The Mets and Yankees are preparing to battle this weekend in what is always billed as a “subway series,” which is technically possible because you can take the train the game. However, in the true sense of the historic notion of a subway series (first involving the Yankees and either the Dodgers or Giants), it should really be a playoff game that comes after the regular season. In keeping with that tradition, the last real subway series happened in 2000 between the Mets and Yankees.
I have never really understood the reason for interleague play. It started out as something new and was a bit exciting, but I think it has become something more than it should be (at least here in New York). I went to some Mets-Yankees games at old Shea since interleague play started in 1997, and the fans on both sides became increasingly obnoxious over the years to the point of the game no longer being a pleasure to watch. Though I had a chance for tickets this weekend at Citi Field, I passed them up. I found myself longing for a simpler time, a time when games between the Mets and Yankees didn’t count but were a lot more fun.
The thing I wistfully recall was called the Mayor’s Trophy Game. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Mayor's Trophy Game originally took place between the Yankees and the Giants. Eventually, the Yankees also played the Dodgers in these exhibition games. Besides playing for bragging rights, “The games were played primarily to benefit sandlot baseball in New York City, with proceeds going to the city's Amateur Baseball Federation.”
In my lifetime the Mayor's Trophy Game was played between the Yankees and the Mets (1963-1979). The games were not played during 1980-1981 seasons because of some differences between the two organizations, but both teams didn’t let that stop them from donating money to the Amateur Baseball Federation. The games came back in 1982 and 1983, but after that they were suspended because of dwindling attendance, and I suspect there were other reasons never made public.
I can remember these games as exciting ones because, since they were played once a year, the competition was real but the outcome was not. Believe it or not, the Mets held their own over the years, with the Yankees winning ten times, the Mets winning eight times, and there was one tie in 1979 (game called because of rain).
My friends were mostly all Mets' fans in those days, but we knew a few Yankees' fans in the neighborhood, and we liked to take the opportunity to brag about how our Metsies were going to beat the Yanks. It seemed Yanks' fans were never really fond of this once a year contest because, if their team lost to the Mets, they felt it was a fate worse than death.
I remember seeing pictures on the back page of the newspapers in town, with the winning team holding up the trophy each year. There was something innocent about it back then, and they were playing for a good cause. Now it has become a different animal, one with big fangs and scary claws. People seem genuinely on edge during these games, and the city becomes a place swimming in people dressed in Mets or Yankees gear as the days grind on sometimes insufferably.
Certainly, as a Mets fan, I like it when the Mets win, but I don’t appreciate either side turning it into a battle for the city. It does seem that this is what these games have come to, and I wish that inter-league play could end because I don’t see how it is good for baseball, good for my team, or good for my city. It is obviously meant to be a commercial success, and I am sure that it is, but the three days at Citi Field followed by another three days at Yankee Stadium are just too much for this old town.
I long for the simpler days when Ed Kranepool could shake hands with Horace Clarke, and then they would go out there on the field and watch as two farmhands (usually called up just for these games because neither team wanted to waste a real pitcher in an exhibition) pitched like the game mattered.
In the end it was lots of innocent good fun, one team got the Mayor’s Trophy, and the real winners were the kids who benefited from the money raised for sandlot baseball. Ah, to get on the subway and go out to the park for one day to see a game that didn’t inflate a pitcher’s ERA, or deflate a hitter’s batting average. The players were out there having fun and doing something good for New York. Now, that wasn’t a true subway series, but it sure was better than the volatile interleague games we are stuck with today.