The New York Mets finished the 1989 season in second place. Six weeks into the 1990 season Davey Johnson was fired. He won 1,012 games as manager of the Mets, one World Series and two division titles. Johnson’s teams won an average of 95 games from 1984-1990. But, amidst all those wins, history defines the Mets as a disappointment.
As it turns out, 1986 was not the rule, but the exception for the Mets; 108 regular season wins followed by the epic 16-inning win over the Houston Astros in Game Six of the National League Championship Series and, ultimately, a World Series title (with a supporting cast of Bill Buckner and the baseball Gods). The Mets extreme success had fans and media talking about the “D” word.
The Mets last World Series championship was followed by three second place finishes (1987, 1989 and 1990), a disappointing playoff loss in 1988 and a long list of off-the-field embarrassments involving drinking, drug and domestic abuse, assault and battery and other poor choices over the last two decades.
In 2004, The Bad Guys Won — the book on the 1986 Mets — was published. In 2006, the Mets celebrated the 20-year anniversary with a class reunion for all fans to see and share with the media squeezing every last available tale into print.
In 2009, Psychology Today labeled the Mets a team “destined to fail … Gary Carter was an annoying egomaniac who drove his teammates crazy; Kevin Mitchell was a reformed gang-banger with an alarmingly violent temper; Ray Knight was a 33-year-old has-been and his backup, Howard Johnson, had been dismissed as a man who would crumble in the clutch.”
Today, a big, fat “what if?” hangs over the Doc and Darryl era; it is fill-in-the-blank after October 27, 1986. What if Gooden and Strawberry could have stayed clean and sober, would the Mets have had tickertape parades in 1987, ’88, ’89, ‘90 …? Would Mets fans be celebrating a dynasty instead of a single season?
“Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were the guys who really let us down,” said Frank Cashen. “That club should have won the next three or four years without fail. Those two men let not only themselves down but the teams and the fans of New York. The team was destined to be a dynasty … in my opinion, those two guys cost of years of success.”
Strawberry hit .225 in 134 games in 1989. He played nine more seasons after leaving the Mets, hitting 83 home runs and playing in more than 100 games in a season once. Drugs sucked the life out of Gooden’s promising career. He lost his fastball and elite status by age 26. Gooden won 157 games in 11 seasons (25-32 over his final three seasons) with the Mets (ironically, both Strawberry and Gooden hit home runs in Johnson’s final game).
What’s to celebrate?
While fans believed the Mets were destined to win a fistful of rings in the second half of the 1980s, they didn’t. It wasn’t because of a salary dump or a managerial change, no, Cashen had designed a team – on paper – that had the talent to win consistently but they didn’t.
Strawberry, Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Len Dykstra, Wally Backman, Howard Johnson, Gary Carter, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda, Mookie Wilson … one ring? That’s it? Are you serious?
“All in all, to have only won once was disappointing,” Carter told ESPN. “We thought we could become one of the greatest teams of all time.”
Dynasty? Try disappointment.
Time and space has redefined the ‘80s Mets as a series of missed opportunities.
“I get chills, “ Mookie Wilson described in a 2009 New York Daily News interview. “It’s still is hard to believe that it actually did happen.”
Wilson is right. Knowing what we know now, it is hard to believe that it actually happened.