Second Class Citizens

Ten years ago, I was still a reporter for an ethnic newspaper that focused on the affairs of people with last names similar to mine. The narcissist in me misses seeing my picture in the paper, I suppose, and at 24 years old I certainly enjoyed having access to people and places that I never will again.

Still, I had lost interest in doing the dirty work that the job required long before my editor informed me that my services were no longer needed, and with the benefit of hindsight I can see that there was no real future in being a professional writer for me. My only remaining connection to those days is my annual summer afternoon of drinking with a former colleague that I once shared an impossibly messy office with.

Tom and I remained in touch even after my Irish voice was no longer being heard, and we have shared many pints in many different places over the years. On Wednesday we revived the annual tradition, this time in several bars on the fringes of Greenpoint and Williamsburg.

The conversation, as it has so many times over the years, quickly turned to baseball once the usual pleasantries had been exchanged. Tom is a Yankees fan, a fact I have very rarely held against him over the years. He was the only person in the office to give me the time and space to grieve in the days following the 2000 World Series, and to this day he has never used that trump card against me when exchanging unpleasantries regarding our favorite teams.

Tom could not help reminding me, however, that it has been 15 years since the Yankees began a remarkable six-year run that mercifully ended with Luis Gonzalez's soft single over the head of Derek Jeter in 2001. Since then, New York has become a Yankees town and the Mets have fallen deeper and deeper into second-class citizen status.

It has always been my contention that New York is, at heart, a National League town. For one thing, the National League was represented by two teams for over a half-century before the Dodgers and Giants skipped town in the late 1950s. Remember, the Yankees were the Johnny-come-latelies, Orioles that flew north in 1903 and became the third team in town.

If you also believe in the influence of family members on the development of sports loyalties - and I do -than it's easy to think that all those jilted Dodgers and Giants fans didn't suddenly take up for the Yankees when their teams left for California sunshine in the late 1950s. No, those fans took up for the Mets and passed their loyalties to National League baseball onto their sons and daughters.

The Mets outdrew the Yankees every year from 1964, when they first moved into Shea Stadium, until 1976, when the Yankees moved out and back to the Bronx. The Yankees were the attendance kings from 1976 to 1983, a period of time where they made it to four World Series and won two of them while the Mets rarely finished higher than fifth place in the National league East. The tide shifted again in 1984, when the Mets nudged the Yankees out by approximately 20,000 spins of the turnstile. Another long run ensued, broken only by the disgraceful antics of the 1993 Mets.

At that point, the Mets had outdrawn the Yankees 21 times in the 29 years they were in Shea Stadium. It would be hard for any neutral observer to claim that the Mets weren't more popular than the Yankees in New York during that period of time - the attendance numbers alone suggest that the only time the Yankees were more popular in this town was when they were championship contenders AND the Mets were bottom feeders.

That all changed in 1993 - and it hasn't changed since. The Yankees have ruled New York with an iron fist, making the playoffs nearly every year and adding five World Series trophies to their coffers. The Mets have been ... somewhat less successful.

Tom and I came to the same conclusion on a number of things that day. The first is that we both agree that the city will go absolutely crazy the next time the Mets win a World Series. The city still adores the 1986 Mets, possibly the most iconic team in New York baseball history. So many calamities have befallen the franchise since then that the celebration another championship would unleash would be legendary in scope and revelry.

We also agreed that this has to happen soon, or the Mets will never regain their perch as the darlings of New York City. The longer the Mets go on playing the comic foil to Yankees' track record of success, the more they risk becoming the Chicago White Sox of the Big Apple.

The Sox enjoy permanent second-class status in their own city, which remains enamored with the Cubs despite over 100 years without a championship. The Yankees have held the town without serious challenge for the better part of two decades now. The longer it goes on, the harder it's going to be for the Mets to get back on top.

The family loyalty theory helps explain the demographic pattern of NL and AL fans between 1960 and 1990, but not even family loyalty can withstand the popular image beatings the Yankees have given the Mets - and the Mets have given themselves.

The Mets simply have to get their act together - and soon - if they ever want to be taken seriously in this town again. Most fans understood that 2011 was Sandy Alderson's first opportunity to dig the Mets out of the hole that Omar Minaya had dug them into. They adjusted their expectations accordingly, even allowing for the depths of financial and managerial incompetence that the Wilpon family has sunk to.

This patience will not last.

The next great Mets team has to do more than just win a World Series. It also has to win back New York City. Tom and I agreed on one final thing this week - we don't know for sure which task is going to be harder.


TW said...

The Knicks changed their fortunes in the span of a season in which they were summarily bounced in the first round of the playoffs. This after 11 years of inept management (actually 15 years because 1999 was a beautiful fluke). So winning the city back will be simple.

I've been developing the theory that no one really likes the Yankees, they just like winning. When the Ynakees are losing, they disappear.

Met fans love the Mets, how could we possibly stand them if we didn't.

Mack's Mets © 2012