Yeah, right. The beginning of the end. Gooden missed the following day’s tickertape parade, the first overt sign of the cocaine habit that would cause him to miss a good portion of the ’87 season (and derail his entire career). Knight, a free-agent-to-be who was named MVP of the World Series, wasn’t re-signed, and he joined the Orioles. And Mitchell, the versatile young slugger, was traded to the Padres before the start of the ’87 season. The Mets would-be dynasty was already over. They wouldn’t win another World Series, and none of the ’86 team would retire as Mets. To this day, none of their numbers have been retired. And baseball would never mean the same thing to me, either.
August 19th, 2006. A rainy day at Shea, and the first day since October 27th, 1986, that the World Champion Mets would be celebrated. Despite the lousy weather, the stands are full, the reception warm. Time has given new perspective, and after the near-misses in ’88 and ’00, the ’86 team has become bigger than they ever were. One after one, the players are introduced—older, fatter and greyer, but the same at heart. Mookie Wilson, who spent the most time in a Mets uniform before ’86, is greeted by lusty “Mooooooo”s, and the cheering increases as the final players are introduced. Carter. Hernandez. And finally Strawberry, who emerges from the stands to the chants of “Daaaaa-ryl!” He hugs Hernandez, acknowledges the crowd with tears in his eyes. Knight isn’t there. Neither is Johnson, who’s off managing some team or another. And no Gooden either. He’s in jail.
Mets announcer Gary Cohen sums it up. “This was a team that not only won, they won in dominating fashion, they won in your face, they made a lot of enemies in the National League.” “A team, a time and a town have never been more perfectly matched.”
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.