“The Last Dance” documentary on Michael Jordan’s run with the Chicago Bulls got us thinking. What’s the best Mets team in franchise history that could make for a compelling docudrama full of revealing hotel-room encounters and polarizing personalities?
You don’t have to rack your brain too hard to come up with the perfect cast of characters … the 1986 squad.
It wasn’t just the fact that the ‘86 Mets came back from the brink to defeat the Boston Red Sox in an epic World Series. It wasn’t just the massive lead they had in their division. It was the wildness of their team chemistry, the complete disregard of the consequences of their actions — which included plenty of alcohol and drugs that players like Bob Ojeda and Ron Darling eventually outlined in their books.
Even the most doom-and-gloom Mets fan can admit, after the 1985 season when the Mets were finally eliminated from playoff contention, they were on the verge of creating an unforgettable year. The ‘86 squad returned with a vengeance that can only be chronicled as a vitriolic campaign to prove this Mets team was legit.
The 1986 Mets won 108 games. The Phillies finished second that season — 21.5 games back. Yes, 21.5.
Going into the ‘86 campaign, the team was headlined by future Hall of Famer Gary Carter and rising superstars in Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. All three would earn All-Star nods that season, along with Sid Fernandez and Keith Hernandez.
Gooden and Strawberry had Hall of Fame potential had substance issues not sidetracked their careers.
In terms of their pitching staff, the 1986 Mets featured one of the best rotations the franchise has ever crafted. The Amazin’s carried three of the league’s top six starters in Ojeda, Gooden and Darling — plus Fernandez in the No. 4 spot. All four starters recorded at least 15 wins and the staff led the league with a team ERA of 3.11. The depth of the ‘86 rotation is unparalleled in Mets history.
And if the rotation wasn’t enough to dominate the league, the ‘86 Mets had 10 hitters with at least 200 plate appearances and an OPS+ (which combines on-base percentage and slugging percentage) of 110 or better. They had Hernandez hitting .310 from the three-hole and leading the National League in walks with 94. They had Strawberry intimidating opposing pitchers and hitting for power in his prime. And, of course, they had Carter embodying the heart and soul of the team.
But the main reason we are talking about the ‘86 Mets is that they possessed another weapon which Ojeda referred to as “that psycho mentality” in the book “The Bad Guys Won!” by Jeff Pearlman. It was an attitude spurred by amphetamines and an unlimited intake of brews — well before Major League Baseball players frequently used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.
“You’d see guys toward the end of a game, maybe getting ready for their final at bat, double-back into the locker room to chug a beer to ‘re-kick the bean’ so they could step to the plate completely wired and focused and dialed in,” Darling recounted in his book, “Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life.” “They had it down to a science, with precision timing.
“They’d do that thing where you poke a hole in the can so the beer would flow shotgun-style. They’d time it so that they were due to hit third or fourth that inning, and in their minds that rush of beer would kind of jump-start the amphetamines and get back to how they were feeling early on in the game — pumped, jacked, good to go.”
As much as we know about the 1986 Mets, there’s still so much we don’t. Picture Hernandez or Darling sitting in the comfort of their homes, with a glass of whiskey idling on a table nearby, recounting their memories of that ‘86 season — totally unfiltered and unafraid of the social-media backlash that will likely follow. It’s the type of content that’s begging to be produced — now more than ever.
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