Walking out of the subway and onto the street in New York City can be disorienting. Unless it’s your regular stop, it usually takes a spin or two to get your bearings, set your path, and carry on. For New Yorkers, whose biggest fear is looking like they aren’t from New York, the Empire State Building is a directional beacon, a lighthouse that gives you a stabilizing sense of guidance in uncertain waters. This past week, that beacon was lit up in blue, orange, and pinstripes.
When crosstown rivals meet, it’s always going to stir the pot in that city. Whether it’s the Beltway Series in DC/Baltimore, the Freeway Series in LA, or the Crosstown Classic in Chicago, it’s a chance for fans to scratch and claw for some bragging rights. So it’s no surprise that when it comes to the prime market of New York, Major League Baseball, the Yankees and Mets, and even the city’s historic skyscrapers play up the drama of the Subway Series. But how relevant is the rivalry, really?
On Thursday, FiveThirtyEight posted an article about how no one in the country, outside of New York, cares about the Subway Series. Why should they? It’s a rarity that both teams are good enough and the timing lines up to create some must-watch baseball. This week’s four-game sweep by the Yankees doesn’t put up much of an argument to the contrary.
The 2000 series featuring the Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza bat-throwing scuffle is a flash in the pan when you look at the recent history between these two teams. But, both teams and Major League Baseball would love to see some of that drama reignite, because New Yorkers vs. New Yorkers is a marketing dream. That’s why “Rivalry Week” is such a promotional push. The Yankees and Red Sox series was a big one, so it makes sense to tack the Mets onto that to elongate the hype. In the dog days of August with a lackluster-at-best Mets team, there’s nothing else to grab onto.
The rivalry isn’t dead, though, and interestingly enough, it may be the organizations keeping it alive. The Yankees and the Mets don’t do a lot of business together. It’s a little-known secret that there is an invisible trade barrier on the Triborough Bridge that almost always prevents the two clubs from inking a deal. That very barrier may be the reason that some recent and interesting trades didn’t go through.
The Mets were looking to deal Lucas Duda before the deadline and the Yankees were in contention. But, ultimately, the Bombers fell out of favor and Duda went to the Rays instead. It would be inaccurate to claim that the Rays beat out the Yankees because of the Triborough Barrier, they simply put together a better package that included picking up all of Duda’s salary, but trading a slugger to a divisional rival of the Yankees may have sweetened the deal for the Mets.
A more conspicuous trade that slipped through the Yankees’ fingers was for Jay Bruce. The Yankees created a nice offer that included several prospects but, in turn, the Mets would have to pay the remaining $4 million on Bruce’s contract. They opted, instead, to trade him to Cleveland for some unknown A-Ball pitcher with a kicker that the Indians would pick up the rest of the tab on his contract. It’s understandable that the Mets want to penny pinch as they’re still reeling from losing their money in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, but this decision is flat out bizarre. It’s hard not to see some situational bias against the Yankees here.
With the organizations refusing to play nice in the sandbox, they set the tone for the rest of the city. Bragging rights are put on the line for players when they know they are going out to prove something for their club and their fans. It’s that little bit of spite that gave that four-game set a certain je ne sais quoi. The Yankees by all means should crush the Mets and they did. But the sweep felt a little bit more competitive than that.
That competitive spirit is all the fans need to stoke the flame. If you grew up in the Tri-state area as a Yankee fan, it’s safe to say you know a lot of Met fans. You went to school with Met fans. You work with Met fans. You argue on the line at the bodega with Met fans. You are tired of Met fans. When the two New York teams square off, you’re hoping for a sweep to stick it to them when they’re good or bury them when they’re bad.
So, no, the Subway Series may not be at its peak right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. The truth is, New Yorkers are a little too angry to ever let a rivalry like this one die.