Monday, September 28, 2015

New York Mets & the long history of Baseball in NYC

Over the weekend the New York Mets clinched their first playoff appearance since 2006.  Of course Mets players and coaches were excited, but so too are their long suffering fans.  While on the road this past weekend I heard numerous Mets fans calling local New York radio stations talking about how much their team making the playoffs means to them.  For fans of teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, and San Francisco Giants this reaction may seem ridiculous, but context is important when discussing baseball fans in the New York Metro area.

The first half of the 20th century New York City was a hot bed of baseball with three Major League Baseball franchises in the city boroughs.   The New York Yankees (who at the beginning of the century were named the New York Highlanders because they use to play games at Hilltop Park in Manhattan) have resided in the Bronx since 1923.  Until the 1950’s two other teams played ball in New York City: the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.  For three decades the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Upper side of Manhattan Burroughs were the home to 20 World Series Champions (most of those winners played in Yankee Stadium).  In fact, for the first half of century New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and Boston all were home to two or more baseball franchises.

But the 1950’s ushered in changed across the baseball landscape as teams began moving to new cities, among them being the Giants and Dodgers who both prospected the potential of moving to California.  The two long standing New York borough staples were losing attendance battles with the younger franchise located in the Bronx, the Yankees.  So the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the Giants moved to San Francisco after the 1957 season.  Their moves left many New York Metro region baseball fans heart broken and the National League with two less teams in the Northeast.

Before the 1950’s the National League had four teams in the Northeast; after 1957 they were down to only the Philadelphia Phillies as the Dodgers and Giants moved to California while the Braves left Boston to their new home in Milwaukee. 
New York baseball fans certainly were not going to cheer for rival cities Philadelphia or Boston and most National League baseball fans were not going to jump on the Yankees bandwagon.  With the help of powerful lawyer William Shea the New York Metropolitans became the new National League team in New York City.  The team that became known as the Mets paid homage to the teams that proceeded them by adopting Orange and Blue as part of their team colors.  The Mets began play in 1962, making their home in the old New York Giants ballpark, Upper Manhattan’s Polo Grounds.  Beginning in 1964 the Mets began play in another New York City Borough, Queens, where Shea Stadium was built for them.

While New York Metro region baseball fans were happy to have another baseball team in NYC to root for, they had to suffer through the growing pains of an upstart franchise.  From 1962-1968 the Mets were one of the worst baseball teams statistically for any stretch in MLB history.  These years would not be the last time the Mets were bottom dwellers of the National League.  Despite winning the World Series in 1969 and reaching another in 1973, the rest of the 1970’s was a difficult stretch for the team playing in Queens.  This trend would continue for the Mets franchise the next few decades as the Mets’ fans would see teams play great for short stretches, then fall back down the standings.  Meanwhile the Mets would continually be overshadowed by their cross-town counterparts in the Bronx.  The Yankees have won eight World Series championships since 1962.  Yes the New York Mets have won two World Series titles (1969, 1986) and reached the October Classic on two other occasions (1973, 2000) and they are still considered by many that “other team” in NYC.  Adding more insult to injury, since the Giants and Dodgers left town, those two franchises have combined to win eight championships in October. 

The reality of being a New York Mets fan is that your team is not a perennial playoff contender, despite all the talented players to wear the Mets uniform.  From Tom Seaver to Keith Hernandez to Dwight Gooden to Mike Piazza to David Wright, the Mets franchise is one that has tormented their fan base more often than most teams.  Looking back on the history of the Mets, the only consistent part of the franchise has been their tormented, but loyal, fan base.  I know the ballpark doesn’t always sell out, but the reality is that baseball game tickets in New York City are among the most expensive in all of Major League Baseball.  You can’t blame their fans for not wanting the dish out between 55-200 dollars per ticket for good seats to watch a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2006.  In fact, baseball television ratings in New York Metro region is among the highest in the country.

I am not among the New York Mets cheering section, but I am happy for their fans that their team is making is back to postseason play.  I can also appreciate how any sports franchise with as much losing history as the Mets when their fans get so excited about making the playoffs.  But seriously, “Joey from Queens”, relax with the World Series championship’s prognostications, you still have to get to the October Classic before we discuss winning it.

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