Dissecting the Great City Subway Race

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During old Yankee Stadium's final year, somehow, the B won the subway race 26 times. It's a New York City miracle. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The between-innings entertainment at Yankee Stadium has largely run its course these days. Most fans who trek up to the Bronx would like to do unmentionable things to the Zales Fan Marquee guy; the YMCA merits an eyeroll; Cotton Eye Joe has been banished to points of the game when fans aren’t paying attention; and the blooper reel still features Montreal Expos and a Tommy Lasorda clip from the 2001 All Star Game.

By now, I mostly ignore the distractions. A few years ago, my dad decided to try to tune out the noise the PA system throws at fans between innings and just focus instead on what the players are doing. I’ll watch A-Rod take a long pass from Teixeira or check out Jeter throwing BBs from beyond third base as the guy on the mounds get ready. But one aspect of the stadium entertainment grabs my attention: the Great City Subway Race which arrives around the middle of the 4th inning.

Once upon a time, the Great City Subway Race had some charm. This guy with a heavy Noo Yawk accent used to announce the contest between the 4, D and C trains, but this was ages ago, when the C ran where the B does today. The DiamondVision screen used to show actual footage from inside the subway system, and the race kinda sorta resembled the real thing. Today, it’s all just special effects and some guy who sounds like he’s from Indiana.

But that’s not important. What really grinds my gears is the portrayal of the trains and their routes. It’s just wrong.

Supposedly, the BMT trains are at Herald Square and the 4 is starting from Grand Central. (Photo by Amanda Rykoff)

I’m not sure where to begin. What stations are these? The announcer claims its Herald Square on the left and Grand Central on the right, but a quick visual glance proves that neither are what they say they are. Meanwhile, the blue D train just doesn’t make sense. Blue is the trunk line color for the 8th Ave. line, and at no point is the D considered the 8th Ave. line. Meanwhile, why are the B and D on separate tracks at Herald Square? Is the B going to Queens? Who killed the F train?

As the trains depart from their mid-route terminals en route to Yankee Stadium, the announcer gets quite excited. We watch the B and D start to pull out, shift to the East Side to catch the 4 leaving and then…zoom past Times Square to get back to the B and D? The B and D never pass through Times Square, and to go from Grand Central to the 6th Ave. line involves a trek through Bryant Park. The camera is lost.

As the trains head uptown, the announcer likes to say they are “neck and neck” as they motor toward the Bronx. There is but one problem: Remember how the B and the D started out on separate tracks at Herald Square? Well, as the 6th Ave. express departs Rockefeller Center and heads into 7th Ave., it’s a single track. The B or D will have to go first, and if the D goes first, the B train — a painfully slow local that makes seven more stops than the D along Central Park — will never catch up. Even if the B goes first, the D will pass it before the Museum of Natural History. Yet, somehow, the two trains seem to draw even somewhere under the park. Some race, huh?

What are these trains doing aboveground? (Photo by flickr user fastlaine)

As we speed to the finish line, something funny happens. All of the trains are magically aboveground and seemingly at grade! These trains are now literally running through the South Bronx. Who needs parks when we’ve got open subway tracks? That’s neighborhood transformation at its finest.

Finally, someone has to win, and while the B in Brooklyn is my lifeline to law school in the morning, every time the B wins the subway race at Yankee Stadium, I die a little inside. The B makes eight stops that the D skips, and the 4 is faster (or if it’s a weekday and rush hour, slower) than either. What the Yanks need is some realism. Give me a sick passenger, an unavoidable delay and the D train making stops along the A from West 4th St. to Columbus Circle, and I’ll be a much happier camper.

I’d be remiss to end this post without mentioning the people who have heard me complain about this the most. Of course, my parents and sister get an acknowledgement as do Amanda Rykoff, Stefanie, Leonora, Jake, Mark Schwartz, Kiersten, and everyone else on Twitter who obsesses over the subway. Don’t forget: There’s always Second Ave. Sagas for all of your transit. Now back to your regularly scheduled hand-wringing over the Yanks’ rotation.

