Lifestyle

The Year the Yankees and Mets Brought Winning Baseball Back to New York

14 total views
The Yankees have 27 World Series titles…but none since 2009. The Mets…are the Mets. But this summer, crisp, clutch baseball—and the radical, delusional sense of pure possibility it brings—was everywhere you looked in New York.

From left: Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton.

From left: Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor, and Pete Alonso.

GQ Hype: It’s the big story of right now.

Purgatory is a state of mind—a moment, not a place. So rest assured, Mets fans and Yankees fans, my tribe and my nemeses, this off-season period of flux and anxiety and free-agent arrhythmia shall pass. 

As I write this, Yankees fans are finishing up celebrating the return of Aaron Judge—it’s been six hours, after all—and starting to moan about how this is the same lumbering roster that struck out in the playoffs this past season. And Mets fans… Well, in our defense, we’ve been through a lot these last few months. The old Mets, the team that loses with such magnificent artistry that I wrote an entire book about it, keep colliding with the new Mets, the team now owned by a billionaire some seventeen times over, Steve Cohen, who lets a two-time Cy Young Award winner and lifelong Met (Jacob deGrom) walk away via free agency on a Friday and replaces him with a three-time Cy Young Award winner (Justin Verlander) by Monday. And then Uncle Stevie kept going, kept spending, like we were the Yankees or something, re-signing centerfielder Brandon Nimmo, the happiest man in Major League Baseball, the lead-off specialist who sprints to first base even when he draws a walk, the homegrown hero who actually loves us back. And then Stevie splurged again, dropping another $75 million on the winter’s most enticing mystery box, Japanese ace Kodai Senga, who throws a 100 MPH fastball and something called a “ghost fork.” A ghost fork!  

Suffice to say, it’s all been a little disorienting. We’re Mets fans—we’re used to getting hoofed in the nuts, not our owner apologizing with a garage full of Porsches.

The 2022 season was a historic year for baseball in New York, and that’s great news for the game even if you hate the city, but it’s easy to forget just how spectacular it was, because no one seems to have enjoyed it less than Mets and Yankees fans. So come with me back to late summer, before things went sour, when both teams were leading their divisions, playoff baseball was assured, and Aaron Judge was earning his near-unanimous MVP award—not just hitting 62 home runs, not just eclipsing Roger Maris for the asterisk-free MLB record, but doing it in Yankees pinstripes. We all like to tease the Yankees for being humorless and self-mythologizing, I know I do, but all that slabby grey tradition pays off when something genuinely monumental happens. It matters that Judge hit all those home runs in the Bronx and not, say, Milwaukee, with sausage races between innings on the warning track. By the end of the season, even the Mets’ superstars, a few miles away across the East River in Queens, deadlocked in a division race of their own, smashing franchise records of their own, were tracking every blast. 

“I mean, it’s tough not to when you see him hitting a home run it seems, like, every day now,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, a.k.a. the Polar Bear, who broke Judge’s MLB rookie record two years after Judge set it, told me on a sunny mid-September afternoon outside the Mets’ dugout at Citi Field. The two sluggers finished the season tied for the MLB lead in runs batted in with 131, which was a franchise record for the Mets. (The Yankees record, for what it’s worth, is 185. Lou Gehrig in 1931.)  “This is the highest level,” Alonso went on. “There’s no Moon League, there’s no Mars League—so you have to respect your opponent.” At this point Mets fans might want to steel themselves, because what Alonso said next about Judge won’t be easy for them to hear: “He’s the best player on the planet right now. He’s having an absolutely insane year, and I hope he continues. I really do.” (He didn’t. After homering every 2.4 games through September 20, the night he tied Babe Ruth with his 60th, Judge homered just twice more over the season’s final 15. But two was all he needed.) 

If this sort of Mets-Yankees fraternizing feels strange, like dogs hyping up cats, it’s an indication of what a rare season it was, for both franchises. No matter how much professional respect Alonso might have for Judge, after all, he was only gushing aloud like that because it’s easy to be magnanimous when you’ve been raking all season, too. 

He wasn’t alone. All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor spent 2022 shattering every franchise record for the position—26 homers, 107 RBI—and reassuring Mets fans that his team-record $341 million contract was money well spent. Second baseman Jeff McNeil, whose 2021 highlight was getting into a fight with Lindor, won the MLB batting title. Manager Buck Showalter, in his first year with the Mets, won his fourth Manager of the Year award. Mets closer Edwin “Sugar” Díaz was unhittable, striking out 118 batters in 62 innings and turning a trumpet riff from “Narco” by Blasterjaxx into baseball’s most intimidating entrance music. He’s in the culture now, Mets lore forever. Díaz even entered the halls of global sports memedom on August 31, when Timmy Trumpet himself—he of the trumpet riff—played Díaz’s entrance theme live at Citi Field. The only Mets fan who didn’t enjoy the “Narco” phenomenon, in fact, was Jerry Seinfeld, our cranky conscience, who declared it “bad mojo.”

