Even though I wrote a book about the 1986 New York Mets—a team that briefly owned the city—I never really thought the modern Metropolitans could recapture the Big Apple. It just seemed sort of impossible. Beginning with the miraculous 1996 World Series comeback over Atlanta, the Yankees were New York. By were New York, I don’t simply mean they were New York baseball. No, they were New York—culture, style, celebrity. Their hats were ubiquitous. The names were iconic. Derek Jeter was more than a shortstop; he was a status symbol. He was Joe DiMaggio, he was Mickey Mantle, he was, in a way, Frank Sinatra. Larger than baseball, and larger than life. Joe Torre was the city’s father figure. Mariano Rivera was our protector. In the aftermath of 9.11, people turned to the Mets for entertainment, but they turned to the Yankees—and Yankee Stadium—for reassuring. Everything was OK, because the Yanks were playing ball.
So, as we prepare for Game 1 of this year’s World Series, I’m more than a bit shocked to say that the Mets are about the own New York once again. And I don’t mean temporary ownership, like a rental agreement for a few months. I mean own, as in out-draw, out-excite, out-win and out-matter the Yankees. Why? Two reasons:
A. The Mets are loaded with young pitching, and young pitching carries baseball teams.
B. The Yankees feel like Radio Shack.
Seriously, the Yankees feel like Radio Shack. Outdated, expired, 50 percent off selected merchandise before the store closes. There’s so little to get excited about with the franchise, which has recently had its own Back to the Future experience by going back to the 1980s and signing a whole load of so-so free agents to fill the uniforms. Whereas once it was Don Baylor and Steve Kemp and Dave Collins, it’s now Stephen Drew and Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. And then there’s the stadium—a charmless mall that, secretly, executives have to realize was a huge mistake. Citi Field ain’t Shea (I absolutely loved Shea), but it’s at least funky and cool and charming—sorta like the Mets. The new Yankee Stadium, well, it just sucks. It’s a building; one where history no longer took place. Sure, you can buy a $50 steak there. But can you feel like you’re sitting in a ballpark, gritty and grimy and ready to boo the hell out of Boston’s left fielder? Not really. Not like yesteryear.
There’s no quick fix for the bloated Yankees, just as there will be no quick collapse for the Mets.
New York will always be New York.
But New York—despite the beliefs of some—is not always a Yankee town.