sports

Mets Madness

When I sat down to write about the afterglow of the 1986 World Series, I started to consider what it was like to be a fan of a championship-winning team and how that carried over into the 1987 season when I was sure that the Mets would “do it again” as the promos kept saying. But the 1987 Mets were a bit of a letdown (Thanks a LOT, Terry FUCKING Pendelton!) and the afterglow of the 1986 World Series is something that I don’t remember as well as my repeated viewings of 1986 Mets: A Year to Remember had made it seem.

Then, I began to sift through the massive amount of 1986 Mets crap that I own or have owned at one point during the past 25 years, and thought I would simply “catalogue” it.  Partially because I’m lazy and don’t feel like writing anything with an actual point, and partially because even I am amazed at how much stuff there is.

1986 Mets: A Year to Remember.  This is the official team highlight video, which my friends and I rented repeatedly from Video Empire, so much so that it was impossible for anyone to find it because one of us always seemed to have it out.  I do happen to have my own copy because sometime in the late 1990s I rented it one more time and hooked two VCRs together in order to dub the video.

The video itself starts with a highlight of Game Six and then goes month to month through the regular season, with a few montages thrown in, the most famous of which definitely has to be the Len Dykstra and Wally Backman “Wild Boys” video set to the Duran Duran song of the same name, as well as a great clip of Howard Johnson and Roger McDowell telling the audience how to pull the “hot foot” prank on a player.   The playoffs and series are covered as well, with most of the play calling coming from Bob Murphy, the radio voice of the Mets, which I have to say is awesome because as much as I like hearing Vin Scully, Bob Murphy’s voice calling the Mets is one of the best things you’ll ever hear. (more…)

1986

[A quick note:  I originally published this on my old website, Inane Crap, five years ago.  Since I have been writing about the 1986 Mets, I thought it would be appropriate to repost.  There will be another post tomorrow.]

I think that one of the biggest problems you face when you grow up normal is that you grow up being a good kid. Technically there is nothing wrong with parents instilling their children with a sense of morality, a work ethic, and awareness of the world around them. The problem is that normal kids do not make good criminals.

I mean, I am a terrible liar. I can embellish and exaggerate, but when it comes to fabrication, I flat-out suck. Luckily, I discovered this in the fourth grade when I tried to con my way out of getting in trouble for not doing my homework.

When I was nine years old, I began the fourth grade at Lincoln Avenue Elementary School in the fall of 1986. My teacher was a very nice woman named Mrs. Balcewicz, whom everyone called “Mrs. B.” Fourth grade was a huge year from anyone at Lincoln because it meant that you moved into the “big kid” hallway and got actual grades on your report cards instead of weird letters like “S,” “N,” and “U.” And not only was being in the 4-5-6 hallway exciting, I was poised to do very well because my third grade year had been stellar.

Unfortunately, this year of school was where I began my very slow descent into the social awkwardness that defined my adolescence. Like other years, I spent most of my days playing G.I. Joe and Top Gun and beating up on girls (not in the “future domestic violence case” way, though; more like in the “pulling pigtails” way). But most importantly, my brain was trying to tell me that it was time to start maturing, and that was by getting in trouble.

For the most part, this was not through any violent behavior, because I was a good kid. Nor was it through refusing to be clean, because I’d had a messy desk since I was in the first grade. The way I rebelled when I was nine years old was by not doing my homework. Mrs. B didn’t assign a lot of homework, but during one week in October 1986, thought a little homework was too much and refused to do it. What’s worse is that when she came to collect my homework and I didn’t have it, I used the excuse of going to see my ailing grandfather in the hospital. It was underhanded and mean, and my come-uppance was quick because on the Friday of that week, she handed out progress reports that had to be signed by our parents. Mine said that I was missing a couple of assignments, and had this comment: “Tommy has been telling me about going to see his grandfather in the hospital.”

Now when you’re in the fourth grade and you have never really done anything wrong in your life, you don’t’ have the smarts to know that the jig is up and you should come clean to your teacher about not doing your homework. I was a likable student, who would eventually be named “Teacher’s Pet” in my high school yearbook, so I probably would have gotten off with a warning. Instead, I hastily signed my mom’s name on the progress report and hid it in my desk at school until the day she collected it. Mrs. B was not stupid, and a few days later on October 28, 1986, she called my parents. (more…)

Nails, Gary, and the Greatest Game Ever Played

Mike Scott, the bane of the Mets' existence in the 1986 NLCS

I always hated the Astrodome.

Granted, in my entire life, I have spent an hour in Houston and that was for a layover between Austin and Washington, D.C., so I don’t have any personal experience with the Astrodome, but ever since I sat down and watched the 1986 All-Star Game, which was broadcast from the Eighth Wonder of the World, I hated the stadium, and I still kind of do.  Part of the reason for that is my aversion to outdoor sports being played in domed stadiums, but part of it is that it seemed whenever I watched a Mets game in the Astrodome back when I was nine years old, they were bound to lose.

