The Mets Fan’s Nightmare

So it’s come to this. We didn’t only have to endure losing hundreds of millions of dollars to a Ponzi scheme, we didn’t only have to endure injuries to our five best players, we didn’t only have to endure a dropped pop-up to lose a game to our crosstown rivals, we didn’t only have to endure our general manager blaming his own firing of a team executive on a newspaper reporter and then having to apologize—twice—for it, we didn’t only have to endure a 92-loss season.

Now we have to endure this: a World Series between our two most hated rivals that appears, on paper, to be one of the most compelling matchups in decades.

Things, as they say, have been better for Mets fans.

Our rallying cry throughout this misbegotten season was that at least it would not end as disastrously as the last three: A called strike three with the bases loaded on our best hitter to complete a loss to an inferior team in the NLCS—and then having to see said inferior team cruise to the World Series title. A collapse that could only be described as epic. A second, not-quite-epic-but-given-the-circumstances-still-pretty-notable collapse a year later, culminating a month later in a World Championship for our division rivals.

Those were three pretty bad falls.

This year was supposed to be different. With the Mets’ chances of contention halted sometime between the middle of June and July, we fans could relax a little and look forward to football season and, perhaps, for the first time in four years, a chance to enjoy the World Series.

Not happening.

Of course, none of this is really “news.” Mets fans were haunted by the possibility of a Yankees-Phillies World Series since the beginning of the postseason. Intelligent ones knew it was more a less a fait accompli once Matt Holliday dropped a ball in left field and Alex Rodriguez homered off Joe Nathan—both in Game 2 of their respective Division Series.*

*I say this because the Cardinals had a far better chance of knocking off the Phillies than the Dodgers or Rockies, and once A-Rod found his groove, it was hard to imagine the Yankees losing, even to the Angels.

There are two things about this that interest me. First, can this happen to any other franchise in sports? What other fan bases preoccupy themselves this much with a geographic rival their team rarely plays? I suppose a White Sox-Cardinals World Series would anger Cubs fans, but would they dare root for St. Louis? I know Boston fans hated the Sixers, but when it came time for a Sixers-Lakers NBA Finals, they made their thoughts on that one pretty transparent.

Second, many people think this is unprecedented even though Mets fans faced the exact same dilemma 10 years ago, when the Yankees played the NL East rival Braves in the 1999 World Series. And—do I need to remind you?—the Braves had just beaten the Mets in a somewhat memorable National League Championship Series. Consequently, I treated this series as if I were Chad Curtis and it was a Jim Gray interview: I ignored it. Although I hated the Braves even more than I did the Yankees at the time, the fact that the Bombers swept Atlanta was probably the worst thing that could have happened. Not only did I have to deal with Yankees fans gloating about another championship, but they also disrespected the sanctity of the ’99 NLCS: Yeah, tough luck against the Braves. They’re a REALLY good team [stifling laughter]. I mean, they almost beat us once in that series. It’s really amazing that we’ve beaten them eight straight times in the playoffs.

In fact, I would argue that the Braves of 1999 were far bigger rivals to the Mets than the Phillies of 2009, largely because of the direct confrontation in the playoffs. Even as the Mets collapsed in 2007 and 2008, their most memorable losses in September were not to Philadelphia, but rather to Washington, the Cubs, and, of course, the Florida Marlins.

But the Mets and Phillies rivalry has the added perk of geographic proximity. For decades, it was a great theoretical rivalry: No two division opponents are closer on a map than the Mets and Phillies.* It didn’t work out for 45 years, though, mainly because the teams were rarely very good, and never at the same time. The rivalry finally took off in 2007, taking its place along other recent and not-so-recent New York-Philadelphia battles, such as the Giants and Eagles (the best NFC East rivalry for the last decade) and the Rangers and Flyers.

*Some caveats: I suppose you could make a case for the Tigers and the Indians, but whereas we have the Jersey Turnpike connecting the Mets and Phils, they have a lake in the way. And no, we’re not counting the Cubs and Brewers, either, because Milwaukee up and switched leagues a few years back.

So what’s a Mets fan to do? Back the NL and the newer rival Phillies? Or back the hometown and the attention-whoring Yankees? I’ve tried my best to think about it rationally, and here’s my breakdown:

Why to Root for the Phillies:

1. Back your league.

A friend of mine used to say, “Back your conference” for the Super Bowl, and that rationale seems to hold even more in a sport in which there are definitive rule differences between leagues and a popular perception that the other league is much better. Of course, that friend was a Redskins fan, and “Back your conference” went out the door when the Cowboys were in the Super Bowl.

2. They beat us more often.

This doesn’t appear too appealing on the surface (because it isn’t), but the fact that the Phillies have now won our division three years in a row could be validated by a second World Series title. We could say, “Well, at least we lost to the best” in a way the ’99 Braves prevented us from.

Furthermore, a large percentage of Yankees fans don’t realize that the Phillies are, in fact, a very good team—just like they didn’t realize the Marlins were in 2003. This holds true for most American League fans, who assume the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels are perpetually the only good teams in baseball.

3. They play the game the “right” way.

This is the argument of many veteran sportswriters who cherish the days when players slid hard into second and ran out every ground ball. The common perception proliferated about the Phillies is that they are tough and hard-nosed, and that this is why they beat the Mets year in and year out. It overlooks the talent factor, but hey, maybe it means something.

4. We don’t run into Phillies fans.

I don’t know if this holds true for other Mets fans, but the reason I started disliking the Yankees (ca. 1998) had little to do with the team itself and more to do with the obnoxious condescension of its fans. We see Yankees fans all the time in a way we rarely encounter Phillies fans,* and we’d no doubt have to hear ad nauseam about “No. 27” if the Yankees won.

