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The 1986 New York Mets
May 16, 2012 5:59 PM   Subscribe

"A great ballclub, a beautiful demonstration of what talent can do when assembled with planning and guided by intelligence." - Bill James, on the 1986 New York Mets

Allen Barra, "The Dynasty That Never Was" (2002):

How good was Darryl Strawberry at his peak? How good might he have been? We'll never know the answer to the second question, but the first is perhaps best answered by comparing him to New York's three great power-hitting outfielders of the 1950s. The chart below picks up Strawberry's career after the 1988 season:
                    G    AB   HR   RBI  BB   SB
Darryl Strawberry  823  2885  188  548  449  165
Willie Mays        762  2899  183  519  351  161
Mickey Mantle      806  2924  173  575  524   43
Duke Snider        798  3062  151  538  325   44
Dwight Gooden was the youngest player ever to be named Rookie of the Year, and the youngest to lead the league in strikeouts. And that was just by age nineteen! By age twenty-one, he was already 58-19, had struck out an average of 215 batters a year for three seasons, and had posted three straight seasons of ERA under 2.50. Roger Clemens is considered by many, including myself, as the greatest starting pitcher in history. By the time Clemens had won 58 games, he was twenty-five years old and had already lost 22.

How about a man who was, arguably, the best first baseman of the decade? Keith Hernandez was a bona fide star well before '86. Playing for the Cardinals, he had won the NL batting crown in 1979 with a .344 average, also winning the MVP award while leading the league in runs scored, doubles, and on-base average and winnning a Gold Glove at first base. 1986 was his seventh season over .300 and he also led the league in walks and fielding average. ... perhaps the finest-fielding first baseman in baseball history, with 11 Gold Gloves and a record six times leading the NL in double plays.

But as good as Strawberry and Hernandez were, the heart of the Mets, or at least what was supposed to make them the team of the '80s, was their pitching staff, particularly the starting rotation. Some called it the league's best rotation without Gooden.

At his best, Sid Fernandez was actually more unhittable than Dwight: three times he held NL hitters to the lowest batting average in the league. How great is that? Well, the greatest lefthander in New York baseball history, Whitey Ford, never did that once.... Walter Johnson, who won 417 games, many of them in the low-average, dead ball era, was hit for a .227 average. Sid Fernandez pitched for fifteen seasons and opponents hit just .209 off him. Think about that for a moment.

Howard Johnson hit 10 homers in 88 games for the '86 team while filling in at third and short. He was twenty-six. For the next five seasons, he put on a power-speed exhibition that few third basemen in baseball history have ever approached. Only two players in baseball history have had at least four seasons with at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Howard Johnson and Barry Bonds.

Gary Carter is one of the four or five best catchers in National League history, and one of the top ten - maybe one of the top seven or eight - best ever. He was a ten-time All Star, has nine seasons with 20 or more home runs, and seven seasons with more than 80 RBI. Behind the plate, he led the league in assists four times, double plays five times, and total chances a record high eight times.
posted by Trurl (36 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Today, the ’86 World Series is remembered mostly because of Bill Buckner, who committed one of the great errors in baseball history when he let Mookie Wilson’s soft grounder roll between his legs, allowing the Mets to win the game. But let’s not remember it for that alone. Let’s remember it because of the arrogant, swaggering, drunken Mets. They were the last of a long line, and when they passed, the glory days of professional baseball passed with them.
posted by Trurl at 6:00 PM on May 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


*crosses self, genuflects*
posted by jonmc at 6:02 PM on May 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Man - I used to fake sick home from elementary school so I could sit at home watching this documentary again and again and again. I wore the tape out.
posted by JPD at 6:13 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, this tape is still down at my parents'. I think it probably still works. I loved this thing, and just playing it for 5 minutes I still pretty much remember it word-for-word. Game 6, I had given up and went up to my bedroom to watch the last three outs on my little 13" black and white TV. Thanks for letting me hear Bob Murphy one more time say "The Mets will win the ballgame! The Mets win! They win!"

I still say Bob Stanley was the goat of game 6.
posted by waitingtoderail at 6:22 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


OH THE BITTERNESS. As a lifelong Astros fan I obtained a white hot fury of the Mets because we WERE ONE STRIKE AWAY FROM THE GODDAMN WORLD SERIES IN 1986.
posted by PapaLobo at 6:23 PM on May 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Buckner's error, and the emphasis that has been place on it, has always stuck in my craw. The Sox had the Mets down to their last out, bases empty, two runs up.

