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Division realignment could be the next chapter in the Yankees-Mets rivalry

Competing for playoff spots will raise the stakes.

New York Mets v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Major League Baseball owners and the Players Association haven’t agreed on much in the past few months, but they have at least managed to find common ground when it comes to the geographic realignment of divisions for 2020.

In the event baseball begins play in July, the approved proposal would rearrange the league into three, ten-team divisions by combining the American League East with the National League East, the AL Central with the NL Central, and the AL West with the NL West.

Such restructuring would limit travel, public health, and logistical challenges in what could be a packed summer slate, depending on the number of games played.

It would also add a new chapter to the rivalry between the Yankees and Mets, New York neighbors usually kept distant by the scheduling divide between the junior and senior circuits.

While interleague play has familiarized regular season contests between the two clubs — they’ve now played 122 games, with the Yankees winning 71 — for many years the friction between the organizations was relegated to exhibition games and shared personnel.

From their inception in 1962, the Mets’ history has been intertwined with once and future Yankees. The team hired longtime Bombers skipper Casey Stengel to lend legitimacy to an expansion franchise in its infancy.

And while the Mets were mostly hapless under Stengel, the venerable manager did provide some timeless quotes, including the classic: “The only thing worse than a Mets game is a Mets doubleheader.”

Despite the young franchise’s struggles under his direction, the Mets retired Stengel’s number in 1965 — five years before the Yankees did the same.

He wasn’t the only manager the teams shared. Yogi Berra led the Mets from 1972 to 1975, and Joe Torre got his managerial start with the club in a stint from 1977 to 1981. And many players have donned both uniforms, some of whom have contributed to recent Yankees success: Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson, to name a few.

During the tenures of Berra and Torre, the Mets only saw the Yankees in an annual in-season exhibition known as the Mayor’s Trophy Game. The matchup, which began with the Mets in 1963, was a rebirth of the exhibitions between the Yankees and the Dodgers and Giants before they departed to California.

In these games, too, the Yankees held the advantage, compiling a 10-8-1 record before the event was discontinued in 1983.

But the results did not always tilt in the Yankees’ favor. The Mets’ title runs in 1969 and 1986 took place during the heart of two World Series droughts for the Bombers. As a result, the teams didn’t square off with much more than pride on the line. The adoption of interleague play in the late 1990s helped the rivalry unfold in real competitive games.

The Mets won the first ever interleague contest between the clubs in June of 1997, blanking the defending champions 6-0. The game came during the rise of a Yankees dynasty, but the Mets were in the midst of an ascendancy of their own, narrowly missing the postseason in 1998 and then reaching the NLCS in 1999.

Their eventual meeting with the Yankees in the 2000 World Series — which featured an epic extra-inning opener, the broken-bat episode of the Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza feud, and Derek Jeter’s pivotal Game Four leadoff home run — brought the heat of an October Subway Series back to New York for the first time in 44 years.

While the rivalry in the 21st century hasn’t had the same stakes as that showdown in the Fall Classic, the competition for fans’ hearts continues, punctuated by bragging-rights moments like a walk-off dropped pop-up off the bat of Alex Rodriguez in 2009, and a (slightly more impressive) walk-off line drive by David Wright off Mariano Rivera in 2006.

Last season, the Mets’ Pete Alonso rampaged to 53 home runs, sneaking past Aaron Judge’s rookie record of 52. The possibility of seeing Judge and Alonso trade home run blows not just in the same city, but in the same division, is exciting.

And if the season ends up being a 50-game sprint, any contests between the Yankees and Mets will bear added meaning in the scramble for postseason positioning, even with an expanded playoff field.

2020’s intradivisional competition between the Yankees and Mets, if it were to take place, would be unique and historic. In a year when fan interest has been sorely tested, a reinvigorated New York rivalry would serve as a welcome reminder of what makes baseball fun.