The Mets could be weary opponents for the Cubs in the National League Championship series, which opens Saturday in New York. Both teams are flying high, but it’s been more than figurative for the Mets.
Nine days ago, the team jetted 2,475 miles to Los Angeles for their series opener against the Dodgers. After splitting two games in L.A., both teams flew to New York, where the Mets took game three on Monday. They could have clinched the series the following night—and saved themselves some travel—but Clayton Kershaw shut them down. So it was back to the airport for another trip to L.A. And after Thursday night’s 3-2 clincher, it’s back to New York again.
That’s almost 10,000 airplane miles in just over a week. Adrenaline will help compensate initially, but it can’t carry a team through a best-of-seven series.
While the Mets were flying to and fro, the Cubs were husbanding their energy, making a single measly jaunt to Saint Louis. Round trip: 520 miles. The 700-mile flight to New York will be a piece of cake. Maybe manager Joe Maddon will have the players do it in their pjs.
The Cubs’ most formidable starters will be rested and ready to go in the first two games—Jon Lester on Saturday and Jake Arrieta on Sunday. The Mets’ starting rotation is deep, but one of their top pitchers, Jacob deGrom, threw 105 pitches last night, and so won’t be available over the weekend. Fellow starter Noah Syndergaard warmed up several times last night and also threw an inning.
The Cubs played the Mets seven times this season and won all seven. Experts are discounting that because David Wright was on the disabled list and the Mets have since added Yoenis Cespedes, Kelly Johnson, and Michael Conforto. But 7-0 is still 7-0.
If the Mets’ excessive flying does catch up to them, they can blame it on the avarice of the owner of another New York baseball club. In 1958, Walter O’Malley uprooted the Brooklyn Dodgers and moved the team to the West Coast. Dem Bums, as they were called in Brooklyn, were still drawing fans to Ebbets Field before O’Malley decided to split: they drew 1.2 million in 1956. And they were sharing big radio and TV receipts with the New York Giants and the Yankees.
Aging Ebbets Field, however, was in disrepair. (Sound familiar?) O’Malley wanted to build a new stadium in Brooklyn, but was thwarted by famed New York power broker Robert Moses. O’Malley was offered a site in Queens instead, where a stadium would have been built for the Dodgers and Giants to share. He didn’t like that idea and opted for the lusty dollar signs out west.
Moving did indeed prove profitable for O’Malley. Dodger attendance in 1958 was 1.8 million, and that was in the team’s temporary home, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. After Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, attendance was regularly more than 2 million fans, and since 1996, it’s been more than 3 million every year but one.
The Giants left the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan for San Francisco in 1958; the Mets were born four years later. They played their first two seasons in the Polo Grounds before moving into Shea Stadium in Queens in 1964. They’ve been in their current park, Citi Field, since 2009.
So had it not been for O’Malley, perhaps Dem Bums would still be in Brooklyn, and the Mets could have taken the subway to play in their division series. Or maybe the Brooklyn Dodgers would have become the Queens Dodgers, the Mets would be in L.A., and everyone would have flown just as much.
The Cubs still need to avenge the role the Mets played in the north-siders’ humiliating collapse in 1969, a disaster that happened before any of the current Cubs were born. That year, the north-siders were in first from Opening Day until September. Then they flopped and the Mets slipped past them and stole the pennant. After the Mets clinched, their former manager, the immortal Casey Stengel, was happy to rub it in.
“The Cubs broke down,” Stengel told the L.A. Times. “Their pitchers got off balance. Their third baseman got tired. Their first baseman got a little old. This club here [the Mets] plays better than [the Cubs] did any time.”
The third baseman who “got tired” was Ron Santo. The first baseman who “got a little old” was Ernie Banks. The Mets ought to finally pay for those remarks.