Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My favorite Mets - the 1980's

This is the second in a short series of articles on my 25 favorite Mets players as a one team roster. You can find the first part of the series here. A cursory look at my favorite Mets "team" makes something very clear - I have a special affinity for Mets players of the mid to late 1980's. Like any other Mets fan in their late 20's to early 30's the reason for this should be fairly clear... 1986. The Mets World Series win in 1986 was one of the foundational experiences of my baseball fandom. I was a young boy sitting in my parent's living room (way past my bed time) praying for a miracle, and when Mookie Wilson hit that ball my heart literally jumped into my throat. I knew it was an out, a slow roller towards first base - what else could the outcome be?
Then that glorious moment of awakening when I realized what baseball could do to a person, as the ball rolled lethargically between Bill Buckner's bowed legs, and I exploded in exultation! It was a moment that the most devious torture could not erase from my memory - it was a sudden, earth-shattering moment. Since that day I have been a passionate fan of all things baseball, especially my beloved Mets. I have experienced highs (1986 and 2006), and I have been dealt dramatic crushing blows into the depths of fanhood (the 90's and 2006). All because of that team of hard partying, good time having, "bad boys of baseball" ... the 1986 Mets.

Gary "the kid" Carter, Keith "the Captain" Hernandez, Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny "Nails" Dykstra, Dwight "Doc" Gooden, Roger McDowell, and so many more. I would have added even more names from the '86 squad but I needed to save room for a few other players! Why these eight guys over other members of the team? Gary Carter's effervescence was contagious, I couldn't help but have fun watching him play. Keith Hernandez was the model of what a good ballplayer should be studious, and careful - no one (ever) played defense at 1st base as well as he. Howard Johnson was my favorite player growing up, it was because of him that the only place I ever wanted to be on the diamond was 3rd base. Mookie Wilson was all out - and really - is there any other way to play the game? I can remember hearing the "Strawwwwwwwberry..." chants when I would watch the games on TV, and even on occasion when my parents would take me to the games at nearby Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. I'm not sure I have ever personally seen a better swing for launching baseballs into the atmosphere. Why is it that every time the camera panned to Lenny Dykstra sitting in the dugout, he was picking his nose? The way he prowled the outfield, as if every ball hit out there was a personal affront to him, was invigorating - just a blast to watch. Is there any doubt that if Doc Gooden had remained clean and sober that he would be a sure-fire Hall of Famer today? He had everything, and the best part about him as a ballplayer, was that when you watched him pitch you could tell he was just plain better than his opponents. Last of the bunch there is Roger McDowell - today he is the pitching coach for the much reviled Atlanta Braves, but in 1986 he was the court jester. McDowell was proof you could be good at what you do, and have a lot of fun doing it. It was fun to watch him and his teammates enjoy playing the game I was falling in love with.

Above all, the guys playing on that 1986 team are my favorites because they were my introduction to a whole new world of emotion. A connection with something that wasn't my family, or friends - a way to connect with complete strangers and share this passion for a kid's game. In 1994 the strike killed that youthful joy a lot of us had with baseball, we learned that for some people the game was all about dollar signs. My dad was one of those folks who never came back to the game, even today baseball is as interesting to him as paint drying. I think that if it wasn't for the 1986 Mets team the strike might have killed my fandom too... and for that I have nothing but love in my baseball heart for the 1986 World Series Champion New York Mets, and these eight guys in particular.

1 comment:

  1. I must say the entire first paragraph, you and me both. I love all of the names you mentioned, I can't wait to see how your series unfolds. I noticed we are both on Bleacher Report and hot stove. I will send you a message in B/R, so you know who I am, but I saw that you had a political website too. Do you still write on it? I have a friend who is big into politics and has similar views. He's brilliant and I'd love to send you a link to his stuff. Let me know.