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It’s Up to You, New York Mets

Regardless of what the Trade Winds told us [1] in the mid-1960s regarding the plight of displaced Southern California surfer boys, New York’s an awesome town when you’re the only baseball team around.

Welcome to the autumn of our municipal content, the one featuring the Mets and, as of the completion of the Houston Astros’ shutout victory in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card game [2], only the Mets. As some of the sanctioned t-shirts declare, the postseason is ours…and nobody else’s in the Metropolitan Area.

And as some other official MLB t-shirts might be amended to suggest, Take October Off, Yankees.

This will be a brief gloat, for there are substantial accomplishments to be nailed down, but a gloat is in order. The Mets, you see, did something they hadn’t done in a quarter-century. They finished with a better record and higher in the standings than their neighbors to the slightly north. That didn’t used to be an achievement worth noting. It was just the way it was: four times in five seasons between 1969 and 1973; six times in seven seasons between 1984 and 1990.

Then a period we shall refer to as an aberration set in and wouldn’t easily budge. But that’s over, at least for now. Just like the Yankees’ presence on your playoff calendar.

While we indulge our Sheadenfreudic impulses and enjoy a quick, low-key Elimination Day celebration (because, despite this occasion having occurred 14 times in the past 15 years, it never gets old [3]), we turn our attention fully, as the rest of New York does, to what the Mets can and should do now that they’ve got the autumnal stage to themselves.

They can and should do big things.

Yet they can’t do big things until they take care of every little thing along the way. I’m reluctant to set a near-term long-term goal for them since I’m a firm believer in taking everything one game/day at a time. We know they’ve finally arrived at the entrance to the rainbow after laboring under only clouds for a veritable eternity [4]. We know what the goal at the end of the rainbow is, but they need only concern themselves for the moment with Game One of the National League Division Series. Actually, they should just concern themselves with preparing for Game One since the game doesn’t start until rather late Friday night. In the interim, just have the best workout possible. Or, failing that, just show up to the workout [5] as soon as possible. That would be a start.

As for the near-term long-term goal, let’s put it this way: New York needs the Mets. New York needs the Mets to go as far as a New York team can possibly go (and I don’t meant the way the Dodgers went as far as they possibly could from Flatbush).

New York needs a world championship. The Mets need to be the ones to give it to us. Not just us, as in the Mets fans, but we who live in these environs. We who have been aching to live in a Mets town, a shared Mets state of mind, an ADI with a capital M-E-T-S.

Finishing with a better record than the Yankees is nice (very nice). Remaining on the field longer than the Yankees is nice (very nice). But now that we’ve outwon them and outlasted them, it’s time to give New York what it deserves.

This is the greatest city in the world, we are continually told and love to tell ourselves. You’d figure there’d be a world championship banner flying somewhere around here. Yet there isn’t. There hasn’t been for quite a while.

How long? Long enough.

Let’s set our parameters. Let’s look at this through the prism of the traditional Big Four professional sports — baseball, football, basketball and hockey (sorry, soccer) — and the local franchises that represent the greater New York City area. Those would be the Mets, Yankees, Giants, Jets, Nets, Knicks, Islanders, Devils and Rangers. Yes, one of those teams calls itself New Jersey; one used to; and two others play there, but our rule of thumb is if they win a championship, it would be covered giddily by local New York television newscasts and generally treated in enthusiastic bandwagon fashion by other local New York media.

Mind you, the idea of a “New York” world championship doesn’t necessarily hold universal appeal in these parts. For example, there have been 27 I can immediately think of that I wish had never occurred. I doubt there’s anybody who isn’t paid to who roots or even pretends to root for all nine of the aforementioned teams. That brand of sentiment might work where there’s one franchise per league in a given city [6]. We, on the other hand, compose a gorgeous mosaic of diverse and contrary interests. We love New York, even if we probably can’t stand at least half of the teams that play here.

Then again, there’s always gonna be somebody who sees a bandwagon, any bandwagon, and will hop on board toward its finish line without being weighed down by the morals and ethics attached to crafting fleeting loyalties on the fly. Call them “New York” fans. Or anything you like.

The last time New York had a bandwagon to ride successfully all the way to its logical conclusion was February 5, 2012, when the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI. That was 1,340 days ago. Given that there is no professional sports championship to be captured on October 7, 2015, that exact total is provisional. The real number of days to keep in mind lies somewhere between 1,364 and 1,368, which would take the New York championship drought up to somewhere between October 31 and November 4. That encompasses the soonest (Game Four) and the latest (Game Seven) the 2015 World Series can be won.

That’s when the Mets can end the drought. That’s when the Mets can be New York’s world champion. That would be very nice (very, very nice). But would it mark the end of a particularly or historically long New York championship drought? For some, who need a good bandwagon ride every few months, of course. Put up against other championship droughts, it’s not close to being the worst it’s ever been, but we are in danger of verging on feeling unusually arid.

