Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The battle for New York

The New York Yankees are preparing for the postseason. The New York Mets are looking for a new general manager and a new field manager.

The Yankees have had a lot of
clubhouse celebrations in recent
The Yankees, for the eighth straight season, led the American League in attendance, drawing 3.7 million fans to their new stadium. The Mets drew 2.5 million to their new stadium.

The Yankees "own" the New York market. The Mets .. don't.

This was not always the case, and the Yankees dominance of the market was not inevitable.

Back to ancient history — back to the time before I was born. New York had three teams for almost 60 years — Yankees, Giants and Dodgers. While the Yankees had their adherents, the two National League teams combined outdrew them. When the Jints and Bums decamped for California after the 1957 season, Yankee attendance barely budged. There were AL fans and NL fans, and  seldom did the twain meet.

Enter the Mets in 1962. They found a ready audience — a hard-core 1.5 million National League adherents. Shea Stadium opened in 1964; the Yankee dynasty crumbed in 1965; the Mets won the World Series in 1969, went to the Series again in 1973.

From 1969-76 — and particularly in the first half of that stretch — New York was a Mets town. The Mets drew about 2 million fans a year during that eight-year stretch, the Yankees 1.25 million. The Mets led the National League in attendance for four straight seasons (1969-72).

Ownership, no matter how
short-sighted, seldom fires itself,
which is why Mets COO Jeff Wilpon
(center) remains while Jerry Manuel
(left) and Omar Minaya (right) are out.
Two things happened in the mid-'70s, or rather, one thing happened to which the two franchises reacted differently: Free agency gave players, especially star players, more leverage. George Steinbrenner catered to those stars and brought the likes of Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter to the Yankees. The Mets antagonized their star, Tom Seaver, and wound up trading him in midseason 1977.

The Yankees went to the World Series in 1975, won the Series in '76-77. The Mets fell into the bottom half of the National League in attendance with the Seaver trade and didn't emerge until the mid '80s.

Which was the next period for the Mets. Steinbrenner's free-agent addiction by then was beginning to backfire on the Yankees, and the Mets had developed a sharp organization. From 1984-90, the Mets won 95 games a year while drawing more than 2.7 million fans a season. The Yankees, in that period, were declining on the field and drawing 2.2 million a season.

That comparison leaves out the nadir of the Steinbrenner era — in 1991-92, they ranked 11th in American League attendance.

But the Mets became victims of their own success. The young cornerstone stars, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, ran aground on their addictions. The organization lost managerial talent (Terry Ryan, Billy Beane, Ron Gardenhire were all part of the Mets system in the Davy Johnson era.) The Doubleday family sold to the Wilpon family.

And the Yankees took advantage of a lengthy suspension of George Steinbrenner to build both a young talent base and a revenue base that dwarfs all others in the sport.

The Wilpons are said to believe that New York teams are not allowed to tear it down and rebuild from the bottom. The history of the Mets and Yankees the past half-century suggests exactly the opposite.

1 comment:

  1. Whether NY teams are "allowed to" or not, I don't see the Mets as having any choice but to rebuild. The question is whether anyone with any organizational/managerial talent is insane enough to go to work for the Wilpons. I hope Johan is enjoying his time there.