The Yankee Fan: Uneasy Is the Team That Wears the Crown
A Subway Series!
As a longtime Yankees fan, this is not entirely a good thing for me. For a Yankees fan, comfortably (and inevitably, it often seemed) atop the baseball world since the then-underdog Bombers upended the hated Braves in 1996, to be confronted with a Subway Series is to feel what Al Gore must have felt before the start of the presidential debates. The burden of high expectations.
A Subway Series. From a historical perspective, yes, this is the epic collision of the Queen Mary with a cigarette boat. The Yankees have notched 25 world championships in the better part of a century in the Bronx; the Mets just two since their inaugural season in 1962. The Yankee pinstripes are a sports icon; the Mets' blue-and-orange were themselves a knockoff, a combination of Dodger blue and Giants orange, two teams that with the Yankees defined the Subway Series from the first in 1921 to the last in 1956. The Yankees dominated those matchups. The Mets weren't even born yet.
Both teams have had their ups and downs since then. But since that magical year of Wetteland, Rivera and Jim Leyritz, a dynasty has been resurrected. The Yankees ascended in 1996, stumbled in 1997, were arguably the best team ever in 1998, and barely let up in 1999. They are playing for their third straight World Series crown look at the last five years, and a Subway Series is just another occasion for the Yankees to dispatch their latest victim while saving on airfare. The recent Mets, meanwhile, have more spirit than stars, more of a habit of late-season collapses than of clutch play, and at best a talent for losing with admirable scrappiness. Until this year.
See, these Yankees are an aging champion. Pitching: David Cone is 37, Roger Clemens is 38, and nobody knows how old Orlando Hernandez is. Fielders: Paul O'Neill is 38 and can barely run; Chuck Knoblauch can't throw. Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez are both new-dynasty staples who are reaching the end of their usefulness. The front office is drowning in big contracts and the farm system is filled with guys who deserve their shot. After this season, the team is due for an overhaul. This World Series, win or lose, will likely be the end of an era.
While the Mets cut the Giants down to size and made the Cardinals look like flightless birds, the Yankees were positively moribund in September and finished the season by losing seven in a row. They have righted themselves somewhat in these playoffs, but a team that lost a total of two games in their last two playoff runs has already lost four in this one. The pitching (excepting Rivera) is weaker, the hitting still waking up. Not until the seventh-inning explosion that clinched the ALCS in Game Six did the Yankee bats begin to remind me of old times. (And the hero was ex-Brave and ex-Indian David Justice, a midseason arrival. Not quite as nostalgic as it could have been.)
Let's start with the unthinkable but quite plausible: The Yankees lose. It will be the end of the era, and it will have come at the hands of the Mets. Yankees fans generally don't stoop to having much ill will for their younger siblings in Queens they're kind of cute, the way they only win every once in a great while. But that doesn't mean they're allowed to supplant us. They'll be yapping about it all winter, like little dogs, and probably for years to come. And we probably won't get a rematch for another two decades, because you know the Mets won't be back anytime soon. They're just not a dynasty kind of team.
If the Yankees win, well, so much the better. A fitting and glorious way to close an epochal chapter in baseball history. But the town bully doesn't get to gloat.
A Subway Series. Hmm.
Couldn't we have just played the Cardinals?
The Mets Fan: Do It for the National League, Boys!
Ah, yes. The Subway Series.
Everybody is awfully excited about this at least here in the immediate New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area. Truth be told, Fox Sports executives are probably kicking themselves (and their David Justice cut-out figures) right about now: West of Pennsylvania and south of Washington, D.C., a Mets-Yankees series will probably pull in Nielsen ratings capable of making even Olympic officials cringe.
But that's OK. While the rest of the country is watching the season premiere of "Frasier" and debating the relative merits of various politicians, New Yorkers will be settling in for a historic bout. And, just as a note of caution to outsiders, we'll probably be pretty self-satisfied no matter what the outcome. Mayor Giuliani, a Yankees fan, has already promised the winning team a ticker-tape parade down the city's Canyon of Heroes.
I, for one, will be rooting for the Mets. Just for the record, I am really and truly a Pittsburgh Pirates fan an allegiance that forces me to adopt a team every October. And out of some convoluted sense of loyalty I root pretty consistently for the National League (except for the Atlanta Braves, a team that I despise for obvious reasons). Sometimes, this fidelity to the NL comes with a stiff price: I remember how shocked and disappointed friends and family were when I pulled for the Mets in their 1986 battle against the beleaguered Boston Red Sox.
