[This piece of mine was published about a week ago on Nybaseballonline.com
It has generated a lot of attention, having been mentioned by Metsblog, having been posted on a number of blogs and message boards, including the Yankees MLB board (groan), where it got a pretty predictable reception. Since I wrote it, I thought I would post it here as well, as part of the festivities of preparation for this weekend's Subway Series.]
New York is not a Yankees town. It’s not. It may look as if it is now, at the end of one of the most impressive stretches of Yankees history. But it isn’t and it never has been a Yankees town. The roots of Mets fandom in New York are just as deep and may even be deeper than the roots of the Yankees.
You’re thinking I’m crazy. Or at least self-deceiving. Think what you wish. There are some important facts you should know before you reach your conclusion.
From the time the American League was founded in 1903 until 1957, there were two National League teams in New York. Throughout this period, the combined attendance for the two National League teams was consistently higher, by a wide margin, than the attendance at Yankees games. This was particularly true after 1945. The Dodgers and the Giants had large fan bases, each with a proud tradition of Yankee hatred. When the Mets came along in 1962, they inherited almost all of the orphaned National League fans. The Yankees ended up with hardly any of them.
It should not therefore surprise you to learn that during the first 31 years of the Mets existence (1962-1992), the Mets outdrew the Yankees 19 times and the Yankees outdrew the Mets 12 times. Both teams had their ups and downs, but the Mets’s peak attendance figures were consistently higher than those of the Yankees. The pennant-winning Yankees teams of 1962-4 drew between 1.3 and 1.4 million fans. But between 1964 and 1968, the lowly Mets drew 1.6 to 1.9 million fans every year. The Mets drew 2.1 to 2.7 million fans between 1969 and 1972. That’s much more than the great Yankees teams of the ‘50s and ‘60s had ever drawn. When the Yankees became great again in the late ‘70s, they didn’t quite rise to the Mets’ level. They drew between 2.0 to 2.6 million fans per year between 1977 and 1980. But when the Mets came roaring back in the mid-‘80s, they busted their own records, drawing between 2.8 and 3.1 million fans between 1985 and 1988. The Yankees had never drawn that many fans to their stadium. In the 1980s, the Mets drew over 3 million twice, but even the 1998 Yankees, one of the greatest teams of all time, did not draw 3 million. The Yankees draw 3 million for the first time in 1999 and it is only in the 21st century that the Yankees attendance figures have been astronomical, and decisively better than the Mets.
So the Yankee dominance of New York that people now take for granted is actually a very recent thing. It doesn’t have deep roots. It’s like a bad dye job. And now that people are sick of the Yankees, now that we can smell the decay, now that the remaining home-grown spirited players of the late ‘90s are mostly gone and you’re left with a pretty colorless collection of hired guns, the blue and orange roots of New York’s baseball soul are becoming visible once again.
The fact that New York has deep National League roots is only part of the explanation for the fact that the Mets are really New York’s favorite team. The other part is that rooting for the Mets is so much more fun. How can one group of 25 men be consistently more fun than another group of 25 men? They’re not. It’s not the people on the team. There have been a lot of wonderful, fun players on the Yankees and there have been a lot of jerks on the Mets. The Mets are more fun because the psychology of rooting for the Mets is more conducive to fun.
When the Mets are good, it is a cause for delirious celebration. When the Yankees are good, it is “yeah, yeah, so what, when are we going to get to the Series?” Mets fans can enjoy rooting for the Mets even when they’re not very good. When the Yankees aren’t of championship calibre, Yankees fans feel disgraced and embarrassed.
Mets fans get sentimental about their loyalty during the lousy years. The lousy years give the good years a special luster. When a group of long-time die-hard Mets fans get together they trade precious names with each other: Choo Choo Coleman, Joe Christopher, Joel Youngblood, Bruce Boisclair. They enjoy the lingering, remembered warmth in those names. I’ll bet that when Yankees fans get together, they don’t do the same with the forgotten players who wore pinstripes from 1965 to 1974, or from 1983 to 1994. Yankees fans have a total amnesia about their dreary stretches. Mets fans are the opposite. We think that the bad Mets are as important a part of the story of our team as the good Mets. That’s our story: rags to riches. The Yankees think the 26 World Championships is a continuous story. They have only one note. Riches. Riches. Boooorrrring.
All of this is becoming evident with particular clarity in this season. Listen to Yankees fans on talk radio. Read their blogs. Are any of them saying: “Wow, wouldn’t it be fun to see if the Yankees can all get it together as a team and win it this year in spite of all the drawbacks they face?” Are any of them saying: “I know it looks bad, but I like the looks of some of these young pitchers, they may come through, and I’m not quite yet willing to give up on Mariano, watch them pull it out!” Are any of them saying: “I know the Red Sox look awfully good this year, but we’ve got some great young players coming along and we may give them a run for it, and if we don’t, watch out for what those young players will do next year!”
Of course Yankee fans aren’t talking like this. They never do. Don’t you feel sorry for fans who can never talk like this, who can only say: “We NEED this. We gotta GET this?” NEED, GET. How simple-minded can you be? How one note? Look at the nauseating assumption here. You know how little pitching is available out there. You know how hard it would be for any team to get any kind of talent now. Yet, look at what the Yankees will do. Cough up $25 million for a 45-year old pitcher, when they already have a payroll that dwarfs that of any other team. There is no limit to what they’ll spend, or how obnoxious they’ll be announcing the coming of a savior who will bring them all the way to a championship.
They are desperate, and I think they’re likely to get worse. It makes me sick to my stomach to watch them. I know a lot of fine people who root for the Yankees. I can’t believe they get any pleasure from watching this desperate debacle in the making. But if the only season you can consider successful is one that ends in a championship, expect to be miserable, expect to look ridiculous, expect others to rejoice in your misfortune. Yankee fans are trapped in a funless universe. Because in baseball, as in life, it is very hard to GET what you NEED.