“I’m not superstitious,” said Lindor, reclining against the back wall of the Mets dugout, when I asked if he agreed. “I don’t care.” He spoke with the sunny confidence of a man who hasn’t been here long. Lindor has one of baseball’s widest, gleamiest smiles, and he told me that it feels as though Mets fans are only just getting to know him now, in his second season in Queens, not least because he spent most of his first season wearing a mask (and popping out to shallow left field). “This is my personality,” Lindor said, sitting in the home dugout, gesturing to that smile. “And if this is covered, I can’t show most of my personality. It’s just different. It’s a different year.”

Consider how much would have to go wrong, and how quickly, for all of this joy and accomplishment to leave a bad aftertaste. Now consider who we’re talking about. 

No team in baseball, in fact, spent more games in first place over the past two seasons than the New York Mets, who have zero division titles and exactly one playoff win to show for it. This knack for catastrophe has earned us a mean nickname, the #LOLMets, which I’ve always disliked, though not for the reasons you might think. How dare you people try to reduce our magic to a mere hashtag? As if we’re some ephemeral trending topic. Show some respect. We are a beautiful idea, a complete thought, a sui generis approach to embracing pain and disappointment in the world. We are Metsy. Get it right.

A widely underappreciated fact about the Mets is that they’re at their Metsiest when they’re good—when there’s something real at stake, and the foolhardy optimism really starts to soar. How else to explain the peculiar badge of respect they earned this past season by getting plunked with a MLB record 112 pitches? The Mets are notorious for freak injuries, and the ‘22 Mets were so skilled at getting in harm’s way that it may have cost them the NL East title. “It’s just part of the game,” said All-Star right-fielder Starling Marte, who suffered a partial non-displaced fracture in his right middle finger on Sept. 6 when he got beaned for the 13th time, ending his regular season at a vintage Mets juncture. They got hit so often that Buck’s death glare from the dugout became the first meme of his distinguished multi-decade MLB career. 

The Metsiest thing about the 2022 Mets, though, was how eerily and consistently non-Metsy they were, right up until they face-planted during the regular season’s final weekend. All season long, they made every smart play, took every extra base, got every clutch hit, protected every lead. It was so weird. 


Major League Baseball, you may have heard, is panicked about its eroding watchability, but it turns out there was a simple cure all along: just make sure the Yankees and Mets are both really good! Problem solved. Look, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is a hell of a ballplayer and the rightful National League MVP, but he quickens no pulses outside of Missouri. The Tampa Bay Rays are a model of small-market roster construction, and that roster is greeted by average home crowds of 14,000. Aaron Judge, meanwhile, is so electric that fans give him a standing ovation (“ALL RISE”) before he hits. Edwin Díaz wouldn’t have gone viral if he was closing games in Kansas City. 

For the same reason that the NBA is stronger when the Lakers and Celtics are title contenders, and the NFL gets higher ratings when the Cowboys are rolling, the intensity that baseball so covets goes way up when the Mets and Yankees make playoff runs. The Yankees exist to be hated—aside from printing money, it’s their whole raison d’etre—and when they’re dominant, it’s just an open invitation for us to hate them all the more. On the rare occasions when they’re bad, or merely irrelevant, I feel happy but unsatiated. It doesn’t compare to the pure elation we all feel on that special day in mid-October, for going on 13 years now, when the Yankees get eliminated from the postseason, and the Bronx starts to burn.  

The sports landscape in New York was much different in 2000, during the Subway Series, the only time the Yankees and the Mets have faced off in the World Series. Back then, the Yankees were peak-dynasty, while the Mets were somehow making a brief and unscheduled detour from the familiar muck. Even if those 2000 Mets had somehow won the Subway Series, which was never going to happen, there was never a moment when Yankee hegemony was on the line.

Here’s the fun news: It is now. If the stakes for baseball in New York feel unusually intense, it’s because for the first time ever, Yankee fans fear the Mets. Yes, 27 rings to two, yada yada yada, but never has that felt more like ancient history. Thanks to Uncle Stevie, the Mets are suddenly baseball’s richest franchise, and it’s the Yankees who are the mom-and-pop shop now being run by pop’s dink son. Now the Yankees are the ones who get outbid. 

