Two-team excitement returns to New York; Giants back to basics

Every major league club owner would like to have the can't-lose financial situation that the Yankees and the Mets are currently enjoying in New York. The fact that both teams have some exceptional young talent, along with being legitimate pennant contenders, has made the Big Apple a divided city as far as bragging rights are concerned. It would not be impossible for them to draw close to 41/2 million fans between them this season. Actually this is the first time since the Mets became a National League expansion franchise in 1962 that there has been fan talk of a possible Subway World Series involving these two rivals.

Back in the old days when the Dodgers, Giants, and Yanks all competed for New York's baseball dollar, there was a nine-year period between 1949 and 1957 when these teams combined for 15 Series appearances, many against each other. Once the Dodgers bolted to Los Angeles and the Giants to San Francisco, however, those great intra-city rivalries disappeared -- and it has taken this long to get one really stirred up again.

While the Yankees continued to ride high in the early 1960s, those first Met teams were sorry cellar dwellers. Then, ironically, just as their crosstown rivals began puting it together, the Yankees fell into one of their own rare lean periods -- finishing under .500 in the Met pennant years of 1969 and 1973. And when the Yankees came into their own again in the late '70s and early '80s, the Mets had gone into another down cycle.

But now for the first time in their two decades-plus of coexistence, both teams appear to have all the ingredients -- solid teams that should be contenders in their divisions, plus plenty of big-name stars to sustain fan interest. Surely the No. 1 topic of conversation in New York these days, if not in baseball circles everywhere, is 20-year-old Met right-hander Dwight Gooden. Possessor of a 95 m.p.h. fastball and a well-controlled curve that drops like an anvil, Gooden was National League Rookie of the Year in 1984, the second consecutive season a Met has been so honored. (Darryl Strawberry was the 1983 recipient.) Every time Dwight pitches, attendance at Shea Stadium soars.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have a matinee idol of their own (and he plays every day) in first baseman Don Mattingly, who won the American League batting championship last year with a fine .343 average. He also showed considerable power with 23 homers and 44 doubles.

Both teams also made headlines during the off season within days of each other by acquiring a big-name player. The Yankees traded with Oakland for American League base-stealing champion Rickey Henderson, while the Mets got All-Star catcher Gary Carter from Montreal.

Each club also has plenty of other proven big-name attractions as well, such as Strawberry, George Foster, and Keith Hernandez of the Mets, and Dave Winfield, Ron Guidry, and Don Baylor of the Yankees.

While April is no time to be awarding World Series berths, a lot of New York fans seem to be changing their vacation plans to coincide with 1985's Fall Classic.

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