Armageddon In The Bronx
"I have a feeling the city is not going to be the same for the next 10 days - and maybe after that." - Yankees manager Joe Torre on the Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees.
"Don't you understand? He'll never let you win, Joe, he's a Yankee fan. Who else would the devil root for?" -- Lola (to Joe Hardy) in "The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant" by Douglas Wallop
The damn Yankees. They dominated baseball in my childhood, as they do now, only longer and with a complete sense of invincibility. For an 18 year stretch, 1947-64, the Yankees owned the American League and for the most part, the World Series. They won 15 pennants in that stretch and 13 World Series. I grew up in New York and I hated them. They weren't like the other franchises, they were General Motors and U.S. Steel. Dominant and businesslike, right down to their ever so corporate pinstripes.
I was born a National League fan, although my brother and I were independent enough to break away from my father's Brooklyn Dodgers roots and root for the N.Y. Giants. It was Willie, Mickey, and the Duke then. Even as a kid growing up in Queens, I could tell the fans of the three without needing a cap or jacket. The Giant fans talked baseball, we were into the game as much as our team, talking numbers and history. The Dodger fans were emigres from Brooklyn, passionate about their roots. And the Yankees fans were the kids with neat pencil boxes and bow ties, who rooted for them because they were always in the Series, and girls who liked them because Mickey Mantle was cute.
When the Dodgers and Giants headed west, I was left with no rooting interest except my hatred of the Yankees. This taught me an excellent lesson in futility. One which prepared me perfectly for the Mets.
Born out of the ashes of the Dodgers and Giants, wearing Dodger blue and Giant orange, with the Giant "NY" on their caps, the Mets were to be my team. I will admit that I was not passionate during the early years. I didn't find their ineptitude amusing. I rooted for them, I followed the players and cared about them, but I had to keep some distance. Then Tom Seaver showed up -- Tom Terrific, The Franchise, our first homegrown superstar (with apologies to Cleon Jones and Ed Kranepool). He was the reason to believe things would be better.
That was 1967, the middle of the only era in the last 80 years where the Yankees were actively bad. They were a second division team, just like us, even finished last. For a while, they even played in our ballpark. So when 1969 and the Miracle Mets came around, the city was ours for the taking.
1969, an amazing year. It was said that the Mets would win the pennant when a man walked on the moon -- one did and we won. I remember listening to them winning a game in Montreal and taking over first place, for the first time in their history. We headed to the airport to meet them. There were only a couple of dozen fans there -- New Yorkers were too cool for that. But Met fans were different. We brought banners and signs to the park, no one did anything like that. We chanted "Let's Go Mets" when rallies started. The players were shocked to see us at 1 A.M., but that made it better. For the first time in their career they were on top and you could see the joy in their smiles. I was at Shea the night they clinched the division and ran out on the field to celebrate after the game. No pinstriped detachment for us, we were part of the action.
There was another accidental World Series in 1973 with an 82-79 record, which was notable only because Tug McGraw coined our battle cry "Ya Gotta Believe." Then it went bad.
We stayed above .500, but we weren't really contenders in the mid-70's, Then the Yankees returned and reclaimed the city. They were the cool ones by 1976, we were back to being the poor relations. They went out and got Reggie. We traded Tom Seaver.
It's still hard to type that. How do you trade the franchise? God knows how many fans we lost that day. It started another era of cellar dwelling, of being the butt of jokes. We were now the Mutts. Between 1977 and 1983, we lost over 90 games every year there wasn't a strike (we would've that year too.)
Out of those ashes came the second era of Mets victorious. When Daryl Strawberry came up, we were excited. When Doc Gooden joined him, we were ecstatic. We were going to have the best pitcher and best slugger in the NL for a decade, this was going to be our era. Until today, that was the only time we competed with the Yankees as equals. Both teams were good, we were better. That was when the first Subway Series between us should have been, in 1987 or '88, when we were at our peak, with a title in the bank. Instead, we both failed to reach the Series. Then the Mets era ended in a haze of cocaine and alcohol.
There is no question who owns the city now. The polls this week have shown that a lot more people are rooting for the Yankees. They are one of the greatest teams of all time, we are the wild card team that got hot at the right time. They have the glamour, they have the back page of the N.Y. Post.
I didn't want a Subway Series. Unlike the Yankees, we don't win every other year. I would like to be able to savor the National League pennant. If we lost to the Mariners, it would still be a great year. But to lose to the Yankees…
It's a long hard crawl to the top for the Mets. Yes, we have a large payroll, but we sometimes get rid of players because they cost more than we want to spend. The Yankees never have that problem. Take on Dave Justice's salary? Sure. It doesn't matter to them. They play "New York, New York" after every game because they are New York in their mind. The Mayor is a Yankee fan, after all. Is part of my problem envy? Sure. Just walk out to center field in Yankee Stadium ("The Stadium", we have an obscure politician's name prefacing our Stadium) and you can smell their history -- the monuments, the plaques. The only thing you might smell in center at Shea is Flushing Bay. Our monument is an apple in a hat.
Yet I am a Met fan in the face of all that and I need this Series. I need it so we can be number one. It may only last for a year, but I want it. Let them need to catch up, let them need to even the score. A loss here would be crushing for us. We aren't going to be back every year. Who knows if we'll see them again in my lifetime? A loss and the pennant means nothing. Whenever we think of this season it will be the loss to the Yankees which dominates. It's like finally getting a chance to challenge the schoolyard bully, only to have him knock you down and laugh at you. Because that is what it will be, as they shove us aside, claiming their rightful place as the princes of the city.
What good would future pennants be, with this loss unavenged? How pointless would the interleague games we have to play against them be? This pointless: we used to play them in an exhibition every year for the Mayor's Trophy. We won it quite often and were excited by it. They laughed, since they won real championships while we sat in the basement. Of course, in the mid 80's, when we challenged them for supremacy in New York, they refused to play it any more.
No, we have to win. For guys like John Franco, who waited so long to get to this point, who worked the phone to convince players to play for us. Most of all, we have to win it for our fans. Not those who jumped on and off the bandwagon, but for those who never wavered, never crossed over to the other side because it was fashionable. For those who hoped in vain that Steve Henderson would make the Seaver trade even, who can still see Terry Pendleton's homer off Roger McDowell, or Scoscia's off Gooden, because they were burned in our memories.
Do I think we'll win? No, because they are the champions and still have Jeter, Williams, Rivera, Pettite, and Hernandez. But the Mets are tough, they have Leiter and Hampton and well…ya gotta believe, don't you?
I'll be doing World Series write-ups after each game. Not in my usual objective style, but through the eyes of a Met fan. It's all I can be this time around.