Meanwhile, on the rare occasions when the Mets are good, or even just relevant, all of you get to grab some popcorn and marvel at how exactly we’ll bungle it this time. Friends of mine spent the summer regaling with me their predictions—yet another injury to deGrom, a Sugar Díaz implosion—but with all due respect, you’re out of your depth here. Metsiness exceeds the limits of our imagination. I stopped hazarding guesses long ago, which is why I wasn’t surprised when the Mets pissed away not just a 10.5 game division lead over Atlanta, but also a five-game head-to-head advantage, which is how we wound up finishing second in the NL East despite winning 101 games.

And so after tripping into the playoffs, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when the tractor beam of Metsiness finally got a hold of Buck, our beloved Manager of the Year, who I am ready to appoint manager for life, even though he made an ass of himself on live national TV in the decisive game four of the Mets’ first-round collapse against the San Diego Padres. We could all see that Padres starter Joe Musgrove’s ears were shiny because he was sweating so much from throttling the Mets’ lineup, but only Buck had the bright idea to ask the umpires to investigate, just in case the sweat was actually a carelessly applied foreign substance. In Buck’s defense, his team was on the ropes. He had to try something, and so he gave into his worst smartypants impulses. As I watched the home plate umpire fondle Musgrove’s ear like he was giving it a couples’ massage, I knew the Mets season was over, and I knew that I’d witnessed Metsy history yet again.

And so to the wider baseball world, those of you who might wish for New York to get over itself and just go away: were you not entertained? 


This is what it feels like to hit a home run, according to Aaron Judge: 

“Your body almost feels a little light—like an out-of-body experience,” he said on the field at Yankee Stadium, the day after he hit number 60 into the left field bleachers. Judge is 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 280 pounds. When I shook his hand, mine vanished. It seemed far too large to hold a puny bat. Judge is the opposite of light. But then he makes contact with the ball and gravity reverses. “Especially at home. When you do it at home, you kind of feel like you’re floating around the bases.” 

If Yankee fans seemed extra testy all season long, it’s because Judge was unique among his fellow home run kings in one critical respect: he did it in a walk year. The Yankees broke off contract negotiations with Judge before the season began because they thought they were negotiating with 2021 Aaron Judge, a 30-year-old corner outfielder coming off an excellent but non-historic season, and then 2022 Aaron Judge turned that into an all-time negotiating blunder. The best part, though— or the rest of us, anyway—was how it got worse every time Judge hit another moonshot. Every ALL RISE brought up more acid reflux. The entire Yankees diaspora spent the entire season popping Tums. It was so great.

The holiday season, of course, is when wealthy people make their most costly mistakes. Nine years and $360 million, for a corner outfielder heading into his age 31 season, which is what the Yankees just gave Judge, was a gut-punch of a price that they almost certainly had to pay. The Mets could replace deGrom with Verlander. For the Yankees, there was no replacing Judge. And for Major League Baseball, there is no better place for Judge than the New York Yankees. 

DeGrom’s swift deParture for a frankly batshit contract with the Texas Rangers completed a slow agonizing two-year break-up with the city of New York, a place he has clearly never wanted to be. Perhaps that’s why so few Mets fans were in their backyard barbecuing their deGrom jerseys. Has any New York superstar been as aggressively invisible in New York, and as stubbornly unknowable, as Jacob deGrom? This isn’t a criticism, by the way. He’s from the middle of nowhere Florida. He enjoys horses, fast food, and not talking. He was a goner long before he left. And anyway most fathers of two want to get the hell out of New York by their mid thirties. Godspeed, my sweet Simple Man. 

All the same, perhaps the next time we start hyperventilating about a free agency departure, let’s try to remember how fast we moved on from deGrom. Breaking up, it turns out, isn’t so hard to do, especially when your uncle is loaded. As a species, Mets fans are quicker to embrace the future than Yankee fans, probably because it arrives a lot faster, but this year we both seem to need the same parting wisdom: 

Snap out of it.

You want to chase a World Series ring every season? You want to root for Cy Young winners and unanimous MVPs? You want New York back in the white hot center of the baseball universe? Congratulations, this is what it’s like. And this is what it will continue to be like, all year round, for the foreseeable future. The pleasure of winning all those games in the regular season comes with the nauseous near-certainty of watching it all get wiped out by a single playoff loss. Falling in love with home-grown superstars, meanwhile, is a lot like having teenage daughters—you live in constant fear that they’re going to run off to Los Angeles. In sports we love to wax cliche about reaching the mountaintop, but we tend to forget about all the unlucky ones who die on Everest. Each season, 29 out of baseball’s 30 fan bases are doomed sherpas from opening day. This is what we signed up for. So start climbing. 


PRODUCTION CREDITS:
Photographs by Alexei Hay
Styled by Marcus Allen

Share this Post

About Us

Celebrating our best lives at fifty and beyond! 50ismorefun brings you motivational news and stories centered around life, fitness, fashion, money, travel and health for active folks enjoying the second half of lives.