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Cashman was 'this close' to signing Hall
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  • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

    Does anyone know what the piece of music they play during the race now is? I’ve been wondering this for a long time it’s hard to search for a tune.

    • Sandman42

      Sorry, I saw this comment way too late after the recent link from SAS.

      It is from the score of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, written by Danny Elfman.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jmhs Jake S

    Second Ave. Sagas is leaking.

    • http://www.tappedcraftbeer.com Matt

      You win the comments…

  • Moshe Mandel

    This is awesome.

  • Uke

    Wow, I can’t believe this was written, i feel like pulling a Billy Madison.

  • http://twitter.com/simmonsclass Sam

    This sums up all of my feelings towards the Subway race. None of my friends ever understand my half-inning rants after the B wins, so thanks for this.

  • Mike

    I have never said this on this site before, but that wasnt good at all.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Well, I’m glad that only took six comments. You folks do not disappoint.

      • Scout

        I just assumed someone doesn’t want to buckle down and do his law school homework. Nice stalling tactic.

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          Shhhh. Don’t tell my secrets.

    • Total Dominication

      Or, like me, you just aren’t interested. Doesn’t mean it was bad.

    • Bill O.

      Yea I have to agree. The Subway race is fluff you’re supposed to just root for the train you took that day not disect the reality of it.

      I do agree though with the overarching sentiment that the between inning entertainment just isn’t entertaining anymore. I’d like to see them freshen it up and try some new things. Would people even notice if you took out Cotton Eyed Joe?

    • pat

      I expected so much more from a 12 am post during the first week of March! I am upset!

  • Total Dominication

    As someone who hates the subway and only goes into the city 2 or 3 times a month, it is clear to me that I have no capacity to have proper appreciation for this article. Still, it seems interesting I guess.

  • YankeesJunkie

    What are subways?

  • Shaunheiser

    I can’t believe how many times I actually laughed while reading this. Great post.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    Favorite RAB post ever.

    My mom gets sick of me mentioning these pet peeves at every single game we attend. The 4 will always win.

    • Yankeegirl49

      I thought YOU wrote the post! You should introduce Ben to your dad one day ;-)

  • http://www.123blawg.blogspot.com LawStudent

    If Second Ave. Sagas and RAB had a child, this post would be it.

  • AC

    Great article, rings true with me since I’ve never liked the Great Subway Race, but there’s just one problem–“59th Street TO Columbus Circle?”

    • http://www.twitter.com/jmhs Jake S

      Maybe they’re going crosstown. Makes as much sense as the rest of the race.

      • AC

        I see it’s been corrected. But that will be the next change to the Great Subway Race–crosstown D, B, AND 4 trains!

  • limonene

    I’m kind of glad to see that I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by the geographical inaccuracy of the Subway Race–part of my gameday experience is always muttering about how none of those trains go through Times Square. The race is also fixed, by the way. They work it out so each line has an equal number of wins at the end of the regular season. I’ve also noticed that if the team has won the day before, the same train wins at the next game. If the Yankees lost, they switch it up.

    I look forward to your expose on how the Cap Game has gotten much easier over the years.

    • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

      “The race is also fixed”

      Well, I mean, they play one of three recordings, so… yeah. Don’t mean to spoil it for ya, but the cap game is fixed too.

  • Ryan

    This article (which I thought was great by the way) brings up an issue that has bothered me for years: Cotton Eyed Joe. Really Yankees? REALLY? I don’t want to sing Neil Diamond, but the Red Sox fans look like they’re having fun singing it, and boy do I love walking out of the stadium and singing New York New York (especially when the Yankees win). Can’t we get a classy/fun New York song for everyone to sing together, instead of one that makes no sense being played ever again, much less at a Yankees game.

