By Jason Keidel
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Beyond their obvious talent, the 1986 Mets were a vivid group, like a field of wildflowers blooming at once. And then it seemed they were gone, following a sharp arc formed by their eclectic parts.
For some reason, we always expect the newly rich to live well, not well beyond their means. But the Mets were ultimately the latter, and yet another one of their studs has been put to pasture.
Lenny Dykstra, once a gifted colt galloping through Shea Stadium ‘86, is now going to prison, his rap sheet longer than the Magna Carta. We can’t say we didn’t see this coming. When he wasn’t reportedly shooting steroids, losing six-figures in illegal poker games, he was stealing money under the guise of financial management.
Dykstra’s latest endeavor, heisting cars, got him three years, three hots, and one cot in a penal facility. And unlike the video game with the same name – Grand Theft Auto – there’s no reset button. Dykstra is a tearful microcosm of the group that grew into a behemoth and vanished three years later. Just as the (allegedly) juiced Dykstra never looked right with all that muscle, nothing was as it seemed with the Mets’ former outfielder or his former club.
Most men aren’t programmed to handle rabid success. The examples are too numerous to recount here. From boxers who fight well beyond their prime to actors and musicians found dead from overdose to lotto winners who are broke in five years, our wiring seems to short-circuit when flooded with fame or financial gain.
Though not as afoul of the law as Dykstra, Wally Backman has been arrested several times since the halcyon years. Then he lied about it to the Diamondbacks, and spent just one week as their manager. His next job was with the South Georgia Peanuts. He’s now back with the Mets, a symmetry not lost on us.
And no one symbolized the Mets’ collapse like Doc and Darryl, de facto brothers on and off the diamond, felled by forces greater than a rising fastball. Just as the Mets should have a fistful of rings, we should be regarding Gooden and Strawberry in a Hall of Fame refrain.
Like the ‘77 Yankees, those Mets stopped punching and partying long enough to bag a title, but their collective disarray couldn’t hold up to the consistent rigors of a dynasty. They had one more shot, in 1988, but slammed into a pitching meteor called Orel Hershiser.
Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, two essential members of that epoch, now form perhaps the best commentary tandem in the sport. Whenever they speak about their fallen brethren, you hear their discomfort as they fidget for platitudes, the cadence that comes with losing a brother. Not even Gary Carter, the most wholesome of the group, escaped that team’s odd orbit.
Another fleeting beauty of that club was that they were perfectly New York City, covering every demographic – young, old, white, black, Hispanic, and Hawaiian. And like our city, much has changed, leaving us to flip through memories and VHS tapes to recall what both were like at their best.
Even now, I wistfully call him Lenny. I’m not even a Mets fan, but there was a fragrant charm to Dykstra and his teammates that spoke to endless sunrises. Now he’s Leonard Kyle Dykstra, wearing a much longer number and a uniform with plenty of orange but no blue.
Perhaps, in retrospect, the Mets weren’t meant to win more than they did. Indeed, reality has a way of trampling our dreams. They were impossibly gritty and gifted, yet they left New York with a sense of enduring loss. As Lenny Dykstra discovered, the sunset wasn’t nearly as colorful as the sunrise.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.email@example.com
How will you remember “Nails”: as the Mets’ fiery sparkplug or just another troubled ’86er? Let Keidel know in the comments below…