Monday, February 18, 2008

A Braves Fan Roots for the Mets and Phillies

The Mets and Phillies trade barbs over who is truly the "team to beat" in the NL East this year.

I used to wonder why the Mets and Phillies didn't have a Sox-Yankees kind of rivalry. Sure, those guys had a sixty-two year head start, but the Ruth business aside, the Sox-Yankees heat didn't really get going until the 70s. The Mets and Phillies have "competed" for the same flag for forty six years now. That's enough time.

Of course time isn't everything. The real issue are those quotes I slapped on the word "competed." They're there because the Mets and Phillies have almost never been involved in a pennant race at the same time.

Since coming into the league in 1962, the Mets have finished in first or second place a total of fifteen times and the Phillies seventeen times. In only four of those years, however -- 1986, 1995, 2006, and 2007 -- did they finish 1-2, and three of those years -- 1986, 1995, and 2006 -- provide no basis for a rivalry.

In 1986, the second place Phillies finished 21.5 games behind the eventual world champion Mets. In 1995 the teams were tied for second place, but in 1995 second place meant you were 21 games behind the Braves, and a full eight games out of the wild card race. In 2006 the Phillies stumbled out of the gate as the Mets roared and Philadelphia ended up finishing 12 back. Only in 2007 did the teams finish close at 1-2. Unfortunately, the story there was the Mets' collapse rather than a hard-fought photo finish.

Which is why, even though I'm a Braves fan, I am happy to see both the Mets and Phillies barking like this heading into spring training. Baseball needs another big rivalry. Partially to draw attention away from Yankees-Sox, but mostly to build on it. Sure, lots of people would get sick of it quick, but the fact is that another monster east coast rivalry would be great for baseball, and would be especially good for the National League. Close races between the Mets and Phillies would spur more spending -- or at the very least more thinking -- which would in turn make the rest of the NL spend and/or think more.

If that were to happen, we'd eventually be able to dispense with the bothersomely accurate talk about the NL being AAAA. But before that can happen, both teams have to win early and often and keep winning until October.

Oh, and it would help if they quit saying this kind of stuff:

"I'm not going to count out the Braves," Victorino said. "What, did this become a two-team race now? Don't overlook Atlanta. With their pitching staff that they've got - Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, Hudson, Hampton - you've got five starters there that can be on my team. It's so funny. It's been Mets-Phillies, but don't sleep on the Braves. They're probably laughing inside, not saying anything - like, 'Okay, just let us go to work.'"

While I agree 100% with the sentiment, acknowledging the existence of a third team is no way to stoke a rivalry. It may not be just your world, New York and Philly, but you're not going to get the kind of pub you want -- and I'm not going to get the kind of NL I want -- unless you act like it is.


Andrew said...

Glavine, MADDUX, Smoltz?

Shyster said...

Nice catch, Andrew. In addition to being less charitable to the opposition, the Phillies need to be less stupid too.

Dennis said...

"Baseball needs another big rivalry. Partially to draw attention away from Yankees-Sox, but mostly to build on it."

You know, because clearly that is the only rivalry in baseball right now. Never mind that the longest running (and i would argue most hated) rivalry in baseball is still alive and well in California (I know the Giants aren't very good this year, but I would bet that that rivalry has been closer in the last decade than NYM-Phil). But clearly, rivalries only count if they are on the eastern seaboard...

Shyster said...

I'm not knocking the Giants-Dodgers. Or Cubs-Cardinals of Angels-A's or any other rivalry for it's own sake. When I say baseball needs a "big rivalry" to build on Sox-Yankees, I'm talking about one that has a net positive impact on the game at large in that it gets so out of hand, the participants and third parties feel the need to step things up in order to compete.

Say what you want about Sox-Yankees (and believe, me I am just as sick of it as West Coast people are), but that arms race has caused teams like the Tigers and Angels to step up spending and talent acquisition. Even better, it has caused teams that can't match their cash outlays to focus even more on talent development (think Indians) in order to compete. Because of it, the AL is clearly the dominant league right now.

There has been no such beast in the NL, where most teams still feel (correctly, I might add) that they can make do with last year's squad, eke out those 88 wins, and have a puncher's chance at the playoffs. Personally, I'd like to see someone try to run away with the NL for a while so that other teams have to react.