If Buckner would have fielded the ball, it would have still been a tie game. I lay more blame on Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley (who wild pitched a run in) for the collapse.

Buckner had a great career, and it is unfair for him to be saddled with this for the rest of his life. Fuck the Redsox pitchers. Let them burn in hell.
posted by Danf at 6:27 PM on May 16, 2012


From what I've read, the arguments in NYC over who was the best of that trio of star center fielders were heated and everlasting in the 50s and later. There was even a 1981 song about them -- Willie, Mickey, and The Duke.

Being a Dodgers fan, I will naturally support Duke Snider in that debate. Mays and Mantle, being a Giant and Yankee respectively, I will always superficially revile. Catch me on a good day, and I will admit to Willie Mays' amazing abilities.

But you want to talk about what might have been...what might have been if Mickey Mantle had stayed healthy and away from booze?
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:49 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tim Teufel the ol' dirty second baseman. Los Mets fo' life.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:51 PM on May 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ahem. Hernandez shared the '79 NL MVP. The only tie in MVP history.

I too despised that Mets team. For those outside NY, it was not a particularly appealing group of players, and there was some schadenfreude when it all fell apart.
posted by stargell at 7:00 PM on May 16, 2012


Let’s remember it because of the arrogant, swaggering, drunken Mets. They were the last of a long line, and when they passed, the glory days of professional baseball passed with them.

I don't know, even as a lifelong Mets fan for whom that 1986 team will never be surpassed as My Heroes, I thought it was rather poetic justice that the 2004 Red Sox, the team of the unbelievable, unprecendented comeback, later revealed they were doing shots to "get loose," as a team, right before all four of the LCS games that they won.

Unless "drunken" in that description was code for "unbelievably coked up," in which case, yeah.
posted by RogerB at 7:02 PM on May 16, 2012


PapaLobo: "OH THE BITTERNESS. As a lifelong Astros fan I obtained a white hot fury of the Mets because we WERE ONE STRIKE AWAY FROM THE GODDAMN WORLD SERIES IN 1986"

That sounds funny considering the Astros lost in six games... but I also agree with you. Their Cy Young winner Mike Scott would have pitched game 7 and he had the Mets completely and utterly buffaloed. I think the Mets knew damn well that if they lost that game six, it was over for them. (I also think the 86 Mets were a collection of some of the least likeable baseball players you could imagine, but I might be a bit biased. Heh.)

PapaLobo, was it better in 2006 when we finally made the World Series? (And then got @*$(%))@#(# swept. Sigh.)
posted by John Smallberries at 7:06 PM on May 16, 2012


Strawberry was a great player, but he was never in Mantle or Mays's class. If you use a better statistic, like Wins Above Replacement, those first six seasons you're counting come to this: Mantle 39.5, Mays 39.1, Strawberry 23.8. And both Mantle and Mays would hit double digits the next year, something Strawberry never came close to (6.1 in '87 was his best). Any team would kill for a 6.1 WAR from anybody, but Mantle and Mays were a cut above. Snider is not in the elite group with them, good as he was. Bear in mind all three were CF, while Strawberry was a RF, where defensive prowess is much less important and big hitters tend to congregate.

I'd actually rate Carter higher than you; I think only Bench comes out higher than him, though I-Rod, Berra and Piazza aren't too far behind.
posted by Fnarf at 7:10 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I lay more blame on Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley

For me the lasting memory of that series is not the Buckner error but the rolling-eyeball look of terror on Calvin Schiraldi's face as he stood on the mound knowing in his heart that he was about to blow it and there was nothing he could do about it. He looked like a dog tied to a train track.
posted by Fnarf at 7:12 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Mets were my first favorite baseball team, and the 1986 season was my first to have any interest in baseball at all. Amazing season, capped off with a great playoff series against Nolan Ryan and the Astros, and of course game 6 of the series against the Red Sox. I have never enjoyed a season of baseball as much as I did in 1986. The NES game RBI baseball allowed my friends and I to replay the World Series many times.
posted by UseyurBrain at 7:17 PM on May 16, 2012


PapaLobo, was it better in 2006 when we finally made the World Series? (And then got @*$(%))@#(# swept. Sigh.)
And against the White Sox no less. Those disco-killing mother fuckers.
posted by PapaLobo at 7:24 PM on May 16, 2012


The NES game RBI baseball allowed my friends and I to replay the World Series many times.

