ALSO THIS MONTH
DAVID HARSANYI, a free-lance writer living in New York City is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online. He writes on literature, sports and popular culture for several publications.
With the help of interleague play - not to mention a healthy dose of Manhattan hype - a new phenomenon has emerged in New York. The prospect of two New York teams meeting in the World Series for the first time since 1956 has electrified a city that craves incessant stimulation.
In the past, the fat-free hostility between the Mets and Yankees has rarely been gratifying. Now, witless fans flood the local sports-radio talk lines, waiting on hold for hours at times, disparaging the other team with a frenzied venom generally reserved for strangers. Walking the streets of the city, a person can hear the arguments swelling, tearing away the warm camaraderie that ordinarily binds the residents of the Big Apple. Actually, everyone knows this city loves a rivalry. The masses cherish debate and abhor watching others do well. But before this orgy of animosity ensues, the two teams, who have rarely enjoyed simultaneous glory in the past, have a lot of work to do in fulfilling this NYC dream match-up.
The Bronx Bombers enjoyed one of the most spectacular campaigns in baseball history last year, amassing 114 regular-season wins while losing just two playoff games on their way to a World-Series sweep of the San Diego Padres. It's difficult to recall precisely when the Yankees again became baseball's model of stability. No longer the Bronx Zoo, the franchise - post-season qualifiers for five straight seasons - have won two of the last three World Series. Utilizing a newfound patience - a trait seldom associated with the organization beforehand - the Yankees are not just the team of today but are poised to be a member of baseball's aristocracy for years. With a solid farm system, a core of special young players, and an eternal pit of money, it's a good time to be a Yankee.
With all their winning, the Yanks homegrown constitution been most impressive - as organic as an elite major-league club can get these days. Derek Jeter, the celebrated shortstop and offensive catalyst of the Yanks, is a homegrown. So is last year's American League batting champion Bernie Williams, top closer Mariano Rivers, former 20-game winner Andy Pettitte, catcher Jorge Posada and emerging outfielder Ricky Ledee. All of these players are on the cusp or in the prime of their careers. In addition, two of the top prospects in baseball, Alfonzo Soriano and Nick Johnson, wait their turns in the minors, as the Yankees have built one of the strongest farm systems in the major leagues.
Crosstown, times haven't been as accommodating; in fact, they've been downright disagreeable. But the Mets, who have been busy playing underling to the Yankees' triumph for years, are also closing in on a post-season spot of their own for the first time in a decade. Mets General manger Steve Phillips has employed hawkish tactics, assembling a competitive squad by signing free agents (Robin Ventura, Rickey Henderson, Orel Hershiser) and consuming small-market team's salary casualties (Mike Piazza, Al Lieter, Darryl Hamilton, John Olerud, Bobby Bonilla). The Mets, who boast a potential ace in 23-year-old Octavio Dotel, have very little else in terms of prospects, having traded a majority of their future in building their potent lineup. All this movement, however short-sighted, has led to the Mets challenging the perennial power Atlanta Braves for the National League East title for the first time in years.
With perhaps the finest infield in all of baseball, the Mets are under a lot of pressure to make the post-season for the first time since 1989. Realistically, it seems that the Mets' window for a championship might slam shut just as quickly as it has opened. Only three everyday players and one starting pitcher are under the age of 30 (Henderson and Hershiser are both 40 years of age) while almost every trade made by Phillips this season has boosted the average age of the club.
While the Yankees' extravagance might not be as obvious as the free-spending Mets this season, they are the ones who set the precedent for high-stakes expenditure. Unlike most others, both New York clubs have the comfort of cozy financial situation to fall back on when other options fail. The Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos, for example, have no chance of holding on to the All-Star caliber player once he develops - see Chuck Knoblauch. Consequently, a New York-New York series might be a colossal slap-in-the-face to all small-market teams. (It should be noted that the Mets have been one of the few success stories as far as aggressive free-agent pursuers. The Dodgers and the Orioles, perennially free-agent gamblers, have both been mired in or near the bottom of their respective divisions all season.)
Now, the Yankees, who have all but wrapped up a playoff position, have the time to fine-tune their game, heal and focus. With upcoming series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves, the Mets face a vigorous schedule down the stretch. How they react to it will go a long way in determining if a Subway Series can occur.
Meanwhile, New York waits.
* * * *