My first baseball hat was a Mets cap. The team was the toast of New York City after their 1986 World Series victory, and I was a five-year-old kid in Buffalo who loved his backyard baseball but for whom the major league goings-on were in another place, time, and dimension. Still though, it was hard to be oblivious to the exploits of the New York Mets while living in New York state at the time, especially when your folks are Mets boosters themselves. Although the local loyalty to the Yankees made them my team and helped me crawl out of the social hole I dug for myself, it was the Mets who were my official baseball hand-me-down, so I ended up taking a real shine to them as well, more so now that they're the parent club of the Buffalo Bisons.
As I noted in my review of the New York Yankees, Yankee fandom in Buffalo doesn't make any sense. People here don't have any problems with the Mets; the Mets were frequently the featured team back when the WB network was airing its own Saturday baseball matinee. But an Buffalo person being completely honest should be able to admit that the Yankees don't represent people in Buffalo. The Yankees are the face of corporate America, McDonald's, Disney, et al. They are in love with their image as American suburban sprawl and whitebread excesses, the good American golden boy raised by the average WASP Cleaver wannabes.
With the Mets, I have no such qualms. The Mets are a far better representation of who I really am than the Yankees. The New York Mets are the construction guys, electricians, plumbers, and factory workers. They are scrappy underdogs who are associated with grit over flash, scrappy fighters instead of dominating robot drones.
This isn't to say that reputation is especially accurate; the Mets do know that money can talk over the other voices in a room, and they do have a payroll which is well over the majority of the other MLB teams. They are also the most successful of the expansion franchises; four Pennants and two World Series titles have done their fanbase proud. The team has a reputation as a lovable loser franchise which is somewhat undeserved. The team has had a number of down moments, though. In the early 90's, they went on a Yankee-esque free agent spending spree which resulted in some very talented ballplayers coming to Shea Stadium. The team proceeded to lose, thus debunking the persistent myth that good payrolls and good teams run hand in hand. The Mets endured another period of bottom-feeding in the 70's, and most famously was their debut team from 1962, which lost 120 games - still a record - while winning only 40.
A big part of the Mets' loser reputation comes from what they had the misfortune to replace. New York City was home to three baseball teams in the first half of the 20th century: The New York Yankees, the New York Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yankees were the city's American League team while the Giants and Dodgers shared baseball's most storied rivalry in the National League. In 1957, Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley moved the team to Los Angeles. Since it was impractical to have a baseball team travel all the way to Los Angles for one single series before heading back east, O'Malley talked Giants owner Horace Stoneham into taking the Giants out to the west coast so they could continue the rivalry between their teams. Stoneham moved his Giants to San Francisco in 1958, and New York City was left with just the Yankees, whom the city's National League followers couldn't stand. They threw a major hissy and since New York City was the largest city in the country, it was important to have a National League presence there. Thus, in 1961 the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, better known as the New York Mets, was created. Unfortunately for the Mets, they were brought in to compete for attention from the greatest baseball team of all time: When the Mets were created, the Yankees had won 25 Pennants and 18 World Series titles. In 1961, when the Mets were first announced, the Yankees won title 19, and they now have 40 Pennants and 27 titles. As if that weren't enough, the Giants had won 17 Pennants and five World Series titles (of their current 21 Pennants and six titles) and the Dodgers had 12 Pennants and their 1955 title when they left Brooklyn, which had expanded to 13 Pennants and two titles between their departure and the arrival of the Mets. (They now have 21 Pennants and six titles.)
Yeah, the Mets were stepping into two pairs of enormous shoes. But the real hardship of the Mets is their unwillingness to distance themselves from New York City's past in the National League. When they should have forged their own unique, separate identity, they instead chose to ride the coattails of the Jints and Bums as closely as they could. Every aspect of their uniforms pays tribute to New York City's other teams. The upward slant and handsome blue script of the word "Mets" are both acknowledgements to the Dodgers. The arcing of "New York" and orange lettering outline are nods to the Giants. The elegant curlyque NY on their cap was taken flat from the Giants. The color of the home caps is Dodger blue. For decades the Mets wore pinstripes, which actually paid tribute to the Yankees. The Mets recently introduced a handsome all white home uniform and introduced black to their color combo, which has finally given them the distinction they so richly deserve, but they do keep the old pinstripes around as a home alternate.
