Welcome to Flashback Friday, a weekly feature devoted to the 20th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.
Twenty years, 43 Fridays. This is one of them.
A couple of days ago, I had a doctor’s appointment fairly close to Roosevelt Field. Deciding that I deserved something akin to a lollipop for enduring whatever poking and prodding to which I was subject for my own good, I took the long way home and stopped by the mall, site of one of two remaining Mets Clubhouse Shops in the Metropolitan area.
If you’ve ever been to a Mets Clubhouse Shop, you know how disappointing it is. There’s not a soul among us who couldn’t stock it better if given the chance. The selection is limited, unimaginative and overpriced. But since when does that stop a true fan who’s wandering around in self-indulgence mode? I came away typically lighter in the wallet, having made two purchases, a pair of items I decided are connected to our theme du jour.
First, a new Mets cap. No, they haven’t added a special Thursday afternoon brim (cripes, I may have just given them an idea). I decided to replace my careworn 1998 black & blue model, a lid whose headband shrunk from the sweat of a season that came up one agonizing game short of the playoffs. When I’m a few weeks removed from my last haircut, it becomes a tight squeeze. After depriving myself of a better fit in the seven succeeding seasons, I decided to splurge.
That was all I was going to spend on until I saw the one thing that’s both pretty cool and pretty reasonable in Clubhouse Land. It’s a box of 100 Mets cards for 10 bucks. The kicker is that the cards are assorted Mets from throughout the ’80s and the ’90s. They’ve had these knocking around the store for a few years, which explains why there’s one “recent” card of a “star” near the top of the pile; in the case of the case I bought, it was a 2003 “Jeromy Burnitz” (that wasn’t the actual Jeromy Burnitz then, was it?).
Anyway, I always enjoy these purchases since my card-gathering grew rather lax after sixth grade and downright sporadic by college (that almost makes me sound like I was becoming an adult, but don’t be fooled) and it’s nice to catch up with the preoccupation I’ve never quite shaken and add to the accumulation it would never occur to me to discard. I’m always surprised to find out Mets got cards when I wasn’t looking. Aase…Musselman…Machado…I wonder if the 12-year-olds of 1990 were as happy to see them as I was to have greeted Gene Clines and Harry Parker a generation earlier.
Here’s something else that kind of grabbed my attention in those cards: The 1986 uniform wasn’t exclusively the 1986 uniform.
The 1986 uniform will reappear in the (or on the) flesh this August 20. The day after as many champion Mets can be enticed, paid off or bailed out to appear at Old Timers Night, the Mets will wear replicas of what they wore when we were kings. It might surprise you to be reminded that this won’t be the first time they’ve turned back the clock on this count.
In 2002, during the week or two in July when things were going deceptively well, the Mets were the first of a bunch of teams to indulge in a “Triumphant Glory” series as MLB dubbed it. Fans voted online for which era they wanted thrown back at them. 1986 (with my vote in tow) won in a presumable landslide.
It was the best turn-back promotion the Mets had ever executed. The unis fit, which they most assuredly didn’t that 1999 afternoon in St. Petersburg when they dressed up as the alleged ’69 Mets with flannels that appeared to have been in storage since ’39. No, the ’86es were authentic as could be, right down to the green underside of the caps that had quietly turned gray in the ensuing 16 years. The usually addled Shea A/V squad even got into the act, playing the hits of that blessed year over the loudspeaker (though I assume Howard Jones was identified as Howard Johnson on the “now playing” message).
For two evenings, it was almost as if the organization was proud of its best team and its best season. Then, of course, the Mets went back to looking and playing like their 2002 selves. Everything, not just the insides of the bills, turned gray for the duration.
But while that was the only field-of-play homage the Mets have given their most successful predecessors, it’s not like the ’86 uniform — the home version — was sent to Goodwill on 1/1/87. The basic ensemble that was sported in pursuit of a championship, the so-called racing stripe model, was the Mets’ uniform at Shea every year for 10 years.
