INTERNATIONAL FALLS, MN – Ahhh…to be transported back to the Salad days of the 1980s. Bill Cosby was America’s Dad, Jared the Subway guy was an innocent morbidly obese young fella, and Bad Comedian Eli Manning was a toddler watching his Daddy’s highlights on their shiny new VCR.
The New York Mets were a dominant team that decade but walked away with only one championship to show for it. One thing those 80s Mets teams had though, was a great rivalry with the St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Whitey Herzog loved to tweek Davey Johnson and the Mets every chance he got. Whether it was playing up how loaded he thought the Met roster was in the Spring. Or getting inside Howard Johnson‘s fragile psyche by challenging the legitimacy of his bat. Every time Hojo took his personal whipping boy and Cardinals closer Todd Worrell deep, Herzog would bolt from the dugout imploring the umpires to check Hojo’s bat for cork.
The fans of the Gateway City referred to the Mets and all New Yorkers as “pond scum.” Those Redbirds with all of their speed and great fielding and Nazi Tommy Herr and ET-faced Willie McGee. The whining from Hall of Fame SS Ozzie Smith about the Cards not getting any respect.
In the late 1990s, it was the Atlanta Braves who loved to beat up on the Mets. Their trio of Hall of Fame pitchers made them virtually unbeatable-in the regular season. But if the Cardinals annoyed Met fans with John “white bread” Tudor and the rest of their irritants, the 90s Braves team had John Rocker. The Braves reliever had a fantastic left arm. Rocker though, was not known for his great arm. No, Rocker became a walking flashpoint who triggered racial tensions with his bombast and racist comments as told to Sports Illustrated about the City of New York. He alienated teammates and fans and became public enemy #1 in NYC by mocking the folks who rode the Subways every day. Yes, Rocker took the idea of a baseball rivalry and tried turning it into a Klan rally. Bobby Cox would walk to the mound, motion to the ‘pen and yell “give me the racist!”
During the brief mini-renaissance enjoyed by the Mets between 2005-2008, the Phillies were a young talented team with the requisite resentment for the New Yorkers-playing up their perceived slights from the media. Loudmouth Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels called the Mets chokers.
Not a great rivalry given the historic collapses of 2007 and 2008 in which the Phillies reveled in the Met misery.
Last night, the Metsies took over sole possession of first place. With a transformed lineup now mostly full of actual major league players added to their brilliant young pitching staff, the Mets swept the hated Nationals-the latest rivals for the revived boys from Flushing.
Make no mistake, these Nats have a cast of character who are easy to hate-a key component of a good rivalry. From golden boy Bryce Harper, rendered impotent all year by the Mets troika of Aces to stoic Ryan Zimmerman, all the way to Dave Grohl-looking Anthony Rendon, these Washington players are on a level with some of the Mets most hated rivals of the past 40 years. Of course, last place teams don’t have rivalries. Those are reserved for 1st place teams.
Like the Mets.
Angry Ward, tomorrow.