By Mike Steffanos
[This post is dedicated to my neighbor Jim -- not just for being a fellow Met fan in a sea of Yankee and Red Sox worshipers, but also for prodding me this week to get off my a** and write something new for this blog.]
I have some thoughts on a variety of Mets issues that I plan to share here in the next few days, but I came across something by Mike Vaccaro in the New York Post yesterday that seems like a good place to start.
Over the past few of years since the Mets 2007 collapse (and subsequent futilities) it seems like these columns on how the Mets have lost their chance to take the city from the Yankees keep popping up. Vaccaro's foray into this genre follows the familiar pattern: the Mets success in the 1980s combined with the Yankees inability to make the playoffs helped turn New York into a "National League Town" for a while, but Yankees success and Mets failures over the past 18 years have turned the city back into what Vaccaro characterizes as a "resounding Yankees town" now.
Moreover, as always seems to be the case in these columns, Vacarro paints a really bleak picture for Mets fans who dream of their team winning back the town from the Yankees:
Bottom line: The Yankees aren't going anywhere, which is far different than cynics who believe the Mets are going nowhere.
Could it happen? Sure it could. But if it does, it will be a far more difficult for the Sandy Alderson Mets than it was for the Frank Cashen Mets. Because soon enough, New York's "National League Town" legacy will have flimsier roots than Lady Gaga.
I always have felt that the primary purpose of writing this sort of column is to feed into the Yankees fan's need to beat his or her chest and feel superior while tweaking the Mets fan's inferiority complex and generally pissing us off. In newspapers these days it's all about attracting fickle readers, and this stuff has proven to work. I used to get annoyed by this, but I really don't any more. My only real problem is to the extent that this silly debate tends to obscure what the reality of the Mets situation really is.
The Yankees have more fans in the New York metropolitan area, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. The Yankees have the spotlight right now, are running their organization fairly intelligently and have tons of revenue to stay at the top. I don't foresee any real chance of a prolonged downturn for them over the next few years. I would tend to agree with Vaccaro there.
The silliness is the idea that being number one in town is the only route for the Mets becoming a successful franchise. The idea of owning the town generates some heat among the fanbases, making it great fodder for talk radio and newspaper columnists. The reality, though, is that the New York area has a huge population and they are not all Yankees fans.
When the Mets have had a good team, they have drawn, even during periods when the Yankees were strong. In 1999 while the Yankees drew just under 3.3 million fans into their ballpark the Mets attracted over 2.7 million into Shea.
In 2000 attendance at Shea rose to 2.8 million while the Yankees fell slightly to just over 3 million. Then, of course the Mets started to suck again. Even so, they drew 2.6 million fans in 2001 and 2.8 million in 2002 before the bottom fell out. They even managed to draw over 2 million in both 2003 and 2004 for teams that lost over 90 games both seasons.
When the Mets became competitive in 2005 the fans came back, over 2.8 million of them. In 2006 the Mets drew over 3.3 million. This was despite the Yankees winning their division both seasons and drawing over 4 million fans. The Mets don't need to "own the town" to succeed. They just need to field a team that's worth watching. There are more than enough baseball fans in this area to support a team that isn't the Yankees.
I wonder what the last 18 years might have been like if the Mets had not been so conscious of competing with the Yankees and concentrated on building a better player development system. How might things be different today if the focus had been on spending money intelligently and winning championships rather than trying to grab the back page of the tabloids?
The Mets problem over the past 18 years isn't the Yankees' success, but rather their own lack of success. If the Mets had been a well-run organization during this time they would have been fine.
Going forward, if the Mets can build a championship squad in Flushing it really doesn't matter if Vaccaro and the rest of the pundits declare New York an American League Town from now until Jesus returns.