John Leo
Are you excited about the Subway Series between the Mets and the Yankees? No, of course you aren't. We who live here in the Big Apple are fully aware that the frenzy over this long-awaited matchup is somewhat muted in America's trans-Hudson region. Many of you probably wanted to see a team from one of the top provincial cities (St. Louis), or even one from a remote outpost on the very edge of American civilization (Seattle). But, hey, those teams lost, and you are stuck with two from New York. So we know what you are thinking. You are thinking the same thing you thought during the Iran/Iraq war: Isn't it a shame that both sides can't lose?

But there are sound reasons for you to care. One of the teams represents truth, justice, the American way and underdogs everywhere. The other represents George Steinbrenner.

Ridiculously rich people who live in Manhattan root for the Yankees. When they hear about a coming "Subway Series," they scratch their heads and ask their doormen, "What's a subway?" The Mets are located in Queens, where real people predominate. Yankee fans don't even know where Queens is. Luckily their chauffeurs do, or Yankee fans would never be able to reach either city airport.

Statistics tell the story. Federal number crunchers confirm that 62 percent of Yankees fan support comes from the richest 1 percent of taxpayers! As I believe Al Gore pointed out in one of the debates, the Yankees are the team of HMOs, Big Oil and Big Tobacco. When not chortling over a Yankee demolition of some harmless American League opponent, Yankees fans spend a lot of time worrying about the unfairness of death taxes on estates as small as $10 million or $20 million.

Mets fans, on the other hand, are members of "working families." Lacking the foresight to inherit trust funds, they have actual jobs. They don't go to work in pinstripes and they don't send their baseball team out in them, either. Unlike Yankees fans, they do not expect to win every year, and they don't throw tantrums or complain bitterly to their butlers in those off years when they don't win the pennant.

Rooting for the Yankees has the same excitement level as rooting for Merrill Lynch or betting that the sun will come up in the morning. The Yankees have a tradition of mindless competence. The Mets, on the other hand, have a vibrant tradition of scrappy incompetence.

The typical Yankees hero was Joe DiMaggio. Joe D. was graceful and aloof. He played with no noticeable emotion of any kind. Nobody ever saw DiMaggio dive for a fly ball. He didn't have to. He always got there in time to make the catch look easy.

This bland, boring, ho-hum Hall-of-Fame style may be fine for the Yankees, but it is definitely not for the Mets. The classic Met is Marvelous Marv Throneberry, who was way more exciting than DiMaggio. Marv couldn't run, hit, throw or catch, but he fit pretty well into the Mets scheme of things. Once when asked why the Mets didn't get Throneberry a birthday cake, manager Casey Stengel said: "We were going to get him a cake, but we figured he'd drop it."

Marv once hit a triple and was called out for neglecting to touch second base along the way. He was not the sort of player who made the same mistake twice. No, the next time he hit a triple, he was called out for failing to touch first and second bases. Stengel once said that the Mets "have shown me ways to lose that I never even knew existed."

We had Jimmy Piersall, who ran the bases backward to celebrate his 100th home run. We had excruciating players like Chris Cannizzaro ("The only defensive catcher who can't catch," Stengel said), and other outstanding non-fielders with famous nicknames like "Dr. Strangeglove" (Dick Stuart).

The Mets are much better now, but they retain that scrappy, unpredictable underdog tradition. Look at the Mets' playoff heroes. We have Benny Agbayani, the Hawaiian left fielder who batted first for the Mets most of the year. He was surely the most roly-poly lead-off hitter in modern baseball. His batting stance is alarming. Watching him chase fly balls is nerve-wracking. But he played like a major star during the playoffs, so true Mets fans scream his name at every opportunity.

The fans scream for Timo Perez, too. He's a big favorite at Shea Stadium, though he's been a Met only since the beginning of September. Timo is from the Dominican Republic by way of Japan, where he played for the Hiroshima Carp. He is small and has little power. The Yankees would never have given him a tryout. But he absolutely wrecked the Giants and Cardinals during the playoffs.

When the Yankees faltered in July, they simply went out and ransacked other teams, buying seven or eight more zillionaire ballplayers. That's the Yankees' way. The Mets do it by producing improbable heroes like Timo and Benny. So who are you going to root for? Real people like Timo and Benny, or Yankee automatons and Steinbrenner's wallet?

Remember, being a Yankees fan isn't a serious enough offense to come up at a confirmation hearing. It's merely a character flaw. Go Mets.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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