It’s been a few months since I’ve written about the 1986 Mets. Put simply, it’s been hard to find many memories of the regular season that really are worth the space I usually devote to an entry around here. My most vivid memories–as I think is the case with most people–center around the postseason, although when I think hard I do remember a few great regular season moments. For instance, there was a four-game series against the Braves in mid-July where I watched Darryl Strawberry charge the mound after Dave Palmer plunked him after Gary Carter launched one into the seats en route to an 11-0 win. It was the first time I had ever seen a brawl in a baseball game live on TV, and I didn’t really understand why Straw charged the mound but it was cool to see a fight.
The Sunday game of that series featured a tribute to Rusty Staub, where the team came out during the pre-game ceremony wearing red wigs and a 2-0 victory which featured Gary Carter tagging out Ken Griffey, Sr. at home plate, a tag that was so awesome it wound up in promos for at least another year or so (it shows up in the music video at the 3:30 mark). But aside from those and the whole mess in Houston where Tim Teufel, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, and Rick Aguilera were arrested for a bar fight, I spent the summer watching games and checking the paper whenever I could to see how far ahead the Mets were. Then, as August started to drag on, I started checking their magic number and then learning what a magic number and “clinching” meant (I was nine and new to following baseball, so sue me).
There was no magic number in the daily news yet when we went to a game against the Expos on August 2, and I honestly don’t remember much about the game, except that Uncle Lou and Aunt Geri took us, it was the first time I had ever been to a night game at Shea Stadium, and it rained. My aunt and uncle will at least be able to confirm that–it seemed like it rained every single time we bought a bunch of tickets to go as a family. But still, sitting in the upper deck, watching the Mets win 4-2 under the lights was pretty cool. Plus, my dad and I had tickets for another game a few weeks later, against the Cardinals, a team I had hated since last season when they downed the Mets en route to a World Series appearance.
However, by this time, the Cards were toast and the Mets’ magic number sat at 33. We had tickets to the first game of an impromptu doubleheader (meaning that one of the games was a makeup of a rainout) and my dad took me and my “cousin” Vic (“cousin” meaning that our families were such good friends we might as well be related). It was a 2-1 loss and made me concoct a theory that perhaps I’d go to one losing game and one winning game every season. Anyway, it was a “down” time for the team–Gary Carter had just been placed on the DL the day before with a torn thumb and Ed Hearn hadn’t completely started to rise to the challenge of being the everyday catcher like he would. Rick Aguilera started the game but wound up leaving with an inflammed right knee (I always thought Aguilera was a decent pitcher with the Mets but not as steadfast as Doc, Darling, and Ojeda … Aguilera would wind up hitting his stride with Minnesota years later), and it was one of those games that just sort of sputtered out.
We intended to leave between the games of the doubleheader (after all, we needed to beat the traffic), but we stuck around because between the games, a guy took the field and made the crowd do all sorts of shouting and cheering and even The Wave. Yes, we did The Wave. Why was the guy there? Well, he was doing crowd shots for “Let’s Go Mets,” the official 1986 Mets music video, which premiered later in the season as the team was gearing up for its playoff run. Unofficially titled, “Let’s Go Mets Go” (because of the “Let’s go Mets go!” shout throughout the song), the video features the team, its fans, as well as some highlights and is set to a tune written by Shelton Leigh (“Shelly”) Palmer, who lately more notable as a technology columnist for sites like CNN.com and The Huffington Post, but composed several theme songs for television productions back in the 1980s.
It is, more or less, a huge PR piece with better production value than the local television promos. We begin in one of the parking ramps of Shea where three kids are playing some game where you flip baseball cards and the winner keeps all the baseball cards, which is something I never knew how to do when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure that a relative once tried to teach me but I never picked up on it. The rules of the game didn’t matter in the video anyway, because after the two kids lose all of their cards to a bully-type who looks like a cross between Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story and Jason Hervey’s character in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Doc Gooden, Gary Carter, and Kevin Mitchell (because they couldn’t sober up Straw and who is rocking 1980s eyeglasses and a track suit that I can only describe as “Sharpton-esque”) show up.
Garysays, “Go ahead, Doc.”
Doc says, “Do it.”
AND IT IS ON! They’re flipping cards! They’re all Mets cards! The drums kick in! And from there comes both awesome highlight clip after highlight clip (including a killer Keith Hernandez dive) and the best song ever performed for a sports team. Then we get the Mets fooling around for the camera (including what had to be the most camera time Rafael Santana ever got), some of the crowd shots I was in attendance for, the team trying to lip sync, an appearance by Joe Piscopo, and a lot of fan interaction. Oh, and a really hot blonde at around the 1:30 mark that I noticed every single time I watched this, even when I was nine.
To their credit, it’s better than watching “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”
Also to their credit, as you can see, the song is insanely catchy and to those of us who have had to suffer as of late, it’s a nice four-minute salve, a reminder of better times and glory days. And even if YouTube didn’t exist, I could watch it whenever I wanted because Vestron Video produced and released a 30-minute video/making-of videocassette in 1986 and I’ve had a copy for twenty-five years and it still works.
The making-of video is hosted by Piscopo, which seems odd but you have to remember that this was 1986 and Piscopo was still pretty hot, having been on Saturday Night Live only a few years earlier before embarking on a movie career that … well, if you’ve seen Dead Heat with Treat Williams, you know how well that went. But Piscopo is at least excited about interviewing the various players and filmmakers and even Bob Costas, and we as the audience get the inside view of how the producers recorded the song, played it for the team, got their approval, and went about getting some of the shots for the video. And in all honesty, it’s padding so that Vestron could justify charging whatever it did for a four-minute video. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this is where they got all of their money to make Dirty Dancing a year later. I mean, I might be wrong, but I know that this tape did make some cash.
Speaking of Piscopo, when you watch the “bridge” portion where he is “reporting live from Shea Stadium” and treats various Mets like bobble heads before Lee Mazzilli tackles him and they dog pile on top of him, take a look at how everyone is trying very hard to keep a straight face. It’s kind of amusing and really plays to the image that the team put forth of them just goofing off while winning (and when you’re 20 games ahead, of course you’re going to goof off, right?), and it segues nice into all of the “clubhouse moments” before some killer 1980s montage effects and appearances by various celebrities (Ed Koch! Twisted Sister! Howard Stern! Gene Shalit! Cameo! Yes, CAMEO!).
The video was so popular, by the way, that it got rotation on MTV, which I’m 100% certain would NEVER happen today (you know, aside from the fact that MTV doesn’t play videos … they wouldn’t play this now). Martha Quinn even had Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell on to talk about the video in September after they had clinched the NL East. McDowell is Mr. Personality as always. Dykstra is …? Well, I think he’s the Michael Dudikoff of the Mets, even to the point where he hits on Martha Quinn. And badly, I might add. At least Martha Quinn was cute.
That, by the way, is a bit of an artifact from MTV and one I hadn’t seen until I sat down to write this, because I didn’t have cable back in the 1980s and wouldn’t watch a video on MTV until about 1987 or so. But I would watch that Let’s Go Mets tape. My friends and I would watch this over and over during the 1986 and the 1987 seasons and it was so important to the promotion of the team that WWOR 9 swiped a bit from it for the 1987 promo commercial, which was all about how the team was going to do it again (although my friend Tom would often replace “Let’s Go Mets” with “Pick Your Nose!”).
The 1987 season, however, wouldn’t end well (TERRY FUCKING PENDELTON!), but back in September of 1986, nobody was looking that far ahead anyway. As we went back to school, the magic number was counting down, and the championship run was ramping up. It was going to be an awesome fall.