A Bag of Balls, A lot of Questions

Former New York Mets catcher Ed Hearn says he has a bag of baseballs in his cellar. They are all from 1986; all from the National League Championship Series; all evidence that Michael Warren Scott cheated.

Link: Darling taking medical leave

Mets broadcaster Ron Darling announced he will be taking a leave of absence due to a medical issue. The former Mets pitcher, now broadcaster, said a recent medical exam revealed a large mass in his chest.

Darling vs. Dykstra vs. ’86 Mets

In his new book, 108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters from My Time in the Game, former Mets pitcher Ron Darling claims his teammate Lenny Dykstra delivered a racially charged rant at Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd from the on deck circle prior to Game 3 at Fenway Park. 

Darling wrote that Dykstra shouted:

“… every imaginable and unimaginable insult and expletive in [Boyd’s] direction — foul, racist, hateful, hurtful stuff” … one of the worst, most shameful moments I ever experienced in the game. In fact, it resulted in a momentum shift that probably turned the Series around for us, and like most of the other guys on the bench, I stood and cheered.”

Well you know what kind of storm this started.

Dykstra has denied the allegation and threatened to sue his former teammate and his publisher:

There is no public video footage of the Mets dugout prior to Game 3. So, did it happen?

Darling, of course, says yes.

Dykstra, of course, says no.

Darryl Strawberry? No. Kevin Mitchell? No. Dwight Gooden? No. Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd? No. Keith Hernandez? Maybe.

If you’re scoring at home: It’s Dykstra 4, Darling 0.

Will we ever know the truth? No.

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Podcast: Pete Mandlekern

Mets Rewind presents Blue and Orange, a baseball podcast for Mets fans, by Mets fans. Today we introduce you to Pete Mandlekern, a Mets fan since 1964.

Link: Gooden remembers Stottlemyre

In an interview with the New York Post, Dwight Gooden shared his memories of the late Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

Bowties and Rings

Frank Cashen arrived in Flushing with an impressive resume; two World Series rings, a drawer full of bowties and patience. Throughout Spring Training and most of April 1980 Cashen watched Joe Torre’s team sputter. There were no trades, nor firings. Not a single transaction. The Mets front office was quiet.

One Play, Two First Basemen and the Elusive Third Out

Even in hindsight the story is hard to fathom. The New York Mets came to bat in the bottom of the 10th inning, at home, trailing the Boston Red Sox 5-3 in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. They were three outs away from losing the Series. Hold on, this isn’t the story you’re thinking it is.

Wally Backman led off the inning slicing a line drive into the glove of Dave Henderson. One out. Keith Hernandez then hit a hard line drive to centerfield for the second out. The Mets were, as Len Dykstra would later tell Peter Golenbeck in Amazin’, “one out away from wasting the whole f—ing season.”

As Hernandez circled back to the dugout, the Mets first baseman — always intense, always encouraging his teammates to keep their heads in the game — never stopped. He went down the steps, into the dugout, down a second set of steps into the tunnel underneath Shea Stadium and straight to the team’s locker room. Game over, he thought. Depressed, disgusted, disappointed, Hernandez later confessed he just couldn’t bare to see the Boston’s celebration unfold on his field, in front of  his fans.

 

“I went into Davey’s [Johnson’s] office and took a beer out of his fridge,” he told then Washington Post reporter (and Mets fan) John Feinstein and author of One on One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game.

Hernandez said he was dehydrated and downed a Budweiser in seconds. He proceeded to crack open a second beer, paying little attention to the television nearby. Hernandez sat down in his manager’s office, lit a cigarette and drank another beer.

His counterpart, Bill Buckner, was standing off the line at first base, anticipating what the spray of the champagne would feel like; seeing a beaming smile on Mrs. Yawkey’s face, and witnessing the bedlam that would ensue in Boston’s clubhouse. The entire Sox dugout was like a mass of small children ready to rush the tree and begin tearing open presents on Christmas morning.Buckner was 36 years old; his body was 75. The decade leading up to this moment were successful, yet painful, for Buckner. His body took a beating. Through the years Buckner tried acupuncture, herbs (DMSO) and holy water — yes, holy water (1978, Chicago, look it up). In 1986, he was given nine cortisone shots as he literally limped through the season.

Boston Globe reporter and Baseball Hall fo Famer Peter Gammons wrote, “it wasn’t unusual to see him before games with ice taped to his ankle, Achilles tendon, lower back, elbow and shoulder … he often looked as if he were running in galoshes.”

Now, Buckner stood alone, limping around first base, pushing dirt in his signature black high top spikes that supported his fragile ankle, hoping for one more out.

The two first baseman — Hernandez and Buckner — couldn’t have been further apart in mind, body or spirit.

Underground, Hernandez watched the monitor as teammates Gary Carter and Kevin Mitchell delivered back-to-back singles.

“I opened a third one,” said Hernandez.

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Ray Knight is reduced to a single strike separating Boston and their first World Series title since 1918, before lifting a single to centerfield, scoring Carter and advancing Mitchell to third base. Hernandez never moved an inch, his eyes locked on the television while he anxiously pulled on his cigarette, beer in hand.

Meanwhile, Buckner and the Red Sox stiffened. The crowd roared, stomping their feet, literally rocking Shea Stadium and leaving Hernandez wondering whether the ballpark would hold up under the circumstances. Sox manager called on relief pitcher Bob Stanley to finish the job.

As Stanley warmed up in the cold late October night in New York, Buckner could only stand by, watching each smoky breathe he took vaporize into the breeze. Back in the Mets clubhouse, Hernandez nervously chain-smoked from his manager’s chair.

Like Calvin Schiraldi did earlier, Stanley reduced Mookie Wilson to a single strike. Twice Boston pitcher’s were one strike away from finishing the Mets. Stanley fired a 2-2 wild pitch, scoring the tying run.

Shea Stadium went ballistic.

“I’m still not thinking that clearly, so I finish the third one,” Hernandez told Feinstein. “That’s when it hit me: the score’s tied and I just drank three beers. I’m buzzed. I was sitting there frozen, trying to figure out how I’d go out and play first base when Mookie hit the ball.”

After Wilson’s ground ball skipped through Buckner’s legs, for a moment he stood with an expression of disbelief near first base, then slowly limped back to the Boston clubhouse.

“How lucky did I just get?” Hernandez asked Feinstein. “Thank God Buckner booted that ball.”

Buckner — not so lucky.

Time has not healed, as it so often does. History skips, like an old 45 record, replaying the moment over and over. And Hernandez and Buckner? The space between them is now eternal.

Link: Backman can’t shake regrets

According to a story in the New York Post, Wally Backman always thought he was the next Mets manager in waiting. He managed the Las Vegas 51’s (Mets Triple A affiliate) from 2012-16, believing he’d be the heir apparent to Terry Collins.