That certainly seemed the case when I turned on the sixth game of that year’s National League Championship Series in the seventh inning and saw that the Mets were down 3-0 and it looked like they weren’t going to be able to go to the World Series like I had hoped because Bob Knepper had been mowing them down left and right and the starting pitcher for game seven was scheduled to be Mike Scott, a name that I had become as familiar with and angry at as I had with Cardinals ace John Tudor the year before.  Prior to my turning on the game in the late innings, I had been at school, so I had missed the Astros’ three runs off of Bob Ojeda in the first, but I have to say I wasn’t surprised by the lackluster performance in the Astrodome because I’d watched the first few innings of game one, when Glenn Davis had hit a home run off of Dwight Gooden for the game’s only run and an Astros win.

In fact, I don’t think I can talk about that sixth game of the ’86 NLCS without going all the way back to that All-Star Game and my first experience with the Astrodome.  It was the first time I had ever seen a game inside a domed stadium and even though the Tigers’ Lou Whitaker homered pretty early in that game, I remember wondering how anyone ever hit a home run there.   It didn’t seem that visitors fared well offensively because during the next four days, I watched a sporadic amount of Mets-Astros games from Houston and the Mets dropped three out of four, plus three of the Mets were arrested in an infamous nightclub brawl.  Of course, I didn’t know that this particular Mets team was known for its debauchery (and many of the stories of said debauchery would go unknown until I read Jeff Perlman’s The Bad Guys Won! nearly twenty years later); all I knew was that I hated Houston, I hated the Astrodome, and I hated the Astros.

Mike Scott didn’t make things better.  A rather mediocre pitcher that the Mets had off-loaded a few years earlier (a fact I only knew from a baseball card as it was before I had started following them in 1985), Scott had emerged as a dominant pitching force in 1986 due to his split-fingered fastball, a pitch that destroyed hitters and led to accusations that he was scuffing the ball, something that the Mets seemed a little too obsessed with as he beat them twice in the series–in the aforementioned game one and then game four, which was the only night game in three games played at Shea.  So looking at a 3-0 Astros through seven, and then eight innings and Scott scheduled to pitch the next day, it was safe to say that it was over.  All over.

Or was it?  I certainly couldn’t believe that, even at the age of nine, not after I had watched two insane endings earlier that week. (more…)

Prelude to a Clinch (or Von Hayes, how I hated thee)

Von Hayes's 1986 Topps baseball card.

My memories of my freshman year of college may be a little cloudy at times, but I do remember talking to my roommate Drew about baseball and at one point during our conversation, he mentioned that one of his favorite players from his childhood was Phillies first baseman Von Hayes.  Now, I wasn’t surprised, considering that Drew was from the Pennsylvania and had grown up in the shadow of Philadelphia just as my Long Island childhood was spent in the shadow of New York.

Still, I bristled at the mention of the name.  I shouldn’t have–after all, Hayes retired from baseball in 1992 and we started college in the fall of 1995–because he’s not a name that most baseball fans really know.  It’s easy to not like a Derek Jeter because he commands a huge salary and gets an incredible amount of attention and while I do think he is overrated, I will say that he is a clutch performer, the type of player you’d hate to have at bat against your team in a tight game.

But Von Hayes?  Who, as far as an everyday baseball fan, was going to look at the Phillies and not see Mike Schmidt as the big gun of the 1980s?  Well, it’s not so much that he was a “big gun” for the team, but he was definitely a “Met Killer.”

You probably know what I mean when I say “Met Killer”: the batter who will destroy your hopes and dreams, at least for a win that evening.  Met Killers have come in the forms of players of all positions and have all contributed to my fan angst over the years, and for a while there during my childhood it seemed that there was at least one player that just killed the Mets for that year.  In 1985, it was John Tudor; in 1987, it was Terry Pendelton (oh, Terry Fucking Pendelton, how I hated thee …); in 1988, it was Mike Scioscia; and in 1986 it was Von Hayes. (more…)

The Teamwork to Make a Dream Work

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.” (more…)

An Amazin’ Era

The cover to An Amazin’ Era. The images were also used on the promo poster and the tape was also available in Betamax. Yes, Betamax.

When I decided to recount my memories of the Mets’ 1986 season, I thought that I would spend some time on various games I had either watched on television or attended and my experience of being a fan 25 years ago when the team won its last World Series.  It seemed to be going all right, or at least I had some memory of the first home game of the season.  But as I began to leaf through my ’86 Mets stuff, I began to realize that I actually don’t have a lot of memories of that year.