    • KofH

      ^^^^^THAT^^^^

    • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

      I vote for “All I Do is Win.”

      “All I Do is win win win no matter what
      got money on mind I can never get enough”

      I mean, I’m pretty sure he’s talking about the Yankees there.

      • YankeesJunkie

        This

        • Peter R

          ^^^^^THAT^^^^

      • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

        You just like that song because Snoop drops a U of Miami reference.

        • http://www.facebook.com%e:mt_mop=2:1284065564|4:1270508852 Andy In Sunny Daytona

          That’s weird, does Snoop mention how the U USED to be winners?

      • http://twitter.com/joerosinski Joe R

        That must be Charlie Sheen’s favorite song.

  • Kit

    As someone who lives on one of the many streets sandwiched between the 4 and the B and D and have had to hear my brother complain about how the trains shouldn’t be overground, my appreciation for this article cannot be expressed in words. Super fun read.

  • NJ Andy

    So bloody in agreement. I hate this goddamn race for every reason you bring up.

  • Sean C

    Being from Illinois, I never understood the derision from my cousins (from Port Washington NY) of this stupid subway race whenever we took family vacations to NY and went(and still go) to Yankee games. This article, my comrades, was eye-opening. I enjoy the articles under the “whimsy” tag from time to time. I don’t know about anyone else, but I laughed.

  • Chilibacca

    Relax Grumpy McPeevedpants. Besides, the D should win all the time anyway. cough* Fordham shout-out cough*

    • Kit

      But the 4 also runs through Fordham…and the 4 is awesome so…

  • http://twitter.com/keithdoll TurnTwo

    honestly, as many times i ever took the train ride from jersey into NYC, and then caught the subway uptown to the stadium, i ALWAYS forgot which subway it was we were supposed to take. total fail.

    • http://twitter.com/keithdoll TurnTwo

      but now that i hit the F line daily, ive become a little more accustomed to the map. still not an excuse though.

  • rahboogz

    We got pitching issues and RAB is worried about the animated subway races at the Stadium?? It’s not OTB out there. Its just a silly race that is meant to be silly and to peak some interest from the fans that, at that point, are probably a ‘lil drunk anyway. You pick a line, see if your line wins….then proceed to the bottom of the 4th inning. That’s it. I’m more upset that i’m paying $9.00 a pop for beer.

    • http://twitter.com/simmonsclass Sam

      You are exactly right. The Yankees are just using the geographical errors in the subway race to distract the fans from the rampant issues the team faces. That’s why the B wins-it’s a decoy. Ben, I can’t believe you fell into Randy Levine’s trap.

    • Shaunheiser

      How many times can RAB write about the rotation? Just go read one of the other posts about it that they’ve written this offseason, since it has been discussed ad nauseum, not just here, but just about any other publication that discusses baseball in the NY area.

      • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

        Coming tomorrow: “Who’s got two thumbs and is way excited about Bartolo Colon’s next start? This guy!” by Benjamin Kabak.

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    I love it. How the hell is the 4 supposed to be Grand Central?!

  • Drew

    I take the 4 Train from Mosholu Parkway and it starts above ground. But this was a great post. I’m always partial to the great subway race and those deep fried twinkles at the stadium. Is it opening day yet??

    • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

      Whenever I see Mosholu Parkway I always think it should be a level in Mario Kart.

  • http://www.coffeewithian.com Ian

    I’ve always complained for years on weekends when the B doesn’t even run, yet it’s in the race and WINS.

    Seriously, they should add the Metro-North train to the race. Complete with the surprise unexpected transfer at Harlem-125th St.

    • Walter

      Don’t forget the obligatory employee stop at Mott Haven…

      They could show what happens when someone doesn’t have a ticket before trying to board on the way home as well.

  • http://twitter.com/bryanl26 Bryan L

    Made me smile to start my day. Thanks Ben.