The longest New York has ever had to wait between big-time professional sports championships goes back to the dawn of big-time professional sports in New York. The Giants — the baseball Giants, that is — won the World Series on October 14, 1905. They won it again on October 3, 1921, with nobody else (meaning the Robins/Dodgers and Highlanders/Yankees) winning one in between. That was a stretch of 5,843 days in the championship desert for New York. There were no local television newscasts to bemoan our shortcomings in those days, attributable entirely to the total lack of television. It’s probably not fair to compare those days to these days.

A semblance of these days didn’t really get rolling until the 1920s, when you had the three baseball teams, the football Giants and the earliest Rangers. The baseball Giants repeated as world champions in 1922, a mere 360 days following their 1921 triumph. Thereafter, though, mostly you had the Yankees. They won their first World Series on October 15, 1923, and then began breaking most of the resulting relatively short New York droughts themselves. Quite often it was a matter of the Yankees winning New York a championship on some October afternoon and then winning New York its next championship roughly 365 days later.

Now and then, New York was awash in champagne, albeit the bootleg variety during Prohibition. On October 8, 1927, the Yankees of Murderers Row fame won the World Series; 57 days later, the Giants won their first NFL championship (clinched in the regular season, as there was no playoff system yet in place); 132 days after that, the Rangers skated off with their first Stanley Cup; and 178 days after that, the Yankees won the World Series again. In just over a year, New York raised four banners in three sports.

Other than a pair of four-year droughts (1928-1932; 1943-1947) and one lasting three years (1958-1961), New York never had to go without for more than approximately ten minutes. That four-decade bounty came to an end with the last Yankee world championship of its dynasty epoch, won on October 16, 1962.

Then came a drought worthy of the name. The 1960s may have been a good time for surf music, but New York sports teams were collectively wiping out. Even though we had seven entries playing four sports in six professional leagues, there was no strength in numbers. The baseball Giants and Dodgers vamoosed west in 1957, but we had already gained the Knicks (founded 1946) and were about to add the Titans/Jets (1960), the Mets (1962) and the New Jersey Americans (1967), a basketball bunch that bounced to Long Island and became the Nets a year later. Yet even with all those new franchises joining the Yankees, the NFL Giants and the Rangers, we couldn’t win a single championship as a metropolis. It took until January 12, 1969 — a span of 2,280 days — for the AFL Jets to trump the NFL Colts and end the drought that had been so deeply entrenched during sports’ expansion boom.

Once the championship boom hit New York, it exploded in earnest. Only 277 days after Joe Namath made good on his Super Bowl III guarantee, the Mets won the World Series. And only 204 days beyond that blue-and-orange letter date of October 16, 1969, the Knicks were crowned NBA champions, on May 8, 1970. Another Knick title was registered just over three years later. A year after that, it was the Nets’ turn to make New York proud. Dr. J and his teammates turned the ABA trick again two years later.

Then the New York Nets (like their league) ceased to exist as such and no New York or New York-ish professional basketball championship has been secured since May 13, 1976 — not in Northern New Jersey, not in Manhattan and not in Brooklyn. But the sports championships kept coming to New York in the late 1970s, as the Yankees won a pair of World Series in back-to-back fashion in ’77 and ’78 (while the Cosmos were winning the briefly big-time Soccer Bowl in the same two seasons). As the 1980s dawned, the Islanders, formed in 1972, kept New York’s championship thirst slaked with four consecutive Stanley Cups.

After the last of those ice hockey chalices was hoisted in good old Uniondale [7], New York went dry for 1,259 days, which represented the longest drought to date of the post-Namath period. Who came to New York’s rescue while the Islanders, Rangers, Devils (who showed up in East Rutherford in 1982), Knicks, Nets, Jets, Giants and Yankees came up perennially short after May 17, 1983?

Why, the New York Mets! They won the World Series on October 27, 1986, and they provided such an inspirational example, the Giants went out and won Super Bowl XXI on January 25, 1987, exactly 90 days later. It made for the fourth-shortest championship drought in New York sports history, the briefest since 1956.

Things dried up again from there, though. The Giants had to pick up where they left off 1,463 days earlier by taking Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991. The Rangers kicked in a Cup 1,234 days after that, with the Devils matching their feat another 370 days hence. New York/New Jersey didn’t have to do a lot of waiting in the years ahead, with four baseball and two hockey championships falling the area’s way between 1996 and 2003.

Then it grew dry again, as there’d be a 1,700-day void between the Devils’ third cup (June 9, 2003) and the Giants’ third Super Bowl (February 3, 2008); New York had not waited that long for a championship since Broadway Joe’s signature moment. There’d be a World Series won by somebody local on November 4, 2009, then that fourth Giants Super Bowl on February 5, 2012, snapping a champless stretch of 1,157 days, a figure we’ve since surpassed as we wait and wait and wait for another…as we wait for the one we really want.

All told, there were 59 major professional sports championships won by eleven franchises situated in the New York City area between 1905 and 2012. New York needs a 60th in 2015. There’s only one New York team that can bring it home this calendar year.

There’s nobody else to whom we’d rather assign this vital task.