When the Mets won the World Series in 1986 I, along with the rest of the city, was enthralled. It did not quite compare to the unbridled joy I felt in 1981, when the Dodgers finally beat the Yankees, but it was close. To this day the two game sixes, versus the Astros in the NLCS, and of course, the Redsox in the Series, are among the most dramatic, and improbable games I have ever seen.
We in New York thought that the Mets of the ’80s would be good for at least another two or three Series victories, but of course it was not to be. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were taken down by drug and alcohol addiction, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez were soon to be on the downside of their careers, and a series of bad trades, and unfortunate signings (can you say Kevin McReynolds?) did the team in.
Recently I watched a documentary called The Rise and Fall of the 1986 Mets. As the title implies, it deals largely with the demons of that team — the drugs, fighting, and carousing. They interviewed Strawberry, Gooden, Carter, among others. Glaringly absent was Keith Hernandez, who any Met fan knows, was the leader of that team. I can imagine that the Mets, who employ Keith as an announcer, nixed his involvement in a show that was going to be decidedly negative.
While it was a poorly produced documentary that had an agenda, it did bring up some valid points about this team. The Mets of the mid-80s should have won more, or at the very least, been in position to win more.
To hear Strawberry talk about what his routine was like. is eye-opening to say the least. According to Straw, he would be out until the wee hours of the morning, drinking, snorting, hanging out with celebrities, and making the most of being the toast of the town. He would arrive at the ballpark and pop six greenies before batting practice, washing them down with coffee, since that seemed to strengthen their effect. After batting practice he would pop three more greenies right before the game. Repeat and rinse for a 162 game season. Gee, I wonder why his and Doc’s career fizzled so soon?
The worst was the story that Straw told of the plane trip coming back to New York from Houston after winning the pennant. The entire team was smashed on champagne, and they began ripping up the seats from the plane, even managing to dislodge one. They received a bill for $20,000 dollars, which Davey Johnson ripped up. And you wonder why he was a considered a player’s manager…
The thing that bothered me about all of this is the way Straw looks back on all of this. While he says he regrets his actions, and acknowledges the harm they did to his career, you can hear in his voice a kind of pride he took in those wild times. To me it’s not funny to hear about vandalism. I can understand being young, wanting to party, and sow wild oats, but when you put it in the context of the wasted potential, it’s merely sad.
What a waste. That team may have one day been mentioned in the same breath as the A’s of the early 70s, or the Big Red Machine. Instead, they are a blip on baseball’s radar. At best they are a testament to the gogo 80s; a shitty decade if there ever was one.