something for the rivalry to blossom. Both teams have to be winning. With the Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry or Yankees-Red Sox, it’s pretty easy to hate the other side when they are typically your biggest threat to achieving your goal. This is where the Battle of Ohio struggles to keep its footing.
Besides being in opposite leagues, the Reds and Indians have not been consistent winners in recent years. Since interleague play began in 1997, there have been only two seasons in which both teams finished with a winning record: 1999 and 2000. For the rivalry to grow, both teams need to contend in their respective divisions. A shiny trophy like the Ohio Cup, which was introduced in 2008, is not enough.
In last weekend’s series, Cleveland was atop its division and Cincinnati was one-half game out of first place. The Saturday game ended up being the Indians’ first non-Opening Day sellout since May 24, 2008.
The games last weekend were exciting and close. Cleveland used late heroics to record one-run victories in the first two contests.
The season matchup continues in Cincinnati July 1–3. With both teams currently in playoff contention, it’s not inconceivable that the two teams meet again in October. Then they would be playing for something more valuable than the Ohio Cup.