Big Apple splits! Baseball found at city's core

When he was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s, Eddie Luhrs watched his father cry as his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers lost time after time to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

"They would break your heart; it was very tough," he recalls.

The experience turned Mr. Luhrs into a rabid New York Mets fan, dreaming of the day when the Yankees would finally find out what it's like to have to crawl through a winter of ribs and taunts until spring training.

Starting on Saturday, Luhrs's dream may come true. For the first time since 1956, New York will have a "subway series," pitting the defending world champion Yankees against the upstart Mets, a team without anything like the Yankees' history.

For the city, it will be the closest thing to a civil war with neighbor against neighbor, co-workers on opposite sides of the diamond, and even politicians choosing sides. After years of jawing, the city will finally get to find out which team is king of the mound.

"It's going to get real crazy around this city," says Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter.

Even before the Yankees beat the Seattle Mariners 9 to 7 on Wednesday night there were signs the city was bracing for a wild time.

At Yankee Stadium, fans paraded with signs that read "Bring on the Mutts," while at Queens' Shea Stadium, loyalists hoisted placards reading, "Bring on da boys from da Bronx."

Outside the New York Public Library, Patience and Fortitude, the literary lions, have Mets and Yankees hats strapped over their manes. Immediately after the Yankees clinched, box seats for Game 1 were offered at a starting price of $2,250 on an Internet auction site.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, frequently seen wearing a Yankee hat, is already complaining that his staff meetings are degenerating into "my team is gonna beat your team" affairs. And politicians are already starting to consider ways of using the diamond as a backdrop. Last week, Senate candidate Rick Lazio worked the box seats at Shea Stadium. And Hillary Rodham Clinton once again proclaimed herself a long-time Yankees fan.

To get to the series, fans won't need to drive because, as the name suggests, a subway takes you to both stadiums. By 8 a.m. yesterday, Manhattan stores already had sold out of their first load of Subway Series T-shirts.

In a recent Op-Art cartoon in The New York Times, Yogi Berra, legendary Yankees catcher and wordsmith, gave the Mets fans directions to "Babe's House."

At the bottom of the cartoon, a Yogism: "It's not too far - it just seems that way."

Subway series in the city have a long and colorful tradition. Between 1921 and 1956, there were 13 all-New York World Series. Of course that's because New York was a baseball capital. At its height, the city fielded three teams: the Yankees, the Dodgers, and the Giants.

Yankees manager Joe Torre thinks the latest saga is different, "because the media is so much greater and the game has taken on a much larger meaning."

He adds, "I have a feeling that this city is not going to be the same for the next 10 days, and maybe for some time after that."

In the past, the greatest rivalry was between the Yankees and the Dodgers. Roger Kahn, author of "The Head Game: Baseball Seen From the Pitcher's Mound," recalls the Dodgers as "a feisty and scrappy" group while the Yankees were more "corporate."

The Dodgers were the first team to hire a black player - the great Jackie Robinson - while the Yankees were slower to hire African-American players.

Today, he thinks the Mets resemble the old Dodgers. "Someone once said that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for US Steel," he says.

In the history of the game, one of the most memorable moments came in 1956 during the last subway series. Yankee hurler Don Larsen threw a perfect game against the Dodgers to win the fifth game of the World Series.

Two years later, the Dodgers and Giants moved to California. The Mets weren't formed until 1962. Manager Casey Stengel is famous for asking during that pathetic first year, "Can't anyone around this place play the game?"

Will all that history be too much for the Mets to shoulder?

Not if you ask Brooklyn resident John Polizzano, interviewed as he browses at a Mets retail store. "We're going to win, and the Yankees fans won't be able to say 'three rings,' " referring to the Yankees' winning three out of the last four World Series.

That type of confidence has some Yankee fans worried. Kenny Jenkins, a doorman, frets that the "new kids" on the block might topple the Bronx Bombers. "If the Mets win, I'll cry for a while and learn to live with it," says the Queens resident.

But Bruce Garrison, a lawyer and long-time Yankees fan says, "I just plan on telling the Mets fans they have two more to go to catch up with us."

No matter which team triumphs, Mets fan Chris Bracone says the Big Apple is the winner.

"I know one thing - we're going to have a ticker tape parade in New York."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.