The dress rehearsal for Armageddon was a success. Baseball staged five League Championship Series games over seven days in New York City last week without paging the medical examiner's office once. That was accomplished with the help of some 600 uniformed police officers, many festooned in full riot gear; bomb-sniffing dogs; concession-stand vendors who, while trying hard to comply with the NO SPITTING signs posted behind their food counters, removed the caps from water bottles lest their customers use them as artillery shells; the greatest gathering of celebs this side of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; wild-eyed fans who are obsessive-compulsive about conjugating the verb "to suck"; and one massive city-owned sanitation truck positioned to fend off vehicles potentially engaged in suicide-autograph runs by Mets fans. The truck barricaded the entrance to the players' parking lot near rightfield at Shea Stadium, and as players arrived for work, it would roll out of the way, allow them to drive through, then roll back into its defensive position.
Like it or not—and is there anybody in between?—this is baseball New York-style: obnoxious, oversized, provincial and a bit dangerous, which, come to think of it, also describes the indigenous pastrami on rye. As Clemens once wrote about the place, "There is something about this ceaseless buzz, and hurry, and bustle, that keeps a stranger in a state of unwholesome excitement all the time, and makes him restless and uneasy." That Clemens would be Samuel, the 19th-century Connecticut Yankee humorist, and not Roger, the one-hit, 15-strikeout Yankees righthander.
Clemens's description also applies to the kind of baseball played last week by the Yankees and the Mets as they forged toward an intramural World Series matchup two generations in the making. Thankfully, the wildest incident last week was the pitching of Cardinals rookie lefthander Rick Ankiel in St. Louis, and the only time the bomb-sniffing dogs barked with alarm was before Game 4 at Shea when they picked up the scent of St. Louis righthander Darryl Kile as he entered the Stadium before giving up seven runs in an incendiary three-inning stint.
Would a Yankees-Mets World Series keep the rest of the country in that state of unwholesome excitement all the time? The answer may be forthcoming. With lefthander and National League Championship Series MVP Mike Hampton tossing a masterly three-hit, 7-0 Game 5 win on Monday night, the Mets clinched the pennant and did their part to bring to town the first Subway Series since 1956. The Yankees, holding a three-games-to-two lead over the Seattle Mariners, needed only to win one of two possible games at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday to hold up their end.
The rest of the country might watch out of prurient interest, with nobody to root for. Iran versus Iraq in spikes. "I think they would watch," Mets lefthander Al Leiter says, referring to baseball fans outside earshot of the obscenely loud Shea Stadium speakers, or roughly beyond a 200-mile radius. "If nothing else, they'll want to see the security aspect of it: the police officers, the fights in the stands, the scene around and outside the stadiums, the snipers on the rooftops, things like that."
"If a Subway Series ever happened," says Brooklyn-born Yankees manager Joe Torre, "it would be absolutely crazy in New York. I was growing up in New York in the '40s and '50s when the [ Brooklyn] Dodgers and [ New York] Giants played all the time, and that was wild. Of course the Yankees were always in the World Series, sometimes playing the Dodgers and sometimes the Giants. That was crazy. But a Subway Series now would be far wilder than that."
The game is a more bloated spectacle since the Yankees' seven-game win over the Dodgers in '56. For one, the teams played those games in an average of two hours, 34 minutes. The 10 League Championship Series games through Monday night lasted an average of 3:31. The Yankees and Mariners took a ghastly 3:45 to score all of two runs (both by Seattle) in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Rickey Henderson, a former Yankee and Met, drove in the first run with a fifth-inning single while the Yankee Stadium crowd serenaded him with its usual vulgar chant. This is, after all, the city that never bleeps. "Rickey still the best, Rickey still the best," the Mariners leftfielder crowed to his teammates after the hit.
Baseball, too, is immensely more popular, if not as emotionally ingrained, today than it was in the nostalgically gilded postwar "golden age." From 1949 through '56 all but four of the 46 World Series games were played in New York. Yet at the climax of that Gothamcentric success—the '56 season—the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants combined to draw 3,334,525 fans. This year the Yankees by themselves came within 106,868 paying customers of that total.
Without a third team, New York no longer has disinterested third parties for a Subway Series. Choosing a team is an either/or proposition, which is why even the mayor, Rudy Giuliani, wore a Yankees cap to Yankee Stadium last week but a generic city Parks Department cap to Shea Stadium. It also is why Senate candidate and erstwhile Cubs fan Hillary Clinton—running against a Mets fan, Rick Lazio—suddenly reiterated her "longtime affection for the Yankees," though she did not break into discourse on the Horace Clarke-Jerry Kenney era. Billy Crystal made sure postproduction work for his baseball movie, 61*, much of which was shot in Detroit, took place in New York so he could attend the games at Yankee Stadium. The Backstreet Boys, Penny Marshall and 'N Sync also turned up in the Bronx. Jerry Seinfeld, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Jay-Z, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tim Rob-bins and Chris Rock showed up at Shea.
St. Louis? Uh, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Dick Cheney, received polite Midwestern applause for attending Game 2 at Busch Stadium.