  • Tony S

    You know its a slow news day whe we start worrying about the annimated subway trains. This is made for kids & it is just fun. I feel you are taking this way to seriously…

  • Justin

    I am a huge subway nerd and watch this every time. And, yes, why is the D blue? People can’t tell LETTERS apart now? Is it that complicated to look at the different shapes?

    By the way, for any other subway nerds, I made this sporcle quiz a while ago:

    http://www.sporcle.com/games/J....._Conductor

    • Kit

      Stupid Bronx bound 1 train tripped me up. Also, the last one is in my nightmares. Have to take the 6 to work every day.

  • bills

    Can we please set up a vote for post of the month/year? This wins hands down. All the other people in my office are wondering why I am laughing so hard at 8:46 in the morning.

    • http://twitter.com/joero23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Time machine. Crazy.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    best post in RAB history?

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    I like the Great Subway race. I do wish they would change the YMCA thing i the 5th inning. Its gotten very old. Need something new there.

  • Stefanie

    YAY!!! I was mentioned in a RAB post! My life is complete! I will continue to update you throughout this season too!!!

    • Marsha

      Me too!!!

  • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

    This was hilarious. There ought to be a separate section for the more respectable articles of irony and sarcasm. ‘Whimsy’ has too many shitty ones. Well done, Ben.

  • AJ

    I love the Great Subway Race. It brings us to a fantasy world when getting somewhere by a specific time is important to the MTA.

    • Erica

      HA!!!!

  • Erica

    GREAT post – even something a bridge and tunnel gal like me can appreciate!

  • Whitney

    This is hilarious. I’ll admit that I always get a little sad when the 4 doesn’t win. It always bothered me when the race was sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts and John Sterling would announce it as the “number 4 “coffee train” Didn’t make a lick of sense.

    On a side note, they need to get rid of the Zales Fan Marquee guy. He’s the worst.

  • Andy in NYC

    Once on Yankees Magazine, they toured the Stadium, and one of the senior personnel was laughing about a new employee. Apparently he had conned the newbie into betting on the Subway Race with him. The newbie never caught on: “I was SURE the D would win today!”

  • Hughesus Christo

    I used to enjoy the 3-card monte thing with the Yankees hats, but that sucks in the New Stadium too. Wayyyy too easy now.

    And this is an amazing post. AMAZING.

  • ppearson281

    That was awesome hahahaha

  • Victoria

    The current version isn’t as bad as the one that had the “Baskin Robbins 4 train” and the “Dunkin Donuts D train” or whatever, but I miss that version with the pinkish/orangeish low-quality animation from back in the day.

    Also, you’re welcome for listening to all the complaining.

    • http://twitter.com/joero23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      There’s a jelly doughnut on the tracks!

  • http://twitter.com/TheDog_Man jon

    Last day of the season, I think it was 98. My brother proposed a bet that the 4 train would win. Before agreeing he said that full discloser compels him to inform me that he was there the night before and the season total was 27-27-26. I made the bet anyway and here was my logic. I figured that the results were random and therefore I had a 2-1 advantage. I lost the bet.

  • rek4gehrig

    http://deadspin.com/#!169136/s.....can-league

    Hot Dog Bun, Ketchup Bottle, Mustard Bottle at Camden Yards HAS got to be the worst.

    • Victoria

      For the White Sox’s race: “Sausage is heavy-lidded and is widely regarded to be under the influence of some substance or another. Cheese is chipper and fleet of foot, and pepperoni looks like he just doesn’t give a shit.”

  • RCK

    This is an awesome post.

    The blue D also drives me crazy!

  • Andrew518

    I don’t won’t can’t give the Red Sox and their fans credit for much but there is no canned noise at Fenway. I feel like Yankee fans are savy enough that we don’t need to be blasted away by the nonsense music and stupid tricks like the subway race. Baseball has a great sound to it I just wish I could hear it at the Stadium.