Images (tickets, above) courtesy of Chris Isenberg of No Mas
In celebration of the 2012 season of the New York Mets, we’ve released a new T-shirt inspired by the Kings of Queens, available in our shop. On what would have been Gary Carter’s 58th birthday, Mass Appeal remembers the impact he left on one of the greatest teams of all time.
After a season of debauchery, demons and distractions, the 1986 New York Mets rode-out the storm to win the World Series of baseball. Mass Appeal takes a closer look at this shining diamond in the rough.
Sports? In Mass Appeal? You damn right. Because this is New York, people. And as the current Mets blaze through the National League (Ed Note: currently first place in their division), it’s a good as time as any to remember their illest predecessors. The World Champion 1986 Mets were bad. Not bad meaning bad, as another famous group from Queens once said, but bad meaning good. Kings from Queens who were raising hell. They played hard and partied harder, demolishing their opponents—and sometimes themselves. They were undoubtedly the best Mets team ever, and arguably the best New York baseball team of the modern era. They were one of a kind. Hard to believe it’s been 20 years.
And I was there. Not for the final celebration, unfortunately, when lefty reliever Jesse Orosco struck out Red Sox shortstop Marty Barrett for the final out of Game 7 of the World Series and launched his glove into orbit (if you watch the television replays, you never see it come back down), but I was at games that summer. And the summer before, and the summer before that, and so on, and so on. I only saw the finale on TV, but it was enough. More than enough. I’d waited a long time for this.
I was born in April of 1971, two years after the Miracle Mets won the championship in ’69. And make no mistake, I was born a Mets fan. My parents were Brooklyn Dodgers fans who adopted the Mets when they were established in ’62. And while I don’t remember the first Mets game I attended (although it was probably batting helmet day), I do have vivid memories of closely reading Newsday box scores, staying awake for Kiner’s Korner (announcer Ralph Kiner’s postgame interview show on WOR 9), and collecting the entire 1977 Topps team set—Bob Apodaca, John Stearns, Felix Millan, Dave Kingman. Household names. Well, at least in my house.
Here’s the thing. The Mets may have been great when I was born, but by the time I was old enough to pay attention, they sucked. Bad. And to make matters worse, most of my friends were Yankee fans. They had the names—Guidry, Nettles, Reg-gie—and the success, winning the World Series in 1977 and 1978 after losing to the Big Red Machine in 1976. Meanwhile, in 1977, the Mets traded Tom Seaver, their best pitcher in history, to the Cincinnati Reds for Pat Zachry, Joel Youngblood, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman. This was not a good move.
Time passed. The Mets continued to lose 90-plus games a year like clockwork, topping out at 99 in 1979. The names changed, but the results stayed pretty much the same. Erratic (in every sense of the word) slugger Dave Kingman was replaced by George Foster, who wielded a sinister black bat, wore even more sinister sideburns, and hit 52 homers in 1977 for the Cincinnati Reds. In New York he was known more for the size of his then-outlandish $2 million a year contract—at one game my parents and I sat near a drunk who kept yelling “Show ’em your wallet, George!” Not to say they were a bad team to support. Guys signed autographs before and after games, and when I mailed a baseball card to Shea to get signed by pitcher Terry Leach, he sent back three.
But then things started to change. General manager Frank Cashen brought up scrappy minor leaguers like Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman, drafted can’t miss prospects like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, and traded for All-Star veterans like Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez. It was the ’80s, the age of excess. Gordon Gekko and Run-D.M.C., satin jackets and mustaches, gold teeth, gold chains and cocaine. And the Mets—the lowly fucking Mets—they fit right in.
And they started to win. In ’83, the Mets lost 94 games. In ’84, Gooden’s rookie year, they won 90. In ’85, they barely missed the playoffs, just losing out to the St. Louis Cardinals. And at the start of the ’86 season, they were out for blood. Manager Davey Johnson laid it right out on the first day of spring training. “We’re not just going to win, we’re going to win big,” he said. “We’re going to dominate.”
In a sense, they were already the kings of New York, despite the Giants Super Bowl victory and the emergence of a young heavyweight champion from Brooklyn by the name of Mike Tyson. After being outdrawn by the Yankees from ’76 to ’83, the Mets had taken back the attendance crown in ’84 (and wouldn’t relinquish it until ’93). Straw and Doc had been back-to-back Rookie of the Year winners and were on their way to being perennial All-Stars. Hernandez and Carter already were. It was their turn. My turn.
Baseball was different then. Forget steroids and HGH, players were fueled by cigarettes and beer, amphetamines and pussy. The team’s most hardcore partiers dubbed themselves “The Scum Bunch,” and occasionally arrived hungover for games like a batch of modern-day Mickey Mantles. And the Mets were at the forefront on all counts.