By Rich Coutinho
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It’s hard to believe it was 25 years ago today.
On this date, October 27, 1986, the Mets sat atop the baseball world. They owned the city like no team ever had in the history of New York sports.
Of course, much of their popularity had to do with the personalities that lived inside the Mets’ clubhouse — and that had as much to do with the ’80s as anything else. To live through that decade in NYC, it’s hard to describe to those who either were not around or lived somewhere else.
It was an era devoted to excess. To be a twenty-something athlete living in here during that time was… lets just say carefree at the least.
1986 was my third year covering the Mets after a brief stint as a bartender in New York after graduating from Fordham University. I must say, those two years tending bar proved to be very helpful in covering that team. They spent as much time in bars and nightclubs as they did on the field. But in every walk of life, people were doing that sort of thing — and that is the thing people forget when remembering the ’86 Amazin’s.
The Mets’ infatuation with the “good life” was not an isolated case — it was the way most New Yorkers that age lived their lives. Work hard, play hard and keep very late hours. But make no mistake about it, when this team took the field they were a talented, feisty bunch. And they knew they were champions.
They were also the team others loved to hate. When you think about how players today express themselves after hitting a game-winning home run, it’s hard to believe that the Mets were heavily criticized for taking curtain calls. The St. Louis Cardinals did much of the griping, which is pretty comical when you consider their shortstop, Ozzie Smith, started every home game by backflipping to his position like an Olympic gymnast.
In any event, the Mets made a mockery of the NL East, forcing Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog to concede the division before the calendar hit July. But along the way, the Mets showed the baseball world they would not back down from anyone. The team had bench clearing brawls on three separate occasions, including a night in Cincinnati where Ray Knight decked Eric Davis with one punch.
But more than that, the Mets showed they could win in any number of ways — with pitching or with a high-octane offense. When the playoffs rolled around, many felt New York was untested. Some even theorized the Mets were not as good as their record. I always thought that was pretty silly, very few teams in league history could boast to win 108 games in a season. But there were media types who thought ’86 team was ripe for an upset. Perhaps by a team like the Astros, who didn’t have the lineup the Mets had but certainly possessed as good a starting rotation.
In those days, MLB alternated home-field advantage in both the NLCS and the World Series. But because of a scheduling conflict, the Mets were forced to play Games 6 and 7 in Houston rather than at the NL Eastern champion site, as originally scheduled. Ironically, this hurt the Mets in 1988 when they would have been slated to have home-field against the Dodgers — but that’s another story for another day.
I know it’s amazing to think a 108-win team would not get home-field in the NLCS but in those days they alternated it. I was in Houston for that Game 6, the greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen. It sometimes gets glossed over because of Bill Buckner and the events of Game 6 of the World Series. But when you consider the Mets were staring at a 3-0 deficit in the ninth inning of a game in which losing meant facing Mike Scott in Game 7 (whom they could not beat), you can understand the enormity of the situation. And to take the lead not once but twice in extra innings before winning the pennant was off the charts.
And the rest — as they say — is history.
I think the thing I remember most about that ’86 team is that they were bigger than life in NYC. For example, “60 Minutes,” which rarely features sports celebrities, did a segment on Doc and Darryl. Howie Rose tells me in the early days of WFAN, the single biggest personality discussed on the station was Darryl Stawberry. When you consider at that time, New York had stars like Patrick Ewing, Don Mattingly and Rickey Henderson, that should illustrate how big the Mets were in this town.
Bigger than any other team.
It’s hard to believe it but the Yankees were an afterthought, despite having some pretty good teams.
The Bombers lacked pitching but had star-power in their lineup. George Steinbrenner’s October was spent writing a newspaper column about the Mets rather than punching out an elevator — as he had done earlier in the decade.
Here’s why the Mets owned the baseball world 25 years ago: they worked hard and played hard. Much like the rest of us in Manhattan circa 1986. Heck, a fan parachuted into Shea Stadium on the night of Game 6 — something that could never happen today. Not in the world we live in now.
The ’80s are well in our rear-view mirror. But that ’86 Mets team, they’re still the poster child of that era. They were a great team, flaws and all — just like the rest of us.
Your thoughts on the 25th anniversary of the Mets’ World Series championship? Let us know in the comments below!