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The Tabs At Bat

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With such arch characters as basketball insider Pete Vecsey and the easily outraged "media critic" Phil Mushnick, the lint-raking Jonathan Edwards of the New York sports scene, on its roster, the Murdochian Post, with a smaller staff, sells a cheaper, gaudier sort of patter. The Post is full of Sturm, and much Drang. Hearts and bile are worn on sleeves: One win qualifies a team for Heaven; a loss consigns it to hell. "We're about passion and emotion," says Greg Gallo. "We're not going to finesse you." Amplifying the militarist metaphors, Jack Newfield, former News worker, now sometime Post sports nostalgiameister, says "We're the underdog here. The Vietcong. General Giap. Kosner and the rest of them at the News are General Westmoreland."

Let's go to the non-video tape. From the jump, the Post breaks out on top. As Todd Pratt hits his homer to put the Mets in the NLCS, the News, after running a 44-page playoff preview, unaccountably chooses to go with a di's lover tells all front page, accompanied by a picture of the still-dead princess giving her "secret lover" a polo trophy. This is a disaster, the tabloid equivalent of a 10-7 round, allowing the Post to capitalize with a generic believe it! and standard ballplayer-celebration photo.

But the News, behind the estimable ink pot of the aforementioned Bill Gallo, still the single best link to the Better World, when ballplayers lived in places like Bensonhurst and St. Albans, battles back. In his column "Bleacher Creature," Filip Bondy refers to the Yankee Stadium Neanderthal chant "Welcome to Hell" as "standard." News heads like braves bust mets chops whittle the Post lead. But the Murdoch men are far from finished. Tom Keegan, not what you'd call a stylist, nails sacred cow Piazza, saying "he'll get hot one of these Octobers." Keegan is also dead-red on the Rocker beat, expressing proper New York admiration for the man he is the first to call John "Punk" Rocker. Wally Matthews, the talented lean and hungry Cassius of tab columnists, breaks through, demanding the Mets make the twitchy Bobby Valentine "Manager for Life." This way, covering the Mets will be "more than just watching ballgames . . . it's nine innings wrapped in two sessions of psychoanalysis." In the end, however, writing of the cataclysmic fifteen-inning grand-single game (for which the Post runs the headline amazin' in the red type once used to describe David Berkowitz's being caught!), the Mighty Lupica, who'd been showing more wear and tear than the dinged-up Piazza, rallies the News. "At 11 o'clock last night, Robin Ventura was still out there in the rain at Shea Stadium, down near the photographer's box," he begins. It is portent as usual, but given the biblical-deluge context of the marathon game, it works.

Then, like that, the Subway Series that never was came to an end. The Mets were out, 10-9. Both papers struck the properly funereal note, the News (39 sports pages of 100 total) going with it's over on the front page, the Post (36 for 96) opting for the time-honored wait 'til next year.

What a drag. In the middle of the eighth inning, with the Mets suddenly in the lead, even the most hard-bitten newsman had begun to hope: If the faux Subway Series had been a great story, imagine a real one.

The Mets' demise did eliminate one conflict, however. "You know, as tabloid story -- the ups and downs, the problems, coming back from the dead -- the Mets have just been it over the last part of the season. They've been the back page," says Greg Gallo, a man who has to be "very careful" about his back pages, lest he appear to favor one team over the other. "Put the Mets on the back page, and a thousand Yankee fans are sending e-mails saying, 'Oh, now you're the Mets paper,' " bemoans Leon Carter. With the Yankee Inevitable now in place, he won't have that problem.

As for the winner of this particular Subway Series, let's say, following Nelson Algren's dictum, I never take the top paper, but sportswise, I read the Post first. As they say, it's the little things that win ball games, like running a banner saying ya gotta bereave across eight pages of game coverage. But still, ya gotta like it -- these two dinosaur papers duking it out. You don't get that on the Net. It's just too bad neither paper figured to run that position-by-position, Olerud-vs.-Martinez, Piazza-vs.-Posada, Met-vs.-Yank matchup-edge feature. You know, so we could see who was likely to win the Subway Series that never was. Well, wait till next year.


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