A perfect Mets-Phils trade: Insults

Does this sadly deflated stand-in batter at the New York Mets' spring training camp in St. Lucie, Fla., inspire a cutting remark about that feckless team up north? You must be a Phillies fan.

It's only February. This will likely come as news to the Phillies and Mets.

Things have been so heated between the two sides that you'd think it's midsummer instead of late winter. It's as if everybody skipped their off-season vacations in favor of brushing each other back with insults.

Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels got their digs in early; Ryan Church, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran waited until they arrived in Florida. And the respective fan bases? They haven't stopped attacking each other.

I've received some interesting e-mails from Mets and Phils supporters. The missives have been strikingly similar - lots of cursing and not-so-nice things to say about the other team's mothers. Last week, I got one message from an Amazin's fan and another from a Fightin's fan, both of which instructed the enemy to "shut up and play" even though the games don't count right now and the season is still more than a month away.

At first, I was blinded by the venom. But as I built a tolerance, I began to see the truth: Phillies-Mets is the best rivalry going in either city right now.

Eagles fans will surely balk. Since I was a kid, the Cowboys have been perched atop Philly's To-Hate list. But, lately, it's been easier to mock Dallas than detest it. The Cowboys haven't won a postseason game since 1996. They've become a huge caricature - a crew of overdramatic, underproductive, me-first attention sponges more likely to turn up in the gossip pages or the police blotters than the playoffs. We still hate them. But, more than that, we laugh at them, which is something different.

New Yorkers will predictably claim that the ongoing Yankees-Red Sox war is the biggest deal in town. But like the long-standing Eagles-Cowboys clash, Yanks-Sox is a reflexive rivalry nourished more by history than current events.

Traditionally, Dallas has never cared about Philly as much as Philly has cared about Dallas (because Dallas doesn't care about anything). We're the ones who have always handled the heavy hating. The same thing is true to our north. When Gotham spends more time tearing A-Rod apart than it does bashing the Red Sox, how can anyone pretend that the rivalry between the two teams remains of paramount importance to New Yorkers?

That's the thing. The best rivalries are adversarial but also symbiotic. The animosity on both sides has to be all-encompassing. Look at North Carolina and Duke. The Republicans and the Democrats. The Hatfields and McCoys. The French and the rest of the free world.

The Phils-Mets rivalry has intensified not just because of how the teams have performed recently, but also because of the acknowledged interdependence. In a sick, perverse way, the Mets and Phils (and their fans) really enjoy despising each other. When one faction opens its mouth, the other can't wait to respond. It has become the principal pastime for both parties.

Personally, I hate when New Yorkers migrate south and invade Citizens Bank Park. And yet, oddly enough, I look forward to trading insults with them. They give as good as they get. Without the Mets, Philly would be left with no one to spar against. And vice versa. Maybe we could both take shots at the Braves and their fans, but where's the fun in that? Atlanta doesn't have that brawling spirit. You could get a better workout by staying home and shadowboxing.

Think about it in terms of comic books. All the great ones depend on a fairly balanced good vs. evil paradigm. Every superhero has to have an archenemy, a hyper-motivated foe committed to the battle and equal to the task.

Without that foil, the superhero wouldn't be so super. He'd just be some silly dude in tights.

Football fans everywhere are no doubt in mourning. Over the weekend, ESPN reportedly ended its relationship with one of the most befuddling - but strangely entertaining - analysts in its history.

After two years of botched phrases and butchered words, Emmitt Smith is no longer employed by the World Wide Leader. Like Michael Irvin before him, being a former Cowboy was enough to get Smith in the door at ESPN but not enough to keep him employed.

It's a pity. Some of ESPN's funniest moments over the last two years have come courtesy of Smith. He's the man who praised one team for "carousing the football carrier" and warned another squad not to be complacent against the Pats, lest they get "blowed out." He also informed viewers that Eli Manning had endured a weird ritual called the "rice of passage."

Godspeed, Emmitt Smith. And please, stay true to yourself. As you once wisely noted, "you can't change the stripes of a leopard."

The Phils should sign Kenny Powers immediately. . . . Diego Sanchez initially said his move to the UFC's 155-pound weight class would be temporary. After his dominant win over Joe Stevenson on Saturday, Sanchez should seriously consider staying put. . . . According to the Boston Herald, Bill Belichick was spotted at the NFL combine in "a Bon Jovi jacket." I haven't seen a picture, but I'm guessing it was a fabulous look. . . . Maybe all the talk about the 76ers' attempts to trade Samuel Dalembert will motivate him to play better. I'm not holding my breath, though.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.