R.I.P. 'Jeter Drinks Wine Coolers': The Strange New Civility of Red Sox Fans

If T-shirt sales are any indication, Boston's hatred of New York is waning.

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It's a Sunday afternoon after a nail-biting 5-4 loss to the low-budget Oakland A's, and T-shirt vendor "Bald Vinny" Milano is bracing himself for a stampede of grumpy Yankees fans.

As one of the most vociferous "Bleacher Creatures" and founder of the Section 203 pride movement, Milano would prefer that the Bronx Bombers took the AL East title without any suspense. But anger is a wonderful consolation prize, priming the sidewalk hordes for bringing home some of his best-selling designs, most of which express disdain for the Yankees' longtime rival, the Boston Red Sox.

Around the perimeter of the new Yankee Stadium, Milano's "Bleacher Creature" booth is joined by about a dozen other unauthorized T-shirt stands, each piled with mounds of anti-Boston designs regardless of which visiting team is in town. The shirts remain in high demand this season, even though the Sox are now 24 games behind the Yankees in the standings.

"My challenge now is how many different creative ways can you say 'Boston Sucks?' It doesn't matter if the Sox are 20 games out of first place. People hate Boston all the time. In fact, I think there's even more enjoyment now kicking them when they're down," Milano says.

At its peak in 2003-2004, the underground economy of "Yankees Suck" shirts and bumper stickers might have approached the GNP of a developing nation. Two college dropouts even harnessed Boston's collective hate to fund a backpacking trip around the world—a stunt immortalized in the irreverent Iraq War memoir, Babylon By Bus. But outside Fenway Park this season, the trash-talking genre has been an endangered species.

It's tough to be cocky when your team is 69-91.

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Meanwhile in the Bronx, Bald Vinny's reporting a steady demand for "ASSCLOWN," an unflattering caricature of floundering Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine that might sell just as well in Boston. Another brisk seller is a slogan that could headline an academic anti-bullying seminar: "Make The World a Better Place: Punch a Boston Fan in The Face."

Milano plans to cash in on his anti-Boston themes this week, as the hapless Red Sox try to be spoilers at Yankee Stadium for the final three-game homestand of the season.

If seeing a toothless, bruised Red Sox fan get mercilessly pummeled by a thuggish (and unscathed) Babe Ruth isn't your idea of sportsmanship, you'll probably want to do your holiday shopping elsewhere. Milano's top-selling tee: "Bahston Sawks Cack."

It means exactly what you think it does, but the marketing appeal apparently lies in the BoSox font and poking fun at the stereotypical Boston accent. Displaying a slogan like this inside Yankee Stadium would get you instantly thrown out of the park based on the team's anti-obscenity policy.

"I know my customers aren't wearing them to church or the library," Milano says. "This is a very small subset in the market. It's guys age 18 to 35 who want to express themselves on poker night or at their neighborhood sports bar."

"We also get a lot of online orders from New England," he adds. "I think there are a lot of Yankee fans trapped up there who want to make a statement."

Boston Red Sox fans can hardly take the higher moral ground. The "Yankees Suck!" chant is permanently embedded into the city's cultural fabric, routinely heard at random (and irrelevant) times during Celtics, Bruins and Patriots games and even at rock concerts and political rallies. When U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was nominated for president at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, street vendors sold "Yankees Suck, Kerry Rules" souvenir buttons.

In one of the most bizarre political scenes of 2012, supporters of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) recently tried to drown out challenger Elizabeth Warren's supporters with a "Yankees Suck" chant. Warren has never endorsed Yankee supremacy, nor has she tried too hard to fake an allegiance to the Red Sox (a la John Kerry).

At sports autograph and memorabilia shows, former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee will humor fans by signing "Yankees Suck Pond H2O" upon request. On eBay, there are multiple photos of his infamous 1976 Graig Nettles fight on which he scrawls, "Nettles You Suck!" Although Lee maintains that the Yankees third baseman was a dirty fighter who took a few cheap shots that almost ended his career, he insists all has been forgiven.

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Darren Garnick is an Emmy-nominated documentary producer and journalist based in New Hampshire. He is currently writing  Why Can't I Be President?, a comic book about history's "Oval Office Underdogs," and blogs about politics and pop culture at CultureSchlock.com.

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