Sunday, February 08, 2004

Will the Mets Spring Ahead and Yankees Fall Back?  

The Mets may be primed to unseat the Yankees as New York's top baseball team at some point in the next few years. However, don't rule out the possibility that the dethroning may occur as early as THIS SEASON. Everyone speaks about MLB as if the standings are set in stone before the season even starts due to, among other reasons, payroll disparity among teams. But why is opening day so fun and exciting? Because every team's got a shot that's why. Opening day is one of the most exciting days of the year, aside from my wedding anniversary of course (cut me some slack here, my wife, the "smokin hot corner," reads this). The hot stove cools with the reporting of pitchers and catcher. The air warms as the smell of freshly cut grass chases away the chill in the air. Soon after spring training ends the season commences. What other day of the season can the Devil Rays say they are tied for first with the Yankees!

Some say that opening day in baseball should not breed such hopeless optimism, as the rich teams will undoubtedly thrash the poor ones. But as ESPN pointed out recently, the playing field in baseball is more even than we think and in fact, MLB is not that far behind the NFL; the self professed Princes of Parity. The NL East is especially wide open. In only the last few years, consider the following:

*In one year, the Royals went from 62-100 in 2002 to 83-79 in 2003 and battled for a playoff birth most of the year.

*In one year, the Angels went from finishing 12 games below .500 to come back the next year to win 99 games. Oh, and by the way, they did okay in the post season as well.

*The Marlins went from two straight 80 plus losing seasons to win over 90 regular season games last year, take the wild card, win the NL Pennant and seal the deal in the World Series.

*The Cubbies lost 95 games in 2002 to take their division last year, winning 88 regular season games. If not for an overzealous fan with a nose for foul balls, there's a good chance they're in the World Series.

*The Expos lost 94 games in 2001 and then combined for two 80 plus win seasons in 2002 and 2003, never far out of wild card contention. And this is a team who plays their home games where English is the second language with a payroll the size of Alex Rodriguez's fake tanning bill.

But "we're the Mets" you say, "we don't have that kind of luck." What short memories we have. They don't call us the Miracle Mets for nothing! Making quick miraculous turnarounds is in our organizational blood! (along with throwing fire crackers at helpless children but that's a different story)

*From 1962 to 1968 the Mets never finished higher than 9th place. In 1968 we lost almost 90 games. We all know what happened only one season later in 1969.

*In 1982 and 1983 the Mets had consecutive 90 plus loss seasons, but took an about face thereafter. From 1984 through 1990 we missed winning over 90 games only once, and collected a World Series Championship along the way and an NL East Division title for good measure.

The Yankees have made quite a run of it the last several years. But news flash folks, their so called dynasty is done. No one remembers who lost the World Series and the Yanks have not drowned themselves in champagne in October in over 40 months. Well, I heard Derek Jeter spilled a cosmopolitan on himself at Spybar but that doesn't count. This Yankee team will suffer the same fate as the Yankees of the late 70s and early 80s, who, after finishing in first place in 1976, 77 and 78, found themselves in fourth place in 1979 and did not win another World Series until 16 years later. This drought, many say, was due to the fact that (warning: the Hot Corner expect you to sing the next line) Georgie Porgie Pudding Pie, started making baseball related decisions for the team and made Yankee fans cry. Just like he's doing now as evidenced by his month long courtship of Gary Scheffield. And by the way, anyone see Steinbrenner on the new TV show The Apprentice this week, drooling over the attractive female cast member-job applicants? It almost made me sick. Anyway, onward and upward.

Both the Mets and Yankees find themselves at a crossroads, with the Yankees heading due south and the Mets north. The Yankees are clinging to something that no longer exists while the Mets are pouring a foundation to build the dynasty the Yankees have lost. The only question is how soon will it take for the Mets to get to the promised land and for the Yankees dethroning to be complete. History shows that you don't have to take your Wheaties with Jack Daniel's, although it doesn't hurt, to think it can happen sooner rather than later. Ya gotta believe this year is as good as any for the Mets to have a better season than the Yankees and to once again, paint this town blue and orange.

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