RBI Baseball really does replay that game quite well.
posted by Saydur at 7:55 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


For those outside NY, it was not a particularly appealing group of players

You shut your goddamn mouth.

I received my first baseball card in 1988 (at the age of 8) a duplicate poorly conditioned Tops Dwight Gooden card.

Thus began my obsession with all things New York Mets. Over the next few years I would be the lone blue hat in a sea of friends rooting for the Red Sox. It is surreal to try to imagine rooting against all environmental instincts at that age (I also became a Giants fan for entirely circumstantial reasons, but I digress...)

By the peak of my baseball collecting around 1993 I had amassed a staggering binder of almost 200 Doc Gooden cards. Especially by this year, with his career firmly in decline, the bewilderment on the faces of store owners as I plunked down hard earned allowance for obscure prints of this coked up has-been. It was my joy.

Of course, given the timing, I learned about this particular '86 team entirely in retrospect, but that didn't make it any less grand. I studied them avidly. I had great stats, like one year Doc Gooden hit more home runs as a pitcher than my buddy's favorite player, Wade Boggs (I don't even know if it was accurate...)

Because there was no internet, I had this entirely skewed perception of who these guys were because it was through the lens of baseball stats and magazines and 8-year old naivete.

"Not particularly appealing"? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder my friend.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 8:17 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suffered willingly as a Mets fan throughout my childhood and the 1986 team made up for everything. There are several essays on how being a Mets fan is like a lesson in life. "We know joy. We know pain. We’re Mets’ fans and we know life."
posted by girlhacker at 8:43 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suffered willingly as a Mets fan throughout my childhood and the 1986 team made up for everything.

Growing up in Long Island in the 70s, all the kids were Yankees fans. It was easy to be a Yankees fan. They were winners.

There was one kid who was a Mets fan. He was given a hard time.

I thought about him often after '86. I liked to imagine that for him too, it had made up for everything.
posted by Trurl at 8:50 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's go Mets!
I still know every word to the damn song, it played constantly during the last half of that summer.

I imagine the felt pennant and team posters are probably still hanging in my childhood room, along with hundred of baseball cards carefully organized by team.
posted by madajb at 10:02 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked a lot of the players individually, but man, did I hate that team.

I have a vague recollection of a column in SI (Rick Reilly maybe, because I'm pretty sure it was on the last page) right after the Mets won the Series titled, "10 Reasons to Hate the Mets." The list began thusly:

1. Gary Carter
2. Gary Carter
3. Gary Carter

OT, though, great post.
posted by ssmug at 3:24 AM on May 17, 2012


That '86 team is the best team I've had the pleasure of following in what has become a longish life, and I still remember my rage and disbelief at the owners (may they rot in hell) starting to dismantle it immediately after the Series (getting rid of the Series MVP first). Thanks for the post, and especially for that great Rich English article. If you hate that team because your team lost to them, I understand completely (as a Yankee-hater from way back). If you hate them for any other reason, that's just sad.

I watched more games that year than ever before or since; I got to where I could predict whether Darryl was going to get a hit or not from the way he stood in the box. And the sixth games of both the playoffs and the Series are indelibly burned into my brain (I watched the first in a conference room at work, with all the other baseball nuts who were afraid to leave for fear the game would end while they were in the subway, calling my girlfriend every couple of innings to say "Sorry, still going on, I'll be home when I can," and the second at a friend's apartment in the Village, getting about as drunk as I've ever been and running out after it was over to share in the mass joy). That was my best year as a New Yorker and as a baseball fan. Thanks for the memories!
posted by languagehat at 8:16 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a Phillies phan I enjoyed the '07 season much better. I lived in Atlanta that season (and still do) and remember when the Phillies lost to the Braves to drop them to 7 games out with 17 to play and some Mets fan yelled in my face "HA HA THE METS WON AND THE PHILLIES LOST!!!!" I really wish I could have seen him a couple weeks later after their epic collapse!

Phun Phact: the Phils were the only team to win the season series over them in '86 -- they finished second, 26 games out (or something like that. I also enjoyed watching the bench clearing brawl between them the last game of the season.

