When the Mets leased New York


I’ve been sitting on a recent article by Tyler Kepner in The New York Times because I haven’t had the time to finish all the research I’d intended for this post. The piece included an interesting statistic (and echoed some of what I wrote upon Andre Dawson’s induction): Kepner points out that, from 1979-83, the Montreal Expos ranked no lower than fourth in the National League in attendance. After watching the team’s demise at the beginning of this century because of a lack of fan interest, that is an eye-opening note to those of us who became baseball fans as children in the ’80s, because most of what we know in baseball has been about big markets drawing the fans while the small markets suffer — especially for those of us who grew up around the big markets like New York.

Montreal clearly suffered with its mausoleum-as-ballpark, and the strike in 1994 with the Expos leading the NL East (Kepner points out that they were on pace to win 105 games) was probably the last great hope for baseball in Montreal. If that team — with Cliff Floyd, Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez and John Wetteland had won the division, it might’ve sparked passion in the team, which could’ve led to revenue — perhaps a new ballpark — and the retention of all those great young players.
But back to the attendance. In the New York area, we tend to think of the Yankees as kings of New York, with the Mets second. But there have been periods when the Mets were the more popular team. The Mets reached 3 million fans in a season in 1986, long before the Yankees first did it in 1998. And from 1984 through 1990 (the Davey Johnson years), the Mets outdrew the Yankees, 16,345,325 to 15,542,726. The Mets ranked higher in the Majors in attendance than the Yankees in each of those years, never ranked lower than fourth overall after ’84 and ranked second from ’85-87 and first in ’88. Granted, it’s a very small stretch in the nearly 50 years of Mets-Yankees co-habitation in New York City (My god! We’re coming up on the Mets’ 50th anniversary!), but it’s worth noting that, while the Yankees have generally owned the town throughout, they at least leased it to the Mets for a time.

Team Attendance and MLB Rankings, 1979-90
Expos Rank Mets Rank Yankees Rank
1979 2,102,173 8 788,905 24 2,537,765 3
1980 2,208,175 7 1,192,073 19 2,627,417 3
1981 1,534,564 4 704,244 18 1,614,353 3
1982 2,318,292 4 1,323,036 18 2,041,219 7
1983 2,320,651 4 1,112,774 23 2,257,976 6
1984 1,606,531 17 1,842,695 11 1,821,815 12
1985 1,502,494 17 2,761,601 2 2,214,587 7
1986 1,128,981 24 2,767,601 2 2,268,030 7
1987 1,850,324 17 3,034,129 2 2,427,672 6
1988 1,478,659 22 3,055,445 1 2,633,701 5
1989 1,783,533 20 2,918,710 4 2,170,485 12
1990 1,373,087 23 2,732,745 4 2,006,436 14

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