As tonight’s All-Star festivities culminate with the Midsummer Classic itself, it is a time to reflect on the city that has hosted more baseball games than any other: New York. For many outsiders and casual fans, New York is synonymous with the Yankees. But an ESPN home run derby interview with Mets legend Mike Piazza really hit the nail on the head. Piazza recognized that despite all of the accomplishments of the Bronx Bombers, there is always an unmistakable buzz in town when the Mets are winning. Piazza attributed that to the blue collar nature of New York and the fact that for years, it was a National League town.
Look no further than 1951. A significant year for the Yanks, who in addition to capturing their 14th championship, saw the torch passed from DiMaggio to rookie Mickey Mantle. So surely the most famous single play in MLB history would’ve involved those Yankees, right? No! Because in the Golden Age of Baseball, before 24 hour cable sports networks or the internet, baseball was experienced either at the game, on the radio, or imagined while reading newsprint and boxscore. The best rivalry in baseball history (and it remains so, all due respect to Cubs-Cardinals and Yankees-Red Sox) was the only time in modern history when two teams played in the same city, in the same league.
The marvel of 1951 was that the 154 game season was not enough to decide the pennant, and a 3 game playoff was played. The Giants won the pennant (even those of us not yet born for decades can recite the call as if we were there), and as usual, the white collar team in New York prevailed en route to another ho-hum title. But now over 60 years later, that famous “shot heard round the world” far outshines the Yankees 14th championship and stands unchallenged as the greatest play in the history of the game. Does anyone even care that those same ’51 Giants lost the World Series? In those days, it was all about the pennant. 8 teams competing for 154 games, and best record is the champion. No playoffs, no wild card, just August and September baseball with teams going all out for the league pennant. Winning the Fall Classic was a nice bonus. Even looking at the films and plays of the era, it was always “the pennant” that was so highly coveted by any given team.
So now, with the Giants having left Manhattan for San Francisco and Dem Bums relocated to Hollywood, there is still a legacy of that intra-city rivalry that owned this town (regardless of what happened up in The Bronx). Many old-timers remember fondly of the games between these two rivals, the trash talking between neighbors, and where they were for Bobby Thomson’s legendary blast. The odd legacy that remains is the New York Mets. Perhaps the only example of an expansion team being “born” from two other teams. It is for that reason that the Mets colors are so very important. It’s a nice touch to see that the All-Star game uniforms are now a tribute to the franchise that hosts the game. I wonder how many of the All-Star players that suit up tonight in Mets colors (Dodger blue and Giants orange) are aware of why the Mets wear those two colors?