The 1983 Mets showed the franchise’s first genuine signs of life in almost a decade when they debuted those uniforms. The 1992 Mets disgraced all that had come before them and poisoned much that would come after them in those uniforms. Every iteration of the Mets in between batted in the bottom of the first in those uniforms. Aase…Musselman…Machado…that was their uniform, too.
There were nips, tucks and alterations along the way, none more significant than the 25th-anniversary patch featured on the left sleeve in 1986. That confused me but good twenty Aprils ago. I was always pretty decent at arithmetic, so when I subtracted 1962 from 1986, I got 24 years. It wasn’t until I heard the rationalization that it was the 25th-anniversary season that I got it. I didn’t buy it, but I got it. It became sartorial coincidence that our two world championships would become easily distinguishable in still photos. If you see the MLB patch, you know you’re looking at a ’69 Met. If you see the two bats and the marketing-driven math patch, it’s ’86. Accept no substitutes.
(Before you get any cute ideas, a patch is not a prescription for glory, witness the World’s Fair patch of 1964 and 1965, the Bill Shea ‘S’ tribute patch of 1992, the Miracle Mets anniversary patch of 1994, the 40th-anniversary patch of 2002 and the Shea Stadium 40th-anniversary patch of 2004. All were worn throughout those seasons and all were worn in the service of losing records.)
The road, by the way, was a different story. It did change. How good was Game Six of the 1986 National League Championship Series? So good that they apparently had to burn the uniforms. After the 16th inning, the Mets never wore those roadsters in another National League game. They went to an overwrought script for one season then the Kraft American Cheese boring block letter NEW YORK in ’88. The Astros? They gave up the rainbow ghost once and for all once Kevin Bass swung and missed. Come to think of it, even the Pirates, our final regular-season opponents, stopped wearing their stayed-at-the-fair-too-long Bicentennial pillbox caps after Game 162. Thus, if you think playing the ’86 Mets didn’t take everything out of you in October, think again.
This subject goes right to the heart of one our favorite quotes around here, Celebrity Mets Fan No. 1 Jerry Seinfeld’s observation that fans root for the laundry. From 1983 through 1992, we rooted for a long blue stripe surrounded by two thinner orange stripes accenting the pinstripes and the script to which we’d become accustomed long before. We rooted for it before it went into the wash and we rooted for it when it came out of the dryer.
So what happened to it?
Prior to 1983, the Mets dressed in essentially three editions of the home uniform. The unnumbered pinstriped front (1962-1964), the numbered pinstriped front (1965-1977) and the numbered pinstriped front with blue and orange piping around the collar and the sleeves (1978-1982). The racing stripe was a rather mod update — cribbed from those futuristic Expos, I always thought — and wiped away the painful associations with the Mardie Cornejo Mets. The look remained true through ’92.
Then the Mets lost their freaking minds and their uniform hasn’t been stable since.
If you can recall the early ’90s, there was a movement back to the allegedly traditional uniform. Traditional, I wondered, to what tradition? Apparently baseball would feel better about itself if it wasn’t so gosh-darned modern. 1992 was the watershed year, especially in the N.L. East. The Phillies abandoned the large, wavy P they wore when they won their only championship in 1980. The Cardinals got rid of the synthetic look that adorned them en route to a title in 1982. The Expos gave up their racing stripe, the one that was so blurlike when they were challenging for first place in ’79, ’80 and ’81. The Mets must have been taking notes. They had abandoned the pullover for buttons in ’91, but that wasn’t enough. Come 1993, the one blue and two orange stripes were removed.
Howie Rose, for one, hailed the hell out of it. I’ve always wanted to meet him just so I could ask why he hated those racing stripes. Every time the subject filtered onto Mets Extra, he’d make like Zero Mostel and cry “Tradition!” For Howie, the tradition was his tradition, wanting the Mets back in the uniforms he remembered from his childhood. For me, I had just seen these racing stripes race to seven years of plenty. Yeah, Bobby Bonilla and Eddie Murray weren’t enhancing the look, but don’t blame the damn stripes.