And this year, I suspect I'll run into the same sort of disgust. Friends, lifelong New Yorkers, will shake their heads when I explain my decision to back the boys from Queens. Why not root for the Yankees? All that history! All those championships! All that money! But I'll stand firm. Joe Torre seems like a nice guy, but I find Bobby Valentine (and all his contract woes) even more winning. I named my cat after Bernie Williams, but I adore Mike Piazza. And in the end, I can't stand the idea of George Steinbrenner.
There's something about the Mets that makes me want to cheer, while there's something about the Yankees that makes me want to lie down and take a nap until the Series is over. Sure, the Yanks are swathed in years of tradition, and their uniforms are better, but so what? The Mets are spunky, and they're hungry. They've got what another generation called moxie and New Yorkers love moxie.
I'm also tired of the Yankees winning the World Series. I know they're awfully good, but it's not very exciting for the rest of us when one team keeps hogging the spotlight. The Yankees have too much money not that the Mets are exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel, but the Yanks have this aura of wealth that I find unispiring. If I had my way, there'd be a moratorium on World Series until the year when two economically struggling teams clawed their way up to the championship. The Pirates, for example, and maybe the Minnesota Twins.
But we all know that's about as likely as Rush Limbaugh endorsing Al Gore.
So in the meantime, I'll root quietly for the Mets and silently will the Yankees to run out of steam.
It's finally time for someone else to win.
The Cricket Fan: "World Series? What World...?"
As all of New York and most of America gets in a frenzy about the "World Series" starting this weekend, may I be allowed to voice a word or two of dissent?
Now, one is treading on dangerous turf when one is a "Resident Alien" (the pleasant INS euphemism for "foreigner") and dares to critique any aspect of Americana. So let me preempt my words by saying how much I love America. If I didn't genuinely love this country and its many magnificent qualities, I wouldn't be here.
But since one of those qualities is Freedom Of Speech, let me now seriously abuse that right by expressing how ridiculous this so-called "World Series" is. And I have two principal objections to it.
First and most seriously the name. Now, everyone knows that America is the most powerful nation on earth. You gave the world everything from nuclear energy and rock 'n' roll to George Foreman's Mean Lean Grilling Machine. But you are still one country not the entire planet.
Would someone please tell me precisely what other nations were invited to submit entries to the qualifying rounds of the "World" Series? I don't seem to recall any Albanian baseball teams competing. Where were the plucky Paraguayans? The sly Samoans? The tenacious tykes from Tuvalu (it's near Fiji). Answer? Nowhere. That's because baseball is not played in 99 percent of the countries of the world!
It's a fabulous (ahem) sport if you like that sort of thing, but American baseball fans must surely admit that apart from a few stray Japanese and Cuban teams, baseball is something of a bust in export terms. So to drape the grandiose "World" in front of the word "Series" is a bit of a cheat. Up there with Ross Perot's pathetic use of the term "world-class" (whatever that meant) and the patronizing term "world music" which loosely translated means anything not in English.
So can we have some truth in advertising and call this the "North American Series"? A touch less glamorous perhaps. But until baseball rivals soccer which IS played in the vast majority of nations on this planet, and can thus really stage a "World" Cup to call it anything more is a serious affront to the English language.
Now as to the game itself, I have no real objection. Admittedly it is a simpler, less sophisticated version of cricket (which is played in MANY more countries than baseball), but I don't think Americans should be ashamed of that. As kids we usually learn to play checkers as a primer for the more intellectually challenging game of chess. And it is true that cricket has many subtleties that have thus far eluded most Americans. But you are a young nation, and I'm sure that as you continue to master the simple art of slugging an oversize ball as far as you can; eventually you will hunger for the more sophisticated skills and erudite nuances of a Gentleman's sport. A game that blends the cerebral with the athletic. A fusion of brain with the brawn you have already mastered.
Admittedly one does need stamina to play cricket. Professional games at the local level last three days. And international games between teams representing two nations (a concept which is understandably alien to baseball fans) stretch over five days. There is a reason for this. The English (who devised cricket and exported it to what was then its empire) are not a very spiritual nation. So cricket was invented as a way of defining infinity.
I admit that cricket will have a tough path in finding acceptance in America. To rephrase Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own," there's no scratching in cricket. There's also no gum-chewing, no spitting, no national anthemľsinging by Roseanne. And unlike that soft padded globe that you call a baseball, the metal-hard leather and cork cricket ball that we use really hurts if you catch it. However, those who play in the cricket field do NOT have those namby-pamby padded gauntlets that baseball fielders use to protect their precious little fingers. I guess cricket is just a real guy game as well as an intellectually challenging game of wits.
So this week as you settle back to watch the Yankees and Mets slug it out for the title "Best Baseball Team in New York," think of the national teams Americans could be playing if they could only comprehend cricket. You could be competing against England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, South Africa, The West Indies... Now THAT would be a World Series.