Mets

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…)

Unlucky 13th

The back of the Daily News from April 15, 1986. Taken from the Daily News's Scrapbook History of the 1986 Mets.

I have to admit that I didn’t realize that the 1986 baseball season had started.  But I feel that since it was my second year following the Mets and the first year that I actually followed them from beginning to end, I have an excuse.  That March, I’d watched a little bit of spring training (after finding out what spring training actually was) and my cousin Brian and I had what would be the first of numerous arguments over the years about which team was better, the Mets or the Yankees.  Opening day was set for April 8 in Pittsburgh and by the time that Monday rolled around, the team was 2-2 and facing the St. Louis Cardinals in their home opener.

A year earlier, Gary Carter had hit a home run to beat the Cardinals on opening day and the two teams chased one another throughout the late summer, with the Cards winning the NL East and then going to the World Series (where thankfully they lost to the Royals).  So with all of that baggage going into this first game at Shea, I’d say that it was definitely going to be one that set the tone for the year.  If the Mets ever were going to compete for the division, they knew they were going to have to go through St. Louis to get there.

It was a day game, as were most of the home openers, and I was at school when it started at 1:35.  But with any luck I would be able to catch part of the ending on WOR, which is how at least a few of the games that season would wind up.  I can’t be sure, but I am pretty positive that I wound up going over to my neighbor Matt’s house to watch it, even though I could have watched it at my house.

When I got there, the game was in extra innings with the teams tied 2-2.  With Bruce Berenyi on the mound in relief and the bases loaded, Tito Landrum hit a ground ball to Howard Johnson at third.  It was, for all intents and purposes, a routine ground ball and HoJo should have been able to field it cleanly and get an out or two.  But that’s not how it went.  “I was playing in,” he said to the Daily News, “I was ready for the ball.  When I reached down, it seemed like all of a sudden the ball wasn’t there.  I was shocked as anybody.”

Two runs scored as the ball trickled through his legs and then Ozzie Smith doubled home two more to make the score 6-2.  The team didn’t recover and fell below .500 for the first time in nearly three years.  Having reading scrapbooks, yearbooks, and other works about the season, it seems like the press pushed the early panic button–although I am sure that if 1986 had happened in today’s media that sucker would have been slammed–but I don’t remember worrying.  Yes, it sucked that the Mets lost but even at the age of eight, I knew that the baseball season was long and a 2-3 start didn’t mean that the team was going to finish 2-160 (well, unless it’s, say 1993, but that’s not today’s topic).

I took away three things from that game.  First, my not being afraid was validated when the Mets went on a huge winning streak, which included a sweep of the Cardinals in St. Louis, one that shut the door on their arch-rivals and had the Mets looking to “wrap up” the pennant early, which they’d do more or less by the summer.  Second, the ground ball error would become crucial and almost symbolic of 1986 season so it’s almost fitting that it began like that.  Finally, every time the Mets have lost their home opener, I’ve taken it as an omen that things are going to do well because they won the series in 1986.

I know that sounds silly, especially considering it’s been 25 years since that game but I think that very often you view a team the same way you did when you first started following them, and considering the lack of innocence of that team (as I’d find out), I think holding on to a little bit of innocence isn’t a bad idea.

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…)