For one thing, to call these mid-season games a subway series devalues the original meaning of the phrase. A "subway series" was then the World Series, the unforgiving climax to the six month long regular season, a battle for the championship of the baseball world—not a mere threesome of games, out of a total of 162, that will be added into the mix when the final standings are determined (standings that now will allow no fewer than five teams in each league to compete in post-season play) and of no more weight than the teams's games against its other opponents.
Nor is New York City, despite its recent revival, the city now that it was then. The city's population is a declining percentage of the population of the greater metropolitan area. Far more of the baseball fan base can be found in the suburbs. If many of the Yankees who tormented their cross-town rivals five out of six times in those previous encounters then lived on the Grand Concourse during the baseball season, it's a safe bet that today's edition's only encounter with the Bronx comes on game day. It's no different for their National League foes. The days when the "Boys of Summer" actually lived in Brooklyn or Willie Mays played stick-ball in Harlem are memories without echoes for the Met ballplayers who have a strictly professional connection with their Queens home ground. As for the subways' own place in their eponymous series, the thousand of cars cramming the parking lots surrounding the Mets' Citi Field home this weekend will eloquently testify to the diminished role of the subways in taking the fans out to the ball game. It is a far cry from old Ebbets Field and its 400 parking spaces.
But even apart from these changed contexts, maybe we should reign in any residual nostalgia and acknowledge that the subway series phenomenon was not what we would like to believe it to was, even in its original incarnation. For the dirty little secret of the "golden age" of the "subway series" is that it was a pretty dismal time for major league baseball, and not so good even for the New York teams themselves.
To be blunt, the subway series era was a disaster for the business of baseball. Between 1947 and 1952, National League attendance fell from 10,388,000 to 6,339,148, and its modest recovery to 8,634,000 in 1956 was almost entirely attributable to the Braves' move to Milwaukee in 1953 from Boston (where they drew an incredible 280,000 in 1952). In the American League, 11,150,000 paying spectators had dwindled to 7,884,000 in the decade after 1947. Understandable, perhaps, as competitive balance disappeared to an unparalleled degree in both circuits, but New York 's teams were hardly the beneficiaries of their superiority. The Yankee Stadium crowds that numbered 2,200,000 in 1947 shrank to 1,490,000 in 1956; the Dodgers played before 1,807,000 fans in 1947 but only 1,200,000 in 1956; the Giants' attendance base utterly collapsed, from 1,600,000 down to 629,000 over that time span. By 1958 both the Dodgers and Giants had fled west, but the Yankee box office hardly benefited from their new-found monopoly: their attendance was actually lower in 1958, than the year before.
So, if a subway series can't be what it used to be, maybe it's for the best. And, perish the thought, maybe it never was.