Since 1800, New York has always been the largest and Philadelphia has usually been the second largest city in the eastern part of the United States. The two cities are only about 90 miles apart. Their metropolitan areas flow into each other. They should be natural rivals in everything. Yet there has never been a baseball rivalry between New York and Philadelphia, at least not in living memory. The Yankees have given New York a baseball rivalry with Boston and Baltimore. The Mets have had their epic rivalries with St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago, and even Pittsburgh. But New York has never had a baseball rivalry with Philadelphia, the city that should be its most plausible natural rival.
The reason for this is that the Mets and the Phillies have never been good at the same time. Not in 45 years. This is amazing when you think about it. The greatest era of the Phillies, the late ‘70s, was one of the worst eras in Mets history. The Phillies were usually not much in the great Mets eras of the early seventies, the eighties or the late nineties. They were the only team with which we did not compete for the 1973 NL East division title. The closest the Mets have ever come to an actual rivalry with Philadelphia was, I guess, 1976, when the Phillies won the division by winning 101 games and the Mets finished third with 86 wins, 15 games out. That’s as close as the two teams have ever come to each other when at least one of them was in serious contention?! Pretty much. The Mets and Phillies were only 12 games apart in 1987, but the Mets were in second and the Phillies were in fourth and so they weren’t thinking about each other. Speaking about not thinking about each other, here’s a trivia question for you. What team finished second in the NL East in 1986, 21.5 games behind the Mets?
This is all about to change. When I look at the NL East, I see the potential for a truly exciting rivalry with Philadelphia. Their lineup is almost as powerful and their starting pitching is only a little more questionable than ours. I’d bet on the Mets but either team could take it. I’m picking the Mets to win 94 and the Phillies to win 90 games.
This will be cool. Philly is just a short train ride away. We can go to their games. I love Philly and I love to have an excuse for going there. I love the well-preserved old architecture, the Reading Terminal Market, the world-class museums and restaurants, especially a funky little place in South Philly called Victor Café which serves great Italian food and the waiters are all opera singers who entertain you with arias. If you have to battle to the baseball death with some city, better a great nearby city like Philly than a city with a big McDonald’s arch or a spanking-new and boring Southern suburb.
So let’s have an old-fashioned regional pennant race, the sort of things they get to have in California or around the Great Lakes all the time. Let it be cheese steaks against pastrami, a battle of the Jersey Turnpike, high noon in Princeton. Sure I liked it last year when the Mets took off like a shot and no one came close. But I won’t expect that this year. I’m expecting the Mets to be as good, and the rest of the division to be better. I’ll take Mets dominance again if it comes. But I think it is wisest to set my expectations as low as I can. So I’m gearing up for it. I’m psyched. And watch out, the antipasto platter at Victor’s is enough for everybody at the table.