It’s not that I wasn’t a fan or didn’t watch the team on television.  It’s just that I was nine years old and when I wasn’t spending my days playing with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toys, I was watching maybe one or two cartoons each night before going to bed at 8:00.  I got to stay up later on Friday nights, but that was probably until about 9:00 or 9:30, which meant that if Channel 9 was showing a Mets game, I’d only get a few innings in before I was sent off to bed.  There were quite a few nights when I was rushed off to bed in the middle of the fourth with runners on base and Ed Lynch or Dough Sisk trying to get out of yet another jam (Doug Sisk, btw, was one of those pitchers you tried to imitate because he had this crazy overhand delivery … it was the polar opposite of Dan Quisenberry, and every time you tried to “Sisk” a pitch in baseball or wiffle ball, the ball landed a mile behind the catcher). Sure, there were Sunday games, but only if my mother wasn’t making me go outside and do something.

I did, however, have my fair share of Mets merchandise by this point, including a video that would prove as important as the 1985 pennant race in cementing my love for the team.  An Amazin’ Era is a one-hour documentary created to commemorate 25 seasons of Mets baseball, telling the story of the team from its very humble beginnings in 1962 to the anticipated title run in 1986 (it took me a while to figure that out, by the way, because the 25th Anniversary logo said 1962-1986 and if you do the math, that’s 24 seasons but considering that there is no “season zero” that’s actually correct).  It was released in early 1986 and I am pretty sure that I got it for my ninth birthday from either my parents or my Uncle Lou along with Donald Honig’s 25th Anniversary book and the Amazin’ Era poster that had been hanging in the video store and my dad had purchased and had mounted and framed (this poster, btw, would hang on the wall of my bedroom all the way up until the time I left home when I was 22 … it may be in my parents’ attic or basement, I’m not sure). (more…)

Baseball Like it Oughta Be

I figured that since it’s been 25 years since the Mets won the World Series, I’d spend at least one entry a month about the 1986 season:  game memories, memorabilia, etc.  I know it’s not the most original thing but I always find it fun whenever I get the chance to reminisce about my favorite team.

Anyway, this first entry isn’t going to be very long because I don’t have much time on my hands right now, so I thought I’d post the WOR-9 promo for the 1986 season.  I remember seeing these promos a lot and really looking forward to them each year when I was a kid, although I remember it being less cheesy than this.  Seriously, what’s with the guy playing the trumpet?

So without further ado, “Bring it Home”:

Shea Hello

Shea Stadium on August 25, 1985.

If you judge my love of the New York Mets by my first Shea Stadium experience, then it’s no wonder I’ve been a fan for twenty-five years now.  In fact, I don’t really know what it’s like to start following a team when they are really bad, considering that the three pro teams I’ve followed since I was a kid–the Mets, Giants, and Rangers–were all competitive in the mid-1980s. 

Then again, I hold certain members of my family and circle of friends responsible for my Mets fandom.  In the spring of 1985, I was wrapping up my time in Mrs. Holl’s second grade class at Lincoln Avenue Elementary, a class I did all right in even if my best memory is catching shit for zoning out, daydreaming, or getting easily distracted (how was I not labeled ADD?  Seriously …).  In my class was John Purcell, with whom I had spent kindergarten and who would truly be responsible for my love of the Rangers and much of my not-so-storied Swindon Row street hockey career.  But that’s a topic for another post, as he showed up in school one day having been to the previous night’s Mets game and did nothing but rave about how Gary Carter hit a home run and the Mets beat the Reds. 

I was intrigued.  I’d played for the Reds in tee ball and was playing real baseball that year–if you could call it that considering I couldn’t field for shit and spent my time at the plate dodging pitches–so I knew a little about how to play.  And I knew that there were professional baseball teams because my grandfather on my mom’s side was a die-hard Yankees fan.  But unlike my cousin Brian, I hadn’t been sucked into the Bronx vortex and after I expressed interest in the Mets, my Uncle Lou would help make sure that I definitely didn’t.

(more…)

Catch the Rising Stars

Unfortunately, work’s been crazy this week and while I had several things I’ve thought about covering I haven’t had much time to sit down and watch them or write about them.  So, I’m going to tease next week a little bit by showing you a commercial for the WOR Channel 9’s coverage of the Mets’ 1985 season. 

The theme for that year’s series of promos was “Catch the Rising Stars,” which I guess meant that the Mets were on their way up to being contenders.  Considering how the year turned out, that’s probably a good slogan, just like “Baseball Like It Oughta Be” was a good one for 1986.

In addition to the promos, channel 9 produced a Norman Rockwell-esque poster of Gary Carter signing a kid’s baseball that you could special order with some of the proceeds going to the Leukemia Society of America, a charity Carter is heavily involved with.  My parents had the poster framed and it hung in their basement for years and I took it with me to Arlington, where I hung it in my first apartment.

Anyway, I’ll go more in-depth on the 1985 Mets and my first experiences at Shea Stadium next week.  For now, enjoy the promo.