God, I hated those teams. That Series was the only time I ever rooted for the Red Sox. The Mets were a great team, though, and I gnash my teeth while actually liking Ron Darling in their broadcasts.
posted by JKevinKing at 9:18 AM on May 17, 2012


> I lived in Atlanta that season (and still do) and remember when the Phillies lost to the Braves to drop them to 7 games out with 17 to play and some Mets fan yelled in my face "HA HA THE METS WON AND THE PHILLIES LOST!!!!" I really wish I could have seen him a couple weeks later after their epic collapse!

I would like to apologize on behalf of Mets fans everywhere for that asshole's behavior; unfortunately, every team has its share of asshole fans. (I might venture to suggest, however, that the Yankees have more than their share.)
posted by languagehat at 9:32 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Strawberry and Gooden and Dykstra would almost certainly have lived happier lives if the Kansas City Royals or the Saint Louis Cardinals could have scooped them up. New York media + great talent + narcissistic personality is a disastrous mix.
posted by bukvich at 9:45 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Doc Gooden was the pitcher I always wanted to be but lacked even the barest semblance of talent to become. Never really liked the team but respected the hell out of what they put on the field. Watching them pummel the Braves (yay!) and Cubs (boo!) during that period is something I still remember. They may not be the greatest team of all time but they were the greatest team I was able to watch in my no-market, new-to-cable household. What is less disputable I guess is whether they were the greatest collection of individuals with seemingly limitless career trajectories that self-destructed in the most sordid, public way possible.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:34 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about a man who was, arguably, the best first baseman of the decade?

http://i.imgur.com/cJmKE.jpg
posted by lulz at 10:46 AM on May 17, 2012


How about a man who was, arguably, the best first baseman of the decade?

Yeah, arguably being the operative word. There was a better first baseman, but he playing in the Bronx.
posted by Edison Carter at 10:55 AM on May 17, 2012


This was one of the happiest days of my life. I knew in advance I would be meeting them, so I brought along their rookie cards, which I had saved since middle school, for them to sign. The looks of joy on their faces when they saw their young selves was even better than being so close to the presence of (short-lived) greatness.
posted by ericbop at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


ericbop: I love that you wore the colors!
posted by Edison Carter at 1:28 PM on May 17, 2012


I also had on a Mets yarmulke (it was bar-mitzvah related)!
posted by ericbop at 1:46 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was going to say base-mitzvah.
posted by Edison Carter at 2:09 PM on May 17, 2012


The Mets will always be my team.

I remember fondly the Lynchburg Mets, though my memory is somewhat faded due to the fact that it's been going on 30 years, and the fact that I wasn't even a teenager when the Mets won the Series in '86.

I remember going to see games at City Stadium, and never realized how special the Lynchburg Mets were until years later – the 1983 Lynchburg Mets, for example, may have been the best minor league baseball team ever.

I remember this video, but not until I saw the opening minute. It was like a lightbulb went off, and I recognized a long-lost friend.

Thank you for this.
posted by braz at 5:55 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a better first baseman, but he playing in the Bronx

Pshaw. Mattingly was mediocre at best. He had a couple of good years but what seemed at the time like a million crummy ones. While Yankees fans brayed about "Donny Baseball", the real first basemen in the game were Mark McGwire, Kent Hrbek, Hernandez, Will Clark, Jack Clark and Eddie Murray. The only 1B more overrated in the 80s was Steve Garvey.
posted by Fnarf at 8:48 PM on May 17, 2012


And yet, he's in the top ten of every fielding statistic most years of his career (reference). And he won nine Gold Gloves. Because he was "overrated". Right.
posted by Edison Carter at 6:12 AM on May 18, 2012


You win Gold Gloves with your bat, everyone knows that.

Fielding stats until very recently are for the most part worthless, especially for first basemen. For starters, a 1B gets a putout for simply standing there and receiving throws ten times a game or more. Fielding percentage means little, because you can't be charged with an error on a ball you don't touch, rewarding big, immobile players. Mattingly wasn't anything like immobile, but he was far from the greatest defender, well behind Hernandez, who was probably the best defensive 1B ever, or guys like John Olerud and several others.

Steve Garvey won Gold Gloves too, and he was an ABYSMAL defender.
posted by Fnarf at 6:42 PM on May 18, 2012


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