No, a Subway Series is not a sandwich; it is a sporting event. A Subway Series occurs when two New York teams play each other in baseball’s World Series, and before anyone mentions it, yes, I do know that the World Series is something of a misnomer, since unlike the World Cup, only American teams and the Toronto Blue Jays get to play in it. It is, however, our sport, and we get to call the championship series any damn thing we want to. The Subway Series got its name, obviously enough, because two New York teams don’t have to travel very far to play each other; they can just take the subway to the ballpark.
The glory years of the Subway Series came after World War II and ended in 1956. In those years, the three New York teams, the Yankees, the Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, played each other in nearly every World Series, with the exception of 1950, when the Philadelphia Phillies made it to the Series and lost to the Yankees, and 1954, when the Cleveland Indians team that won 111 games in the regular season lost four straight games to the New York Giants. But for most New York baseball fans, the Subway Series only and always meant the Yankees and the Dodgers, with the Dodgers always losing, with the one glorious exception of 1955. The Yankees won (again) in 1956, after which the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants left the Empire State and headed west to California, there to become the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. The Subway Series, it seemed, had become one with Nineveh and Tyre.
But all was not lost. No indeed, New Yorkers worked like furies to bring National League baseball (Major League Baseball has two leagues, the National League and the American League. The New York Yankees are in the American League; the Dodgers and the Giants were, and their current Californian incarnations still are, in the National League) back to New York, and in 1962 they succeeded in forming a brand new baseball club, the New York Metropolitans, an unwieldy mouthful that the fans quickly shortened to the New York Mets. There was little chance of a Subway Series with the Mets in 1962, however, even if Casey Stengel, the Yankees’ manager during the glory years after the war, was now managing the Mets. In their first year of existence, the New York Mets forged a record of gross incompetence and general nincompoopery scarcely equaled in the annals of organized sports, losing 120 games out of a possible 162, and leading the aforementioned Mr. Stengel to wonder aloud, “Can’t anyone here play this game?”
Having reached the bottom of the baseball barrel in their first season of existence, the Mets forged ahead, and lost only 111 games in 1963 and 109 games in 1964, all of which pointed to a gradual shift towards the barely adequate, until in 1969, that annus mirabilis* of New York sports, the Mets won the World Series and became the champions of the baseball world. The Mets returned to the Series in 1973, losing to the Oakland Athletics, and won again in 1986, beating the Boston Red Sox in one of the most dramatic series in modern memory. But there was still no Subway Series, nothing to remind the New York baseball fan of the glory years when New York dominated the baseball universe.
Until 2000, that is, when after 44 years in the wilderness, the Mets and the Yankees finally faced each other in the World Series. The Yankees won, and Mets fans have been thirsting for a rematch ever since. This year was going to be the year it happened. This was the year when the two New York teams were going to clobber all the opposition and go mano-a-mano for the championship. That there were other teams competing for a place in the World Series hardly seemed to compute among Mets and Yankee fans and the media that feed their baseball addiction. Newspapers filled square feet of newsprint with the speculation with who was going to win, baseball blogs spewed terabytes of fan bile and opinion into cyberspace, everyone knew that this was the year that the Mets would finally beat the Yankees or that this was the year that the Yankees finally got back the championship they hadn’t won since 2000, everyone KNEW this was the year and everyone said so vociferously. And so it was that in 2006 the World Series will be a replay of the 1934 and 1968 World Series: the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers will be playing for the championship, the Mets and Yankees having been eliminated. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln said it best, in his homely way, when he noted “…the hen is the wisest of all the animal creation, because she never cackles until after the egg has been laid.”
* 1969 was the year when the Mets won the World Series, the New York Jets won the Super Bowl, and the New York Knicks won the NBA Championships. Only the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League did not win a championship that year, and the Rangers would continue their habit of not winning the Stanley Cup until 1994, 54 years after their previous win.