I am a 37-year-old Yankees fan. The last time my team didn’t finish the regular season with a winning record was 1992 – when I was in seventh grade. During that time, my beloved Bronx Bombers have won seven pennants and five World Series. It is among the most impressive runs of competence ever, not just in baseball but all of American sports.
In stark contrast, it’s been three full decades (I was seven) since their crosstown rivals have won a ring. So regardless of their affiliation, baseball fans under 40 have known, unequivocally, that New York is a Yankees town.
That is until…well…right about now. The team from Queens has, once again, become King of New York. And this might not be a short-term thing either.
With their pitching staff alone, the Mets are set up for success for several years to come. Not only does the Mets’ starting rotation boast the best complement of young arms in baseball, each pitcher is cost controlled from a contract standpoint. Matt Harvey ($4.325 million this season, controlled through 2018), Jacob deGrom ($607,000 this season, controlled through 2020), Noah Syndergaard ($535,375 this season, controlled through 2021), Steven Matz ($515,750 this season, controlled through 2021), and the shortly returning Zack Wheeler ($546,250 this season, controlled through 2019) are all steeply discounted bargains and under team control for multiple additional seasons beyond this year. Most of them will be earning healthy annual raises through arbitration, but nothing compared to what they’d be worth on the open market.
Think of it this way: Even with Bartolo Colon’s reasonable $7.25 million salary, the Mets’ starting rotation – the injured Wheeler included – makes slightly more than half ($13.75 million) what the Yankees are paying CC Sabathia ($25 million) this season.
And for the first time since Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2008 Bernie Madoff scandal, the team has placed a substantial amount of revenue back into the team. In addition to this past offseason’s re-signing of slugger Yoenis Cespedes (three years, $75 million), the Amazin’s also added shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (two years, $18.5 million) and second baseman Neil Walker (one year, $10.55 million) to solidify both their lineup and up-the-middle defense.
Their run to the World Series last year was no fluke, and the fans know it. The Mets are on pace to break their 2015 attendance which, at 2,569,000, was the highest since the 2009 inaugural season of Citi Field. The ballpark itself is a stark improvement over its shabby predecessor, the much-maligned Shea Stadium.
Meanwhile, the only thing burning in the Bronx these days is money. The Yankees are boring, old and slow, and their only exciting pitchers are in the bullpen, waiting for a late-inning lead that seldom comes. They began the season 9-17, and since they won to improve to 4-4 on April 14, the Yanks have spent just one day with a .500 record — May 24, when they won to put their record at 22-22. The Bombers quickly dipped back below .500 and now stand at 27-30.
It’s not just the actual results either, as the underlying stats like them even less. Entering Monday’s game, their Pythagorean record was 25-31, and their Base Runs record was 24-32. This isn’t a bad start. It’s a bad team.
Saddled with oft-injured, over-the-hill former All-Stars on the tail ends of suspect-at-best contracts – Alex Rodriguez ($40 million through 2017), Jacoby Ellsbury ($111 million through 2021), Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million, final year), Carlos Beltran ($15 million, final year) – the Yankees are likely to end this season with the ignominious distinction of the worst win-to-payroll ratio in baseball history.
Recently, their already full-blown free agent syndrome has metastasized even further, exemplified by absolutely silly contracts like the four-year, $52 million deal handed out to the mediocre Chase Headley, who this season didn’t record an extra-base hit until May 12.
Their ballpark is as unappealing as their play. The New Yankee Stadium is a corporatist knock-off of the House That Ruth Built – a sterile, supremely overpriced bandbox where stiffs in suits eat sushi in $1,200 seats. The home field of the most famous team in sports history has gone from hallowed ground to variety show laughingstock.
Not surprisingly, crowds have dwindled. The Yankees’ 2015 attendance was the team’s worst in 15 years, and in 2016 many feel officially reported attendance is being vastly exaggerated. The place looks like a ghost town most nights. Even if those tickets are paid for, people don’t seem to be using them.
From the very start, for the Mets, sharing a market with the Yankees – even one as big as New York – always has meant an uphill climb against both hallowed history and unparalleled success. The year before the Mets’ inaugural 1962 season, the Yankees won the World Series and had Roger Maris breaking the single-season home run record. That’s a tough act to follow.
Since then, there have been two, maybe three periods when the Mets have been the toast of the town, and these stretches have been relatively brief. But now, as the Yankees lineup creaks through its golden years, the Mets have a golden opportunity, one they haven’t had since the mid-1980s: They can make New York a Mets town again, and this time for a solid decade or more.
Still, pride, power and pinstripes remain formidable foes. So for the Mets to turn this magic moment into a prolonged run of hometown dominance, they’ll have to earn it.
First and foremost, the Mets need to win a World Series in the next three years. This team, with this staff and this much-improved defense, is capable of that. The young studs in the rotation are a season more seasoned, and they don’t have Daniel Murphy to kick (the ball) around anymore. New York loves a winner; it makes shortcomings matter far less (see: Trump, Donald).
Once that banner is hung (easy, right?), the Mets have to avoid acting…well…like the post-Madoff Mets. They have four All-Star caliber pitchers and another (Wheeler) with a high ceiling. They have through 2018 – when Harvey becomes the first hurler to reach free agency – to determine which guys to keep.
Realistically, they’ll at best be able to keep three, and even that involves further loosening a notoriously tight Wilpon wallet. The Mets’ 2016 Opening Day payroll was $130 million, which was 15th in the majors. In the country’s biggest market, there is room for increased revenue and, in turn, increased payroll – especially if they win a World Series in short order. Most likely, they’ll need that extra spending to stay on top.
Lastly, the Mets need to continue doing what they’re finally doing – resonating with fans. At Citi Field, the last two years have seen a relevant, non-desperate-seeming schedule of promotions that hit the right notes, including a monthly “Free Shirt Friday,” a Father’s Day Cap for dads, Mike Piazza Bobblehead Day, and giveaways showcasing specific players’ proclivities.
The Yankees just keep getting older, more broken down, and increasingly expensive. Meanwhile, the Mets have an enviable quantity of baseball’s greatest resource – young, cheap pitching – a strong supporting lineup, and the potential for increasing revenues to keep their recent run going a long while. And fans in Queens, the Bronx, and the rest of New York City are taking notice.
References & Resources
- Justin Block, The Huffington Post, “John Oliver Sticks It To ‘A**hole’ Yankees By Selling 25-Cent Tickets”
- Lisa Swan, Subway Squawkers, “Why Isn’t the Media Talking about the Yankees’ Declining Attendance?”
- Jimmy Traina, FOX Sports, “Time heals all: Yankees holding Alex Rodriguez Bat Day in 2016”