Howie was disappointed when the Mets didn’t quite take his advice or follow the example of the Phillies and bring back their ’60s-era tops and bottoms. It was a case of Harazin meeting Hertz.
Did you get us those great retro togs I’ve been flogging on the air for years?
The Mets of ’93 ripped off the racers, reinstated the late ’70s piping and, for bad measure, underscored the script Mets with a tail.
A tail? What the…? It didn’t portend 103 losses, but we should’ve known something was awry. A year later, the Mets tried to fix things in their own half-assed way and removed the piping, but kept the tail. If you don’t remember it, it’s because they went on strike rather than wear it. (Though the tail was nearly attached to our uniform body from the start, it seems.)
Then came 1995 and it was Howie Rose’s Met dream come to life. The uniforms of his youth and Gary Cohen’s youth and, I suppose, the early part of my youth, had returned. There were pinstripes. There was script. It wasn’t an exact match for the 1960s, but it was close enough to make the “traditionalist” dewy.
It lasted two seasons. Starting in 1997, the fiddling picked up at a pace neither seen nor heard since the devil went down to Georgia. That was the year of the ice cream cap (scroll down and check out my man Reeder) and the Sunday snow white uniforms. Somewhere along the way the cap was mercifully put out of its misery but the unis caught on. They slowly superceded the pinstripes. In ’98, those snow whites got company in the form of what we’ll call pitch blacks. The pinstripes receded (an unnecessary drop shadow was added to the script Mets logo, making them look, upon their rare re-emergence, like they didn’t fit right). By ’99, we had three home unis and two for the road: a black NEW YORK and a gray NEW YORK (the NEW YORK, at least, retained a sense of style after a couple of failed early ’90s attempts to mutilate it). With the new tops and new bottoms came new cap designs in which black became the predominant color and the NY had all kinds of splashes and tints. The royal blue caps of yore remained but didn’t see much action.
Geez, I never thought I’d go into a fashion show mode doing this, but if you’ve watched the Mets in the past 13 years and tried to stay current, you know it’s part of the package. (It’s all accounted for here in typically Ultimate depth.)
What’s it all mean?
Well, when the Mets of Wright and Floyd and Reyes trot out to their positions on August 20 in the professional clothes of Knight and Mitchell and Santana, it will be…is breathtaking too strong a word? It will be nice, at least. It was nice when the New Jersey Nets put on their ABA retros a few weeks ago to remind me of Dr. J and the Nassau Coliseum and the 1976 New York Nets, and it will be superswell to be reminded in the most visible terms possible of the 1986 Mets. If they want to keep wearing them, or throw them back on again once in a while, all right by me. I have no real attachment to the blend of one blue and two orange stripes except that those are what were on the laundry when a World Series was won and I got to watch every pitch. That makes them beautiful. Just like the ’69 duds were to Howie.
That said, I hope the 2006 Mets are weaving whatever combination of fabrics and tones they usually don into something special. I want to look at the black tops and the white pants and whatever sporting goods manufacturers logo they’ve got stitched here or there (go right to the source to follow such corporate capers) in 20 years and think, “man, they were wearing those when…” In this game, you have to keep making new memories, not just replenish the old ones.
Hence, I bought a new black and blue cap the other day to replace the beat-up one from 1998. I sense I’m in the minority of middle-aged Mets fans who accepted the onslaught of official team merchandise that’s been hurled at us since 1997-98 in good humor. I’ve got every cap they wear. I don’t buy too many jerseys, but I thought the black road one was pretty sharp and coughed up whatever that cost in 1999 when I came across it in Roosevelt Field.
I know, it’s heresy. The Mets are supposed to wear blue caps. And the addition of black to the pattern meddled with the primal forces of nature. On some level, I agree, but I do as I do, not as I say. The Mets wear blue? I wear blue. The Mets wear black? I wear black. As long as what is being worn is being worn by the Mets and is in good taste (nothing with swastikas or appleless top hats, for example), I will eventually and heartily endorse it and attempt to mimic it on my pathetic 43-year-old person.
That’s what rooting for the laundry is all about.