A New York baseball season that could surpass all others
By Victor Mather
Hey, New York baseball fans: Is your step a little springier these days? Does the scent of freshly mowed grass smell a little sweeter? Does the crack of ash on cowhide sound like beautiful music?
It should. The Yankees were the first team in the majors to 50 wins — doing it in only 67 games — and the Mets had the second-best record in baseball through Monday, at 45-24.
Statistically, this could wind up being the best combined season in New York baseball history.
Yes, there are more months to be played, players to get healthy or injured and winning and losing streaks to be had. But the Yankees (.746) and the Mets (.652) have an average winning percentage of .699. That would dwarf their average winning percentage in any of the previous 60 seasons in which they have coexisted.
Surprisingly, the previous best full season between them was not 2000, when the Yankees beat the Mets in the Subway Series. Fates aligned for those teams in the postseason, but the Mets entered those playoffs as a wild card with a .580 winning percentage and the Yankees, while a division winner, were a relatively pedestrian .540.
Their best combined season had come two years before, when the 1998 Yankees were 114-48 for a .704 winning percentage — and went on to win the World Series. Combine that with the Mets’ finishing second in the National League East with a record of 88-74 (.543), and you get a mean percentage of .624. A great figure but well short of this year’s .699.
The Yankees and the Mets also reached at least a .600 winning percentage between them in 1999 (.600; Yankees won the World Series), 1986 (.612; Mets won the World Series) and 1985 (.604).
This is probably a good place to acknowledge that plenty of New York fans do not see combined greatness as a good thing. For these fans, it is not enough that their favored team succeed. Their crosstown rival must also fail. So the number of fans rooting for these teams to surpass 1998 may be few and far between.
Of course, New York’s baseball history, and its fierce rivalries, did not start when the Mets came to town in 1962. But even if you include the days when the Yankees shared the city with the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, the current season remains on top.
The best season from New York’s three-team era was 1942 (.634). The Yankees made the World Series and the Dodgers and the Giants finished second and third in the National League. But they all fell before Stan Musial’s St. Louis Cardinals, who beat the Yankees in a five-game World Series.
The other .600-plus seasons of that era all came in the 1950s: 1951 (.626, Yankees over Giants in the World Series), 1952 (.614, Yankees over Dodgers) and 1954 (.632, Giants won the Series).
Going back to the days before the Yankees existed, the city’s best 19th-century season came in 1889, when the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (later the Dodgers) of the American Association and the Giants of the National League combined for a .669 winning percentage. The Giants went on to beat the Dodgers in a championship between the leagues that was a predecessor of the modern World Series.
Unfortunately, the records are not entirely complete. Statistics from many of the Negro leagues are now recognized as having been the equivalent of the other major leagues, but the records are not complete enough for precise inclusion. One great season came in 1947, when the New York Cubans, with Minnie Miñoso and Luis Tiant Sr., won the Negro World Series after having a .687 winning percentage, while the Yanks, Giants and Dodgers combined for a .589 record. But that season’s average winning percentage is dragged down by the New York Black Yankees, who were an appalling 12-43.
Keeping a winning percentage high with multiple teams involved is tough. Fittingly, the very best New York baseball season, going all the way back to the founding of the Giants as the New York Gothams in 1883, technically came in the four dark years after the Giants and Dodgers headed West, which left the Yankees as the only game in town. It was 1961, the Mets were a year away from stumbling into existence, and the Yankees posted a winning percentage of .673 as Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle battled to break Babe Ruth’s home run record. They put a cherry on top by winning the World Series.
Whether this season’s Yankees and Mets can surpass the regular-season success of 1889, 1942, 1961 or 1998 will not be known for months. But no matter how you count things, it has been a golden season for New York baseball. Perhaps it will rub off on the Jets and Giants.