It's is also hard to complain too much about the colors, because even if the Giants and Dodgers had worn pink and yellow, orange and blue are still the colors of the New York City flag. The basketball team wears them too.
I could leave the colors alone if the theft ended there, but it doesn't. The Mets' new home stadium, Citi Field, has an outer facade intentionally created to resemble Ebbets Field, the Dodgers' Brooklyn home, and Citi Field features a huge rotunda dedicated to Jackie Robinson. It's never a bad idea to honor Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier, but Robinson was never a Met! He never worked for the organization in any capacity. Robinson spent his entire MLB career playing for the Dodgers, and he in fact retired just before they hoofed it to Tinseltown. Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles has an area devoted to him, which makes perfect sense because he was their guy. The Mets are awkwardly trying to honor a player who spent his career on a team that still exists. There is so much Jackie Robinson memorabilia in Citi Field that Mets fans actually gave the organization hell when it tried to clean up a brick that was autographed by a member of the 1986 title-winning Mets team.
The team itself has fortunately been working since day one to create an identity to itself. The most popular player during the bad old days was a guy named Marv Throneberry, who was ironically nicknamed "Marvelous Marv." But as time marched on, the Mets acquired some big names: Tom Seaver and Casey Stengal are Hall of Famers who also had their numbers retired by the team. Other Hall of Famers for the Mets include Duke Snider, Warren Spahn, Richie Ashburn, Gary Carter, Yogi Berra (who managed them), and Willie Mays. It's true that few of those fine players could be defined as Mets; Stengal and Berra managed the team but made their name with the Yankees, and Mays's entire tenure as a Met came about because Mays couldn't come to terms with his age and was simply trying to dodge his retirement. The team's most notable all-stars include Carlos Beltran, Tom Glavine, Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza, Dwight Gooden, David Wright, and Darryl Strawberry.
The Mets appeared destined for eternal mediocrity when they first graced a baseball diamond in 1962. Well, perhaps "graced" is the wrong word for their essence in those days, so let's try again: The Mets appeared destined for eternal mediocrity when they first drunkenly lurched a baseball diamond in 1962. That year until 1968, the Mets finished last every season and their fans presumably kept mourning their former teams. In 1969, the Mets wrote a new chapter of New York City baseball strictly for themselves when they ran over a choking Chicago Cubs team, won the Pennant, and broke through when they defeated a powerful Baltimore Orioles team in the World Series. The rundown got their nickname, the Amazin's, bestowed on them for good.
The Mets have had down years since then, but more triumphs also followed. In 1973, they won their second Pennant, but lost to the Oakland Athletics in a seven-game World Series. With the Yankees mired in neglectful management b this time, the Mets had New York City by the balls now, but another period of mediocrity followed before the Mets came back with a vengeance in the 80's, culminating with a title in 1986. The 1986 team is considered one of the greatest baseball teams in history, and it has earned favorable comparisons with the Cincinnati Reds teams from the 70's. The Mets played in the first World Series of the millennium, which pitted them against the crosstown rivals Yankees in 2000.
The Mets, like most teams, have their highs and lows. They play in the National League, which plays its baseball in a faster, smaller-play, more strategic fashion than the American League.
The Mets share an intercity rivalry with the Yankees. They played exhibition games against each other until interleague play was introduced, and then the rivalry came with serious bragging rights. (My love for both teams isn't shared by the majority of fans.) This hit its apex in 2000 when the Yankees - who had regularly faced the Dodgers and Giants in the World Series when they were in New York City - stepped up to the Mets for the right to the Commissioner's Trophy. The Yankees won in five games, but the Mets kept it close. Three of the games were decided by a single run, and the other two were decided by two runs. The first game went 12 innings. The Mets' biggest rival is with the Philadelphia Phillies. There is bad blood between the two teams, as they brawled several times. The rivalry has had a share of memorable moments, with Jim Bunning's 1964 perfect game and the Mets' choke on the last day of the 2007 season giving the division to the Phillies being the biggest.
Maybe you want to cheer for a well-known baseball team, so you choose a team from world famous New York City so everyone know them. But you don't like the Yankees' free spending ways and 'roider signings. Or maybe you just prefer the National League. Or maybe you can't relate to the stoic Pinstripers. Well, the Mets are there for you. But there may well be better choices for you. Ones that aren't trying to steal their history.