*This might be untrue for South Jersey Mets fans, but come on, that’s South Jersey. Even I don’t respect South Jersey.**

**The dividing line between Central Jersey and South Jersey, for me, lies somewhere in Ocean County, just south of LBI. ‘Cuz I really like LBI.

5. The voice of the Phillies is dead while the voice of the Yankees is just retired.

While I strongly dislike all other Phillies announcers, Harry Kalas was great.

Why to Root for the Yankees:

1. The Phillies are in our division.

We have to play Philadelphia 18 times next year. If the Phillies win, that’s 18 times at least we have to hear about the “two-time defending champs.” That’s more and more Philly fans venturing to Queens for Mets-Phillies game and proudly wearing red. It’s another parade in which someone is going to mock the Mets (even if it’s by explicitly not mentioning the Mets).

That is hell.

2. Philly fans suck.

I mean, there’s really no way to sugarcoat it. Say what you will about Yankees fans, but they actually care about their team. The Phillies rank fourth on the Philadelphia sports hierarchy, and you can bet that Philly fans will be more concerned about the Eagles’ game with the Giants on Sunday than that day’s Game 4 of the Series.* I can only prove this anecdotally: Last October, I was in a bar with a handful of Phillies fans for the last out of the World Series. Within six minutes, they started an “E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!” chant. It was sickening.

*There’s NO way you’d see a Phillies game kill an Eagles game in the ratings in Philly the way the Yankees did the Giants-Cardinals game Sunday night in New York.

Philadelphia fans, in general, have the well-earned reputation as the nation’s worst. Last year, not only did a caller to sports radio ask, “Why can’t us?”, but that became the rallying cry for all Phillies fans. I repeat: Why can’t us? I don’t think you need to be a language pedant to be bothered by this. Long known for their cynicism, I don’t know if I could live in a world in which Philly fans are able to gloat about beating the Mets again for a division title, beating the Giants in the playoffs, and beating the Yankees in a World Series all in a span of 13 months.

3. The Phillies play the game the wrong way.

When the Mets celebrate, it’s the reason other teams hate them. When the Phillies celebrate, it’s just the manifestation of a confidence they’ve earned (even if the earning comes later).

This, I know, seems petty. But it’s always bothered me that Jose Reyes is constantly criticized for celebrating on the field (did you hear the Larry Anderson clip from above?) and for not always running out ground balls while guys like Shane Victorino does the former and Jimmy Rollins the latter just as much.

4. They have Mariano Rivera.

Wouldn’t it be fun to be rooting for a guy as good as Rivera late in the game? I’ve never known what that’s like, and I’ll be honest: It’s very enticing.

5. Jayson Stark.

Now, Stark used to cover the Phillies before moving to ESPN, where he, more or less, covers the Phillies. He wrote a book about last year’s Phillies from the perspective of a Phillies fan, and the book includes a blurb from current Phillie Jamie Moyer. You’d think these two things might constitute some sort of journalistic issue for Stark and ESPN, but they had no qualms sending him to cover the NLCS. If Philly were to win again, we’d be no doubt treated to, if not a book, at least several (more) fawning articles throughout the off-season and spring training about how great the Phillies are.

For me personally, these represent 10 pretty terrible reasons to root for one baseball team over another. But these are the cards we have been dealt.

And so, Go Yankees?

Advertisements

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Dan on October 28, 2009 at 12:24 PM

    I’ve always found it interesting that there is a broken symmetry between Yankees and Mets fans. Not to overgeneralize or anything, but Yankees fans are more likely to support the Mets when not in direct confrontation, while Mets fans hate the Yankees.

    If anything, when the Yankees are not in contention, I want the other NY team to do well. I generally would always want to see the Yanks vs. the Mets in the world series (and, of course, have the Yanks win).

    I never want to see the Sox in the ALCS, even if losing to the Yanks. I think in a World Series of the Red Sox vs. the Mets, (again not to overgeneralize) every single Yankee fan would root for the Mets. [Granted, you could probably put any NL team in that position versus the Red Sox, and the Yankee fans would oppose the Red Sox.]

    I am not saying all Mets fans should support the Yankees … I just find it “curious” how the Yanks seem to be more rivals to the Mets than the Mets are to the Yanks.

    Reply

    • Posted by Tim on October 29, 2009 at 6:28 PM

      That’s definitely true, Dan. As I wrote, my distaste for the Yankees isn’t derived from anything about the actual team; it grew more from having to deal with obnoxious Yankee fans at school. The Mets, like most second (and third) bananas in the NY sports scene (Jets, Nets, Devils, and Islanders), have to deal with the constant pressure of attracting attention away from the established (and in most cases [except really in the NHL], more historically successful) franchise (Yankees, Giants, Knicks, and Rangers). The fact that the Yankees won four of five World Series, the last coming against the Mets, as I grew up only intensified the animosity between fans.

      In short, Met fans begrudge the Yankees’ constant success; Yankee fans never feel threatened by the Mets, so they don’t mind seeing them succeed every once in a while. It’s a bit of an inferiority complex.

      Reply

  2. […] more: The Mets Fan’s Nightmare Filed under Rangers Tags: between-the-middle, contention-halted, football-season, look-forward, […]

    Reply

  3. […] I’m pretty sure I know how you’ll answer this (your pro-San Francisco, anti-Philadelphia agenda has been clear for quite some time now), but which of these teams have better fans? Who has […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: