Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Only New Yorkers root for Subway Series

        NEW YORK — As a concept, a Subway Series works best within the geographical boundaries of the specific subway system. It's a very big deal to New Yorkers. It's a very large yawn to the world beyond the Hudson.

        If the Yankees and the Mets both advance to the World Series, the bulk of America's baseball fans will be hard-pressed to find a rooting interest. That is, unless, it involves the combatants' mutually assured destruction.

        Yankees fans are arrogant, obnoxious, insufferable snobs. I know. I'm one of them. Mets fans are Yankees fans without the breeding. Together, they represent a city that never sleeps, never shuts up and is never ashamed of charging $3 for a Coke or spending $3 million on a fifth outfielder.

        They make themselves pretty easy to hate, and that's before you consider the more loathsome characteristics of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Mets manager Bobby Valentine. The dilemma facing Middle America this week is deciding which New York team it hates more.

        This may become a moot point. The St. Louis Cardinals own the home-field advantage in the National League Championship Series and the everlasting gratitude of those who have wearied of the Atlanta Braves' act. The Seattle Mariners are also a formidable bunch, and less frail than the aging champions of the South Bronx.

        Conceivably, neither New York team may survive October's semifinal round. Not that that's how the story is being played here.

Collision course?
               The back page of Monday's New York Post carried photographs of the Mets and Yankees celebrating their first-round playoff clinches. Inset in each photograph were reverse images of subway car No.1657, each one bearing the logo of one of the local teams, aimed on an apparent collision course.

        Premature? Obviously. Presumptuous? Certainly. Predictable? Definitely.

        Not since 1956 have two New York teams been matched in the World Series, when the Yankees' Don Larsen pitched his perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since then, the closest thing to a Subway Series was in 1989, when Oakland swept San Francisco in a competition interrupted by an earthquake.

        Rarely have the Mets and Yankees been elite teams at the same time. When the Yankees were winning five straight pennants at the start of the 1960s, the Mets were defining expansion futility. When the Mets made their miraculous World Series run in 1969, the Yankees were slogging in fifth place.

Big city, big money
               Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973, and his timing was exquisite. As major-league players attained more leverage through free agency, Steinbrenner was able to exploit his market size and massive revenues to sign established stars. Instead of relying on the crapshoot of player development, the Yankees could pounce on proven commodities like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Goose Gossage.

        Ultimately, both teams learned to wield their financial clout with precision, raising their standards and arousing the resentment of small-market fans. Eventually, they are bound to stage a Subway Series.

        “We want to take care of our own business,” Valentine said Sunday. “If, in fact, it is a head-to-head with the Yankees a couple of weeks from now, we'd love to steal their thunder.”

        The nation at large will be cheering for those subway cars to collide.

        E-mail: sullivan@enquirer.com


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