It's true that football, basketball and hockey have their fans, but the sports year begins in February and ends in October - preferably the end of October. And even during the other three and a half months, the hot stove league consumes the city's consciousness, even eclipsing the Jets and Giants playoff runs. This love for the game of baseball dates all the ways back to the 19th century as baseball was played throughout New York in its earliest forms. The birth of the National League in 1876 eventually brought the city the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants and when the American League set up shop in 1901, the New York Yankees soon set up shop. Rooting for a baseball team in New York wasn't about what team was better, it was an absolute birthright. People were born into a fan base and there was no switching side.
As the Yankees established themselves, their fans came from the Bronx and also attracted the corporate visitor and tourists. The Dodgers and Giants were different. Working class, blue collar fans in the first half of the 20th century tended to back one of the two National League teams.
Giant fans were generally from Manhattan, while the city's largest borough had their beloved Dodgers. Much like the class system of the early 19th century, which broke down people by nationality and religion, New Yorkers were identified with the teams they followed. The best example of that came in 1951, where the Dodgers and Giants finished tied after the 154 game season.
A three game playoff was ordered by the National League, which culminated with "The Shot Heard Around the World" by Giants' Bobby Thompson. Fans fought with each other and until this day old Brooklyn Dodger fans still feel the pain. After the Giant win, they proceeded to be swept by the Yankees, who had a young and talented Mickey Mantle in the outfield. The Dodgers had their day in 1955, giving Brooklyn their only championship, but the days of the Boys of Summer ended two years later when the Bums and Giants upped and left for the West Coast. With only one team in town, the fans of the Dodgers and Giants left behind did not back the Yankees, rather they followed their teams from afar or stopped watching all together. Only when the New York Mets were formed in 1962, did these spurned New Yorkers find a team.
Much like the their predecessors, the Amazins' quickly established themselves as a people's team. Although they were inept, fans flocked to the old Polo Grounds - and eventually Shea Stadium - to watch the Mets and root against the Dodgers and Giants when they came into town. The Yankees, meanwhile, just kept winning. Champions in 1961 and 1962, they lost the Fall Classic the next two years. Then the bottom fell out.
They finished close to the bottom or last for the rest of the decade, as the team aged and the mighty farm system went barren. That gave the Amazing Mets a chance to take the city. And in 1969 they won the World Series against insurmountable odds. Led by young pitchers like Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, the Miracle Mets won their first the Series 4-1 over the Baltimore Orioles.
They stayed in contention for the next seven years, but never got back to the top. The Yankees resurged after George Steinbrenner bought the team and through free agency built the 1977 and 1978 champs. But the Boss's hands on approach eventually cost those Bombers due to too many bad moves.
As the Yankees went down, the Mets came back and in 1986 won the Series again, beating the Boston Red Sox in seven games. Much like the team of a generation before, these Mets were competitive until 1991, but never won the big game. But like before, when the Mets faded, the Yankees came to the forefront. This time winning four crowns in five years (1996, 1998-2000). Unlike past teams, these Bombers were built from within, while cheery-picking the other talent through free agency and trades.
Led by future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the Bombers remain a force in the American League. The Mets enjoyed a resurgence in 1999 under controversial manager Bobby Valentine and catcher Mike Piazza. They even went to the Series in 2000, only to lose to the cross town Yankees. Then, after five years of mediocrity, the Mets came back in 2006 behind young stars David Wright and Jose Reyes and were one strike away from the World Series, losing to the eventual champion St.
Louis Cardinals in seven games. What makes baseball in New York unique these days is the rivalry between the Mets and Yankees. The teams didn't play each other in non-exhibition games until 1997 and the Subway Series is the highlight of every season.
Both Shea and Yankee Stadiums get a mixed but behaved crowd when the two teams play each other. As both the Met and Yankee fans root for their teams, you can hear chants for both clubs back and forth for all nine innings. And that's unlike any other sport in the city. Hockey games tend to have more violent outbursts in the stands, while games between the Knicks and Nets and Jets vs. Giants matches could be played anywhere, since the intensity just isn't there in comparison.
And that's why New York, first and foremost, is a baseball town.
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