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When baseball meets football: Boston and Liverpool

The "Green Monster" left-field fence at Fenway Park, Boston
The iconic "Green Monster" is Fenway's answer to Anfield's famous Kop

By Mark Mitchener

Liverpool fans may have mixed feelings about exchanging one set of American owners for another after the Premier League club was sold to the New England Sports Ventures (NESV), owners of baseball's Boston Red Sox.

But supporters on both sides of the Atlantic may be interested in a potential link-up between two clubs that are steeped in the history of their respective sports.

Like Anfield, Boston's Fenway Park is one of the best-known sports venues in the world, while both cities have a strong expatriate affinity with Ireland.

Liverpool's hopes of building a new stadium stalled during the ownership of George Gillett and Tom Hicks, but despite a brief flirtation with a "new Fenway", the Red Sox happily remain at their historic home ballpark - even while many other Major League Baseball teams have moved.

LIVERPOOL FACT FILE
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard
Nickname: Reds
Stadium: Anfield (opened 1884, capacity 45,362)
Popular stadium song: "You'll Never Walk Alone" (Rodgers & Hammerstein)
League titles: 18 (most recent 1990)
Rivals: Manchester United, Everton

Opened in 1912, Fenway is the oldest MLB stadium in use. And while a young Liverpool player's ambition may be scoring in front of the Kop, a prospective young slugger making it through Boston's minor league system will probably have dreamt of hitting a home run over the "Green Monster" - the famous 37ft high left-field wall at Fenway.

Liverpool have not won the English league title since 1990 but Boston ended a much longer title drought when they won the World Series in 2004, two years after NESV's takeover.

For decades, the so-called "Curse of the Bambino" haunted Red Sox Nation and was immortalised in Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy's book of the same name.

The "Bambino" in question was baseball legend Babe Ruth - sold by the Red Sox owners to their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees, in 1920.

Having won five World Series titles between 1903 and 1918, the Sox then went 86 years before winning it again, gaining a reputation as loveable losers or nearly men - depending on your point of view.

Boston's march to the 2004 title arguably matches Liverpool's "Miracle of Istanbul" Champions League success of 2005 for the manner in which they overcame adversity.

Before the season started, legendary horror author Stephen King and fellow novelist Stewart O'Nan decided to chronicle their season in book form but could not have imagined what was to transpire.

Finishing second behind the Yankees in the American League East, the Red Sox met them again in the seven-game American League Championship Series.

606: DEBATE
Villas Second XI

New York won the first three games, threatening a 4-0 sweep, but Boston hit back to win Games 4 and 5 in extra innings, before winning Games 6 and 7 at Yankee Stadium to secure a remarkable comeback triumph.

The Red Sox went on to sweep St Louis Cardinals 4-0 in the World Series.

King and O'Nan's subsequent book "Faithful" was not alone in marking the end of "the Curse" - as it was also the subject of a film whose title may ring a few unwelcome bells in the heads of Liverpool fans.

When Liverpool were pipped to the First Division title by Arsenal in 1989, it was the springboard for Gunners fan Nick Hornby's seminal book "Fever Pitch", which was made into a film in 1997.

Several years later, an American remake, also entitled "Fever Pitch", was on the cards, switching baseball for football and the Red Sox title drought for Arsenal's 18-year wait for a league title.

It was filmed in 2004, including several scenes shot at Fenway - and Boston's unexpected success reportedly forced the film-makers to rework the ending.

BOSTON FACT FILE
Boston pitcher John Lackey
Nickname: Red Sox
Stadium: Fenway Park (opened 1912, capacity 37,402)
Popular stadium song: "Sweet Caroline" (Neil Diamond)
World Series titles: Seven (most recent 2007)
Rivals: New York Yankees

It is not uncommon in the United States for individuals or groups to own a range of professional teams across different sports, so it is no surprise that some owners' portfolios stretch across both sides of the Atlantic.

Outgoing Reds co-owner Hicks owned the Texas Rangers baseball team from 1998 (succeeding a certain George W Bush) until earlier this year but the UK/US connection is kept up by the likes of the Glazer family (Manchester United and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Randy Lerner (Aston Villa and Cleveland Browns), who both possess a Premier League football club and an NFL American football franchise.

Meanwhile, notable Arsenal shareholder Stan Kroenke owns the St Louis Rams (NFL), Colorado Avalanche (NHL ice hockey), Denver Nuggets (NBA basketball) and Colorado Rapids (Major League Soccer) - so needs a baseball team to complete a "full set".

However, Liverpool fans may be encouraged to note that a Sports Illustrated article in 2009 listed Boston's proprietors as the best owners of the 30 MLB clubs - while Hicks' stewardship of the Rangers was ranked as the second worst.

How closely Liverpool and Boston may be linked remains to be seen but the common ownership may cause certain rivalries to become even more entrenched.

In 2001, the Yankees - Boston's arch rivals - announced a marketing deal with Manchester United. And make no mistake, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is as intense as that at any derby game at Anfield or Old Trafford.

A New York Yankees fan in a Darth Vader mask during a rain delay
Boston president Larry Lucchino dubbed the Yankees "the evil empire"

The Babe Ruth trade may be a distant memory but players rarely move directly between the Red Sox and Yankees - and likewise with United and Liverpool, with Phil Chisnall the last player to do so in 1964.

Ace pitcher Roger Clemens starred for Boston for 13 seasons, before being allowed to leave in 1996 as Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette notoriously commented that "The Rocket" was "in the twilight of his career".

Clemens moved to Toronto but played in the majors for another 11 years and went on to win more pitching awards and two World Series titles with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000.

This led him to be vilified by the unforgiving majority of Red Sox fans, while the fire was further stoked by Boston president Larry Lucchino, who dubbed the Yankees as "the evil empire" in 2002.

But like Liverpool, Boston can boast supporters far and wide across the globe, although fans of other Premier League teams will find familiar cause with those followers of other MLB teams who roll their eyes as the Red Sox and Yankees invariably garner more media attention and live television coverage than any other sides.

Last month, the Red Sox owners took out a full-page advert in the Boston Globe, apologising for the team's failure to reach the play-offs. Could that really happen in Liverpool?

After a miserable start to the season, Liverpool's editors may be waiting by their phones.



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see also
Red Sox owners to buy Liverpool
06 Oct 10 |  Liverpool
Liverpool board split over bids
06 Oct 10 |  Liverpool
Hicks baseball team auctioned off
09 Aug 10 |  Business
Sport's most enduring hoodoos
03 Nov 09 |  Welsh
Hicks eyes sale of Texas Rangers
21 Oct 09 |  Business
Red Sox claim World Series glory
29 Oct 07 |  Baseball
US pair agree Liverpool takeover
06 Feb 07 |  Liverpool
Babe Ruth bat goes on sale
24 Nov 04 |  US Sport
Sox in World Series heaven
28 Oct 04 |  US Sport
Red Sox clinch World Series
28 Oct 04 |  US Sport


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