If you’ve been reading the site for a while, you know my stance on Interleague play. To summarize, it’s unfair to the Mets because while teams they’re battling for a playoff spot get to play a pushover – last year the 93-win Nationals got to play the 54-108 Orioles, while the 91-win Cardinals got to play the 59-103 Royals – the Mets get the Yankees. While the playoff contender with the easy matchup may change every few years, the Mets always play a good team. Interleague play started in 1997. In those 23 years, the Yankees have never finished below .500, won 84-89 games six times, won 90-99 games 10 times and won 100 or more on seven occasions. And the Mets have to play them four-to-six times each and every year while some competitor gets a 100-loss team.
But it wasn’t always this way. Long before Interleague play came into existence, the Mets and Yankees used to play an in-season exhibition game called the Mayor’s Trophy game. By the end it was a glorified Spring Training game, with starters in short supply. But regardless of who was playing, fans of both teams wanted to win for bragging rights, even if the players didn’t share that sentiment. Rumor has it that Graig Nettles literally tried to throw the game in 1978. He did it by tossing a ball 10 feet over the first baseman’s head, so the Mets could score in the 11th inning. But the Mets couldn’t cash in with the gift runner on second base and the Yankees won in 13 innings.
It wasn’t always this way, though. When the series with the Yankees started, Mets skipper Casey Stengel desperately wanted to beat the team that fired him after the 1960 season. And the second-year Mets obliged, as they marched into Yankee Stadium and in front of 50,742 fans emerged with a 6-2 win. The Mets used their top pitchers – Jay Hook and Carl Willey – to compete in the exhibition game, which happened 57 years ago, 6/20/63.
As late as 1972, the exhibition game drew crowds of 50,000+ – which was great as proceeds benefited youth baseball leagues. But the crowds diminished and by the end of the decade, the game drew fewer than 15,000 fans. This declining attendance led to a two-year absence of the series, although the teams continued to make donations to the Amateur Baseball Federation.
The series was revived in 1982 and played two more times, before it was retired for good. The teams split the last two games, with each claiming a 4-1 victory in the other team’s home park. There were 19 Mayor’s Trophy games played between the Mets and Yankees, with the Yankees holding a 10-8 advantage. The 1979 game was a rain-shortened, 1-1 tie.
Perhaps the most interesting game in the series came in 1971. Jim McAndrew and Nolan Ryan held the Yankees hitless through seven innings. Ron Taylor came on in the eighth inning and got two more outs before the Yankees mustered their first hit. But it all fell apart for Taylor in the ninth inning and the Mets ended up on the wrong end of a 2-1 game. The game was played in September, which allowed Ron Swoboda, a mid-year acquisition from the Expos, the chance to play for the Yankees. Swoboda asked his new team to allow him to play center field, since the Mets never gave him the chance after 1965.
It seems somehow fitting that the Mets took off once the annual exhibition game ended. In the last year the game was played, the Mets ended the season 68-94. The following year they won 90 games. Throughout their history, the Mets have had streaks of good and bad play. The time frame of the Mayor’s Trophy lasted through two bad periods (‘62-‘68 and ‘77-’83) and given that, it’s interesting the series was as close as it was.