The last time the Subway Series captured the local imagination was in 2002. Two years earlier, Roger Clemens, who had hit Mike Piazza in the head a few months earlier, insanely threw a broken bat toward the Mets catcher during the 2000 World Series. Clemens had not returned to the plate to face the consequences until that June 2002 afternoon at Shea when Mets left-hander Shawn Estes was assigned the unenviable task of exacting revenge. This was, according to not-so-secret baseball morality, a freebie: Estes was expected to throw at Clemens, “send a message,” and Clemens had to just take it. In his only memorable moment as a Met, Estes threw a pitch a foot behind Clemens, and everyone moved on.
Peace has reigned between the two teams ever since, and let me say, that’s been quite the letdown. Our local nines get about as pumped up to play each other as they do about facing the Washington Nationals. Players often complain that the series are unnecessary media distractions, that we inflate them into something more vital and lasting than exists in reality. And of course we do that! The Mets and Yankees, like the White Sox and Cubs in Chicago and the Giants and A’s in the Bay Area, represent so much more than guys in different uniforms. They are a referendum on where you stand in this city. The upscale-SUV-driving-Hamptons-grasping-banker-Rudy-aspirational crowd—currently dressed up as empty Luxury Suites seats—is for the Yankees, and the regular-guy-immigrant-friendly-hardworking-slob-with-a-heart crowd is for the Mets. An oversimplification? Sure! But the Mets and Yankees give us a harmless reason to hate our neighbor so we don’t go looking for real ones.
You’d never know it from watching Mets-Yankees games, though; after Luis Castillo’s ghastly error cost his Mets a game in the Bronx, some Yankees actually expressed sympathy for him. Bah! The Mets and the Yankees need to start treating each other with the vitriol that we fans bring to it. It’s not just another game; it’s civic war.
Thankfully, a couple of players are trying to amp up the bad vibes. After Yankees middle reliever Brian Bruney blasted Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, saying his histrionic celebrations were “a tired act,” Rodriguez responded by confronting Bruney during warm-ups and almost coming to blows. Good stuff!
The Yankees and Mets face each other at Citi Field this weekend, and I hope it’s not too insensitive to cheer for a Joba Chamberlain fastball that whizzes just under Gary Sheffield’s chin. This is what our Subway Series needs: a legitimate contrast between opposing tribes, with genuine antipathy and, why not, a bench-clearing brawl or two. If the Yankees and Mets can’t comfortably hate each other, who can?