With the first half of 2008’s Subway Series beginning on Friday, it is time to discuss who really is the Mets’ biggest rival.
For starters, over the last few seasons, every time interleague play rolls around the so-called “experts” debate the idea/necessity of having these interleague games. Many argue that the inclusion of the interleague games, including the home and home series against a team’s “natural” rival, takes away from previously established intra-league rivalries.
For instance, this season, the Mets will take on the Yankees, the Rangers, the Angels, and the Mariners. Sure, the Yankees are struggling like the Mets, but are typically a good measuring stick to see what the Mets’ chances may be against a playoff-caliber team. The Angels series should also be interesting, but playing the currently 16-26 Mariners (as of 5/15) seems less than mouth-watering.
If the Mets played less of these interleague games, they would have more chances to play against teams they have done battle with in the past like the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. The Mets play the Cubs and Cardinals more or less the same number of times that they do the Yankees in a given year.
Major League Baseball will tell the doubters of interleague play that attendance keeps going up for these series and that the fan interest is tremendous. Even the 16-26 Mariners will bring Ichiro along with them to Shea for the Flushing Faithful to enjoy.
The interleague question aside, it’s time to choose the Mets’ three biggest rivals in no particular order.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are an easy place to start. The Mets compete with the Yankees mostly for media attention and fan base. Many New York fans love to debate which team is better, which fans are better, which team’s announcers are better, and any other detail one could imagine.
The Mets used to run a more financially conservative operation, but have gone the route of the Yankees in recent years and have begun to sign high-priced players and trade away prospects with little concern for the consequences. The Mets even “one-upped” the Yankees this off-season by trading four prospects for Johan Santana, while the Yankees chose to hold on to their prized youngsters. The “My team does more with less argument” can be thrown out the window.
Of course, the main argument that precludes the Yankees from being the Mets’ biggest rival is that they are not in the same league and only have begun to play each other six times per year over the last decade. There is no historical rivalry and the in-season rivalry is of little consequence other than bragging rights.
The teams have only played other once in the World Series (2000), which featured a dominant Yankee team at the tail end of its dynasty versus a strong but somewhat overachieving Met team. Many Met fans were aware of the reality going into the series that the Yankees were the better team and the series could have generated more buzz than it did.
Additionally, one would assume that the Yankees consider the Boston Red Sox their biggest rivals.
The Atlanta Braves have been the nemesis of the entire NL East dating back to 1995 when they won their first of their annual division crowns over the next ten years.
The Mets have historically struggled at both Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field. They also have found the Braves to be a force to be reckoned with until 2006, when Atlanta failed to produce a winning record for the first time since 1990.
The 1999 NLCS may have been the apex of this rivalry when the two teams faced off against one another for the right to lose to the Yankees in the World Series. No Mets’ fans can erase from their memories the image of Kenny Rogers walking in the series-winning run at the conclusion of game six in Atlanta.
While most Met fans likely hate the Braves more than the Yankees, this rivalry also lacks the historical significance that the Mets-Yankees does. The Braves were a member of the NL West up until 1993; a vestigial misalignment as a result of their move from Milwaukee. Had this been an NL East rivalry for more than just the last decade and a half, the Braves could have been crowned the Mets’ “biggest rival.”
The Mets and the Phils have been divisional rivals since 1969 when the NL East came into being.
The early years of this rivalry were less interesting, as the teams were not always competitive during the same periods of time. When the Mets were good in the late 60s and early 70s, the Phils had losing records.
The Phils then went through a period of good baseball in the late 70s and early 80s while the Mets struggled.
Though the Phils finished second to the Mets in 1986, they were 21.5 games out of first place, and were not a competitor in the late 80s through 1990.
When the Phils made the World Series in 1993, the Mets did not have a good season.
Both of the teams struggled for the remainder of the 90s until the Mets acquired Mike Piazza in 1998 and began to ascend in the standings. The Phils attempted to play spoiler to the Mets in 1999, but the Amazins still managed to make the playoffs in both 1999 and 2000 en route to being the second best playoff team in those two years to none other than the Yankees.
This rivalry has really begun to blossom though over the past few seasons with the current core group of players and managers:
Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Brett Myers, and manager Charlie Manuel for the Phils and Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, former Phil Billy Wagner, and manager Willie Randolph.
The fans of these two teams have never liked one another and the players have begun to embrace the rivalry the way the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry dominates the New York-New England area.
The Mets overcame Met-killer Burrell and the Phils in 2006 en route to their first division title in 20 years.
In 2007, Rollins said that the Phils would be the team to beat despite their usual disappointing finishes over the prior decade. Rollins put his money where his mouth was and led the Phils to their first division title since 1993 and also received the MVP trophy.
2008 has already featured the Phils saying that they are ready to brawl with the Mets when the time is right. The Mets tried to encourage the Phils to stick to baseball and leave the boxing to Rocky. Met fans have been quite critical of how they have been treated as paying customers at the Phillies’ home of Citizens Bank Park.
Additionally, the Phillies and Mets enjoy a good geographical rivalry. While the Mets and Yankees compete for fans in northern New Jersey, southern New Jersey is typically Phillies’ territory. Those living in central New Jersey have to work the hardest to establish their fan identity. Different counties of New Jersey are haphazardly labeled as “Philadelphia market,” or “New York market,” and fans sometimes find difficulty in finding a variety of team merchandise or reliable media coverage.
Northeastern Pennsylvania faces the same conundrum as many would assume the Pennsylvania residents would choose to root for the team from Pennsylvania, but a lot opt to root for the Mets or Yankees.
Given the length of time that the two teams have been rivals, the current intensity, and the geographical factors, the Philadelphia Phillies can claim the honor of being the New York Mets’ “biggest rival.”