With the end of the MLB season just over 5 weeks away and both NY tams looking good, I thought it only fitting to talk about this city’s MLB intra-city rivalry. The Mets–Yankees rivalry has its origins in the histories of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, and6 the Yankees, the three Major League Baseball teams of New York City from 1903 to 1957. For most of that time, the Giants played in Manhattan, the Dodgers in Brooklyn, and the Yankees in the Bronx.
Throughout their time in New York, the three teams chronicled a fierce intra-city rivalry. The Dodgers–Giants rivalry was formed by both teams’ competition for dominance in the National League, exemplified by Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World in the 1951 National League tie-breaker series. The Yankees, as the city’s only American League team, would form the Yankees–Giants rivalry and Yankees–Dodgers rivalry around their multiple Subway Series competitions with the two teams, where the Yankees would compile a 10-3 record in the thirteen all-New York World Series.
However, in 1958, both of New York’s National League teams moved to California, the Giants to San Francisco to become the San Francisco Giants, and the Dodgers to Los Angeles to become the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees were New York City’s only Major League Baseball team until 1962, when the expansion Mets joined the National League. The Mets sought to create a fan base from fans of the departed National League teams, and adopted the Giants’ NY insignia in the Giant color of orange set against a cap of Dodger blue. They played their first two seasons in the Giants’ old stadium, the Polo Grounds, before moving into Shea Stadium in the borough of Queens.
1962 was the inaugural season of the New York Mets and they would post one of the worst regular season records in MLB history, 40-120. Meanwhile, the Yankees won the World Series that year, the last such World Series won by the aging lineup of the 1950s dynasty. The Yankees would go to the World Series in 1963 and 1964, but lose both times. The 1962 and 1963 World Series were played against the Yankees’ former Subway Series rivals, the Giants in ’62 and Dodgers in ’63.
The Mets hired former Yankee legend Casey Stengel as their first manager and former Yankee legend and Hall of Famer Red Ruffing as their first pitching coach. Stengel’s number 37 serves as the only number retired by both the Yankees and Mets. The Mets emerged as one of the worst teams in baseball for their first seven seasons. In 1966, the Mets bypassed Hall of Famer and future Yankee Reggie Jackson in the amateur draft, instead selecting Steve Chilcott, who never played in the majors. However, behind pitching ace Tom Seaver, the 1969 “Miracle Mets” staged a remarkable turnaround for the franchise and defeated the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
The Mets staged a surprising late season run to capture the 1973 National League Pennant, but lost the World Series in seven games to the Oakland Athletics, particularly due to the efforts in Game 7 of Reggie Jackson. The Mets winning this National League pennant was the only NL East title between 1970 and 1980 that wasn’t won by either rival Philadelphia Phillies or the Pittsburgh Pirates. Former Yankee catcher Yogi Berra was a Met coach in 1969 and manager of the team in 1973. Both teams shared Shea Stadium as their home field when Yankee Stadium was being refit during the 1974 and 1975 seasons.
The Yankees returned to the World Series in 1976, but were swept by the Big Red Machine of the Cincinnati Reds. This caused Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to acquire the top free agent for the 1977, Reggie Jackson. Jackson helped the Yankees won their first World Series in 15 years against former Subway Series rival Los Angeles Dodgers, where Jackson earned the moniker “Mr. October” by hitting three home runs off of three different Dodger pitchers, all on the first pitch, in Game 6. That year, future Yankees manager Joe Torre made his managerial debut with the Mets. The following year, the Yankees again defeated the Dodgers in six games in the World Series.
The Yankees again faced the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series, but lost in six games in the same way the Dodgers lost the 1978 series (winning the first two games at home, but dropping the next four). This began another long championship drought for the Yankees, 18 years, the longest since they first won in 1923. The 1980s would also be the only decade since their first championship in which they did not win a World Series.
In contrast, the Mets enjoyed success during much of the decade and won the World Series in 1986 against the Yankees’ biggest nemesis, the Boston Red Sox, in seven games. The New York Times called the series a “painful series.” Newsday called it “woeful days for Yankee fans.” Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News called the series “the World Series that is the Yankee nightmare.” Both Newsday and The Boston Globe said that there were Mets T-shirts saying “Steinbrenner’s nightmare,” referring to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. John Powers of the Globe quoted Claire Smith, who covered the Yankees for The Hartford Courant, as having said that “this really is the World Series of the nightmares.” Yankee fans attended the Mets’ celebration parade, saying that “anyone who beats Boston is worth coming down for.” The Mets would also win the National League East in 1988, but fall in seven games to the eventual champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.
During the 1985 season, former Met legend Tom Seaver had been acquired by the Chicago White Sox due to the Mets taking a chance and not protecting his contract after the 1984 season. After Seaver’s 298th win, a reporter had pointed out to White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk that following his upcoming start in Boston, Seaver’s next scheduled start would be in New York, and that the possibility existed that he might achieve the mark there. Fisk emphatically stated that Seaver would win in Boston, and then would win his 300th. On August 4, 1985, Seaver recorded his 300th victory in New York at Yankee Stadium against the Yankees, throwing a complete game. Coincidentally, it was Phil Rizzuto Day – Seaver would later become Rizzuto’s broadcast partner for Yankee games. Lindsey Nelson, a Mets radio and TV announcer during Seaver’s Mets days, called the final out for then Yankees TV flagship WPIX.
The Yankees finished with the best record in the American League in 1994, but the players’ strike canceled that year’s postseason. The Yankees won the American League Wild Card in 1995, but lost the ALDS to the Seattle Mariners in five games. They returned to the World Series in 1996 and defeated the returning champion Atlanta Braves in six games. This was the first World Series victory in a new Yankees dynasty managed by former Met manager Joe Torre and included career-long Yankees Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and then rookie Derek Jeter. It also included future Yankee skipper Joe Girardi. Besides Torre, the 1996 Yankees included several former Met stars, including David Cone, who played for the Mets in the 1988 NLCS, as well as Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, both of whom had been on the 1986 Mets team that won the World Series.
In 1997, Major League Baseball scheduled official regular season games between the American and National Leagues for the first time. On June 16, the Mets and Yankees played their first official game at Yankee Stadium, which the Mets won 6–0 behind Dave Mlicki. The Yankees won the next two games for a series win. The Mets acquired Mike Piazza for the 1998 season and made a run for the playoffs, but were eliminated in the last regular game series of the season by the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees won that year’s interleague series at Shea Stadium two games to one, and would also win the 1998 World Series, the first of three straight titles for them. David Cone won 20 games in 1998 for the Yankees, just 10 years after he accomplished the same feat for the Mets, becoming the only player to win 20 games for both teams.
These interleague games between the Mets and Yankees would come to be referred to as a Subway Series, extending the use of that phrase outside the historical context of an all-New York World Series.