By Mike Steffanos
A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform--and Maybe the Best
In this, the twentieth anniversary season of the last Mets World Championship, it seemed a good idea to revisit a book that came out a couple of years ago that chronicles that championship team -- warts and all. One of the most famous, or rather infamous, scenes from the book occurs in Chapter One, Food Flight, which describes the sordid happenings on the team's flight home after winning the epic Game 6 of the 1986 NLDS versus Houston:
It wasn't just guys destroying a plane. It was guys destroying a plane after an emotional roller coaster. There's a difference.
-- Randy Niemann, Mets pitcher
...Sixteen innings. In 16 beautiful, electric, heart-wrenching, gut-churning, bladder-bursting, finger-twitching, eye-bulging, throat-burning innings of baseball, the New York Mets had been pushed to the brink over and over again. On enemy turf, no less. Finally, they had pushed back.
Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series:
Mets 7 Astros 6
The Mets were going to the World Series. It was everything they had dreamed of, but now -- what? The hardest-living players in baseball entered the visiting clubhouse of the Houston Astrodome and didn't know what to do. Scream or cry? Party or pray? A couple of the men had tears streaming down their cheeks. Others slumped in front of their lockers, sandbags for shoulders and rocks for feet. "I could have slept for twenty hours," says Ed Hearn, New York's backup catcher, "and I hadn't even played in the game."
Then and there the Mets reached a collective decision. Perhaps it was inspired by the popping of a champagne cork. Or the cracking open of a beer can. Or the lighting of a cigarette. Or the primal "Whoooo!" bursting from Wally Backman's throat. Whatever the stimulus, the message was clear and powerful: Before they went to the World Series, the Mets would party their f**kin' brains out.
The graphic description of the events of that flight set the stage for Pearlman's no-holds-barred depiction of the team that he once rooted for as a child. No one can accuse Mr. Pearlman of blind hero worship, as he uses the recollections of team members, those around them and a variety of opponents to expose every vanity, vice and character weakness of that championship team.
The book reveals a portrait of a group of young, gifted, cocky, insecure athletes in all of their glory and failings, that were the product of a time and place in history (think the movie Wall Street). Their manager intuitively understood how to help them believe in themselves, but lacked the ability to provide the discipline to mitigate the team's excesses. The inmates were indeed running the asylum, much to the chagrin of the "old-school" general manager and to the exasperation of the rest of baseball.
If all that The Bad Guys Won! was just a tell-all book, it might have some interest to those curious about those wild years of the mid-80s, or titillation-seeking readers of the National Enquirer and other supermarket tabloids. At times, I felt that the author went a little too far in exposing the failings of these ballplayers, with too many anecdotes about what a jerk Strawberry could be at times, for instance. But that's a minor quibble, the book was after all about "the bad guys."
What made this book really enjoyable to me was Mr. Pearlman's gift for telling the story of that season, especially when the book moved into the tension-filled playoffs and world series. It was there that the players we got to know for better or worse had their appointment with destiny, and Pearlman really shined when recounting those magic games. The end of the book that covered the failure of this team to establish itself as a dynasty was both poignant and fascinating; a fitting conclusion to this story. If you are a Mets fan and haven't yet read this book, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
The Bad Guys Won!
Author: Jeff Pearlman
Hardcover, 304 pages, HarperCollins (April 27, 2004)
Also available in softcover
Buy The Bad Guys Won! on Amazon.com