In this week’s edition of MLB Rivalries, we’re looking at a divisional rivalry; the Atlanta Braves vs the New York Mets.
Braves fan and Bat Flips & Nerds team contributor Charlie Deeks, along with Mets fan and Bat Flips & Nerds team contributor Josh Edwards, will break down what the rivalry means to them and their team as they battle it out in the National League (NL) East.
What is the point of the Mets?
Unlike many rivalries that have been rolling on for decades or even centuries, the Braves and Mets is a rivalry that is much younger but no less important to the fans of the two teams.
Despite the Braves being the oldest continuously running franchise in North American sports, the Mets are considerably younger, having been added as an expansion franchise in 1962. Shortly after, the first sparks of what would eventually lead to be a great rivalry were formed as, in one of the greatest what-ifs in baseball history, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver was drafted and signed by the Braves, only to be reallocated to the Mets shortly after due to college eligibility issues.
The two teams also met in the 1969 National League Championship Series (NLCS) during the Miracle Mets’ championship run. However, past that, the rivalry didn’t really come into full force until the divisions were realigned in 1995, placing the Mets and Braves in the NL East.
Since the first full season after divisional realignment, the Braves have dominated the matchup. They have won the NL East seventeen times to the Mets’ two, alongside leading in basically every other area, including the most important – World Series championships.
While the numbers are important, there’s more to the rivalry than that. From 1995 to 2000, the rivalry was particularly fierce, culminating in the 1999 NLCS, where the Mets famously celebrated winning Game 5 as if they had won the World Series, only to lose the series the game after.
After the fiery early years, the rivalry matured, maybe partly due to the Braves’ dominance. As the Braves were so consistently superior over the next twenty years (with the exception of a few years in the late 2010s), the rivalry has, at times, felt more like pity than true rivalry. Legendary Braves third baseman Chipper Jones even went as far as to pull the ultimate power move by naming his son after Shea Stadium since he played so well there (and in a true heel move, also loved the booing and abuse he got from the fans).
That feeling continues through this year, as the Mets – despite one of the largest payrolls in MLB history – have crumbled, sitting 26 games back of the Braves, duking it out with the Nationals for fourth place in the division.
So I ask again; what is the point of the Mets? Bob’s monster Twitter thread (constantly updated since 2018!) chronicling the Mets’ questionable moves and failures does a great job of representing the long-time rivalry between the Mets and the Braves. Implicit within it is the longing for a real rival, a team that will actually challenge your 2021 World Champion Braves atop the NL East.
Last year seemed like a good start, with the two teams tied atop the NL East at 101 wins, and the Braves just edging out the Mets by virtue of the head-to-head record after a back-and-forth season and a killer sweep by the Braves in the final series between the two teams. After this year’s debacle though, we seem to be back to square one.
In a weird way, I’m rooting for the Mets. I don’t know what the point of them is, but it would be nice to be challenged again.
Charlie Deeks is the Atlanta Braves correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @Omashaft!
New York Mets
Rivalries are often best drawn along historical timelines, punctuated by visceral, defining events. The New York Mets and Atlanta Braves rivalry does not buck the trend. Geographically, the rivalry is a bit of an outlier – Queens and Cobb County are around 900 miles and seven states apart – but there’s still a well of animosity to draw from.
Here are some of the rivalry’s most prescient moments (through the lens of a Met fan, of course):
Sliding doors: Tom ‘Terrific’ Seaver – In 1966, the Braves drafted Seaver in the first round of the then ‘secondary’ draft, but his contract was voided by commissioner William Eckert in strange circumstances. USC, for whom Seaver pitched in college, had played a couple of exhibition games in 1966, which meant Seaver was ineligible to be drafted. Eckert didn’t allow Seaver to go back to college either, and when Seaver’s old man complained, Eckert unilaterally decided that it would be fairest if other teams had a chance to match the offer. The Phillies, Indians and Mets jumped at the chance, with the Mets winning the lottery, and the rest, as they say, is history; Seaver had a first ballot Hall of Fame career and was the first jersey number the Mets ever retired in 1988, while plenty of Atlantans never got over the way things turned out.
Miracle Mets – Any excuse to write about the most fantastic, unexpected team in baseball history (not sorry). I won’t relitigate it here in too much detail, but the 1969 Miracle Mets became the first expansion team to win a World Series, and who’d they beat in the NL Championship? That’s right, a Seaver-less Braves. In fact, the Mets swept Atlanta in that series, with Seaver beating Phil Niekro, the only other NL Cy Young candidate, along the way.
Divisional re-alignment – For a proper rivalry, you need familiarity, so for these two franchises it’s obvious when things really ignited: the 1994 divisional re-alignment. The Braves and Mets were suddenly thrust into the same division, old wounds were reopened and new ones were inflicted. Playing each other more regularly and battling for the same divisional pennant really intensified things.
Rock the boat – A good rivalry really blossoms when players get into trash talking. One fan base can vehemently support their guy, happy in the knowledge that he loves your team and your town, while the other fan base can get themselves properly riled up about the slights against their beloved franchise.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go; however, when Braves closer John Rocker was interviewed by Sports Illustrated in 1999, he went way too far. I won’t repost the comments here as they are pretty nasty, but in lambasting New York, he showed himself to be racist, sexist and homophobic. This infuriated Met fans and really gave things some added juice. Sticks and stones, eh?
How about today? Perhaps the best sustaining factor in baseball’s biggest, most relevant and enduring rivalries is mutual quality. When both teams are good, there’s a more fanatical support base for each, and, therefore, a livelier antagonism. This is, sadly from my perspective, not quite the case now between Atlanta and New York. The Braves are the best team in the league and the Mets are a $350m train wreck amid another rebuild.
However, what is dormant can erupt again. Watch this space.
Josh Edwards is Bat Flips & Nerds’ New York Mets contributor, and can be found on Twitter @Joshwa_1990.
While Tom Seaver’s draft rights and the 1969 NLCS are both significant elements that played a large role in building up the rivalry, other elements are also at play.
Looking at this rivalry from the outside, the key to its endurance and ongoing escalation is that the Braves and the Mets are in the same division. This means that, the two sides not only play each other multiples times during the regular season, but the result of these games also have a dual effect; it is not simply a case of one team wins and the other team loses. Rather, one team wins, and that win takes the victor one game ahead of a direct rival in the divisional standings while putting the loser one game back in the hunt for a playoff place.
Therefore, it adds another layer to the rivalry and means that every single game between the two really does count. Just in the same way that one of the numerous aspects of the rivalry that started this series of articles – Yankees vs Red Sox – is that both those teams play in the same division; the American League East.
If there is one thing that the Braves-Mets rivalry demonstrates then, it is that geographic proximity is not the only element that can create a rivalry. The familiarity of divisional play really can breed contempt, as can the arbitrary decision of a commissioner and its fallout apparently.
Come back next Wednesday for the next in the MLB Rivalries series!
Brett Walker is the Oakland Athletics team contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds, and can be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport.
Featured image – AP Photo/Adam Hunger