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There was not always a safety net after the season


Well, you have to give us credit. New York is not a one-dimensional baseball city. Within a few weeks, we can feel completely bulletproof and utterly powerless. We can radiate pure confidence and leak oil. Both sides of the city. There was a time when Yankees fans and Mets fans couldn’t wait for the next game — or as they might call it, “the next win.”

Now both sides are praying for rain.

OKAY. Maybe it’s not quite That poor. But it’s close. Over the past few weeks, as the Braves and the Rays continued to chase the Mets and the Yankees, eating away almost all of what was a combined 26 games of leads between the two (the Yankees’ highest was 15½, the Mets ’10) , baseball has become something of a chore to watch.

Both teams.

Both sides.

Still, it could be worse, and fans of both teams are well aware it could be worse. These aren’t the Old Times – for the purposes of this column, “Old Days” is defined as 1962-92 – when it was an all-or-nothing proposition. If the baseball rules of yore — meaning only first place goes to the postseason — were still in effect, Baseball New York would already be in the state, catatonic with disappointment.

But here’s a cold, hard fact:

The Mets’ magic number for qualifying for the playoffs, which came in on Saturday, was 10. The Yankees’ magic number was 15. That’s the prize to watch out for. Enter. That may not be perfect. That may not be ideal. But there’s hardly a fraction of a chance the teams won’t.

Pete Alonso's Mets and Aaron Boone's Yankees have had a rough time in September, but they still have a wildcard playoff safety net unlike some other hapless New York baseball teams.
Pete Alonso’s Mets and Aaron Boone’s Yankees have had a rough time in September, but they still have a wildcard playoff safety net unlike some other hapless New York baseball teams.

It’s worth remembering: it wasn’t always like this. The time was up, there was no safety net. And both sides of the city still ache from past disappointments, which reverberate even now, so many years later. Here are some of the worst times.


The Mets and Yankees both suffered and bled, chasing teams (the Cardinals and Blue Jays) who were resilient and persistent and ultimately failed to catch. There was one notable day—September 12, 1985—when the Mets defeated the Cardinals in the afternoon in Shea and the Yankees defeated the Jays at Stadium in the evening. The Mets were a game up, the Yankees 1 back, and visions of a Subway Series started dancing in all boroughs…

But both fell short. The Mets won the first two games of a must-sweep series in St. Louis, but lost the third game 4-3, so 98 wins would only be good enough for second place in St. Louis with 101 wins. And while the Yankees performed a miracle in their own three-game season-ending run in Toronto – with Butch Wynegar hitting a tying homerun in the ninth, followed by the winning run scoring on a dropped flyout – even that wasn’t the case. enough. The Yankees won 97 games. The Jays finished with 99. And that was that.


The Mets have been so miserable for so long and by law they shouldn’t have won 90 games since they were beaten 676-652 this season. But Davey Johnson had arrived, as had Doc Gooden, and the Mets enjoyed a fall-out-of-the-sky season as their lead in the NL East grew to a whopping 4 ½ games on July 27.

But the Cubs were too much that year, winning at one point against the Mets seven times in a row. It was the first of six straight years in which the Mets finished first or second, which would have meant more shots to the crown with a wildcard. But then there was no wildcard.


The Yankees hadn’t been in the postseason in 10 years, but they battled Baltimore into the final weekend before taking a heartbreaking loss to Milwaukee on the penultimate day of the season. That 89-73 team was followed by an increasingly successful group of Yankees, led by consecutive champions from 1977-78.

But ’74 held a special place for many Yankees fans because Bobby Murcer was still on the team at the time, and because even though they played home games in Queens, Yankees fans had come to embrace Shea Stadium as a great home field advantage and banners saying ” YES WE CAN” started appearing every game.

Bobby Murcer in 1979
Bobby Murcer in 1979
MLB Photos via Getty Images


Notable: None of the five consecutive 1949-53 Yankees champions that coincided with Casey Stengel’s first five years ever won 100 games. The ’54 edition won 103 – and finished eight full games behind Cleveland, who went 111-43 to win the American League. The Yankees were in first place for just five days that year, the last on July 20, and while they were great, it didn’t matter because Cleveland never wavered.

Vac’s Whacks

OKAY. I did it. I really did. As I promised last week, I found five wins for the Jets – I’m calling 5-12 – and five wins for the Giants – a softer schedule, more winable games, so we’ll make it 6-11. Now can we just fast-forward to the draft, aka the New York Super Bowl?

Our world changed forever 21 years ago Sunday. Al Leiter, John Franco and Todd Zeile, all members of the 2001 Mets, have pledged to never forget. So this week they continued their September ritual and visited Engine 33 in Manhattan.

On the day Queen Elizabeth II was born, Babe Ruth had hit just 310 home runs. Of all the fun facts gathered after her passing this week, that’s the one I enjoy the most.

Barry Pepper played Roger Maris in "61*".
Barry Pepper played Roger Maris in “61*”.
Courtesy of Everett Collection.

In the spirit of the season, I recently re-watched “61*”. And more than ever, Billy Crystal’s loving and meticulous attention to detail – plus the fact that both Barry Pepper (above) and Thomas Jane look exactly like the M&M Boys – help that film hold its own very, very well.

Whack Back at Vac

George Corchia: Giants fans are soooo accustomed to the 0-and-something starts of the NFL season. It’s just a matter of guessing the total number of losses for the first win: 0-2, 0-3, 0-4…?

vacuum cleaner: Do you know what I’m missing? I miss confident Giants fans. I never thought I’d miss confident Giants fans (and confident Yankees fans), but I am. I really.

Christopher Sheldon: Aaron Judge’s pursuit of the record is impressive, but I want him to score 61 in 154 games. To me, that would be a record that even The Babe would put on.

vacuum cleaner: I’m not here to downplay what Maris was doing, not a bit, and it was a shame to star him all these years. But that doesn’t mean Babe Ruth gets eight games less than Maris should at least be a PART of the conversation, right?

@infinite1555: I understand that both New York soccer teams playing at 1pm are a relegation in this market, but as a fan I don’t mind.

@MikeVacc: Giants fans will watch the Giants and Jets fans will watch the Jets, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I go back to my house as a kid where we watched every minute (except TV outages) of both teams, which you can’t do when they’re competing against each other. Maybe mine is a lone voice on this one.

Jeffrey Cohen: Often seen in the past where unnamed players – including those raised from the underage – can fuel a team, such as Al Weiss. Do the Mets have someone in the wings who could do the same?

vacuum cleaner: Unfortunately, the two most likely candidates – Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty – are now both on the IL.

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