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.
It rained in Jupiter Thursday night. It rained on the Mets and the Marlins. It rained out a baseball game.
How often can you offer praise for rain?
SportsNet New York came to Cablevision Thursday night. It called for an impromptu evening of thanksgiving. Yes, I’m a tool of corporations on either end of a lucrative business proposition. The Mets and the Time Warners and the Comcasts and, unfortunately, the Dolans will be taking their taste out of my hide in cable bills to come. But on the night when a new network featuring Mets baseball arrives on my clicker, honestly, who cares?
No, it’s not wall-to-wall Mets, but I’ll take one wall for now and hope for more later. Indeed, should I ever be elevated to the Vice Presidency of the United States, this is the channel to which I will demand every TV in my hotel suite be tuned in advance of my downtime.
When one of SNY’s many pregame shows reported it was raining at the spring training home of the Marlins, I didn’t sweat it. I guessed that a delay/postponement/cancellation of a Meaningless Spring Training Exhibition Game would give this channel a chance to preview its portfolio for those of us who were previously uninitiated. If it didn’t result in Fran Healy interviewing Bob Cousy, I knew we’d instantly be ahead in the win column.
SNY did not disappoint. We got a look at Mets Weekly — including three quick glances of yours truly sitting and typing in a preview of the world-awaited Bloggers Roundtable (there should be more of us a week from Saturday, so begin averting your eyes now); Kids Clubhouse, a show doing the Lord’s work of brainwashing children to our side of the street; and…yes!…a Mets Classic.
What did SNY pick to fill the rainy void? Why, the division-clincher of September 17, 1986. Good choice! A popular choice, actually. When the Classic Sports Network, precursor to ESPN Classic, broadcast over-the-air on Channel 31 in New York nearly a decade ago, this game was actually something of a staple. Watching it then for the first time in 10 or so years drove me to a steady drizzle of tears. This must have been early 1997, so the Mets had not yet begun to rise under Bobby Valentine, meaning the sight of Mex and Kid and Doc in their prime of primes, as well as that babyfaced Magadan kid coming out of nowhere, really got to me.
Didn’t have the same effect last night, but it was a most, most welcome sight and sign where Uncle Snigh and Mother Nature were concerned. Our new network will indeed cater to us on some level, and as far as the Florida weather is concerned, I could think of worse things than missing an MSTEG in favor of an MC.
Some Friday up the road, we’ll revisit 9/17/86, the days leading up to it and the hangover seeping out of it. But after last night, I’d rather talk about the rain.
Rain is almost never welcome in our baseball landscape. There was that cute scene from Bull Durham in which Crash Davis created his own rainout which led to a 50-game winning streak or something improbable (the greatest baseball movie ever made didn’t always make sense) and we’ve heard about Spahn and Sain and how all opponents preferred precipitation. Groundskeepers like Pete Flynn (still probably cursing the onrushing crowds from that clincher) know a hose can’t do everything.
But honestly, rain? In baseball, who needs it?
Last night, we in Cablevision country needed to be reassured that we were right for hailing SNY’s entry onto our family package tier. Likewise, in 1986 rain served a purpose as well.
During that championship season, the Mets were rained out eight times in the regular year and twice more in post. That’s ten times I winced, grimaced or outright frowned. I don’t have the pictures to prove it, but what else would any of us have done? Especially in 1986, who would pray for rain? If anything, we’d ask that the heavens above make this particular season go on and on and on and not stop the beat ’til the break of dawn.
But there were some good things to come in out of the rain in 1986. For one, there was No Surrender, the best Mets highlight film (therefore, the best highlight film) ever. Whenever there was a rain delay on SportsChannel, SportsChannel broke out No Surrender, the official video paean to 1985. And while 1986 cruised along to bigger and better things, I couldn’t relive 1985 enough.
The greatest thing about No Surrender…well, there were several. First of all, it was on videotape, not film, a first for Mets highlight packages. Nowadays that’s considered cheesy. Maybe it was then, too, but I thought it made the Mets modern — enough of the grainy footage, let’s enter the MTV age already. It was narrated by Tim McCarver at the height of his prowess. Anything that involved Timmy carried the good broadcasting seal.
And within the baseball video there were music videos. Keith Hernandez was, bang-bang, “The Warrior”. The National League wasn’t messin’ with Gary Carter because then, as per the Blues Brothers, it would “Messin’ With The Kid”. When the Mets got payback big-time against the Cubs for ’84, they showed no mercy…and did so to “No Mercy” by Nils Lofgren. Particularly inspired, I thought, was the use of Buffalo Springfield’s antiwar anthem “For What It’s Worth” to illustrate the summer of Dwight Gooden. Singing songs/And carrying signs/Mostly say/Hooray for our side as the soundtrack for fans waving K cards? In the word of those Guinness ads, Brilliant!
When the rain didn’t merely delay but rather postpone, it represented a bleak moment, but in retrospect, it was gratification denied, a sense that those who wait long enough will eventually be rewarded (which is what ’86 was teaching those of who came so close in ’85 and ’84 and ended up so far away in ’83 and ’82 and ’81 and…). Those rainouts resulted in a little something we old-timers called doubleheaders.
The Mets scheduled one doubleheader in 1986 (a Banner Day doubleheader yet) and they swept it. They played eight more in the course of the year, each of them cobbled together to make up rainouts. On those occasions when the Mets played two games in one day when they were only supposed to play one, they swept three times, split four others and inexplicably dropped both ends once. In 1986, we generally expected a win every day. Eight days in ’86 had unscheduled doubleheaders and the Mets collected 10 wins. Once again, they exceeded our expectations.
There was quite a bit of rain early in the year. The second game of the season in Pittsburgh was a washout. A week later, the second and third home games against St. Louis were deluged. The one that concerned me was that second home game, marketed then (in another uncharacteristically clever turn) as Opening Day II. Joel and I had tickets. Rodney Dangerfield was going to throw out the first ball because, you know, the second game gets no respect, I tell ya.
For us, it represented a bit of redemption for the last time we attempted to attend a home opener, five years earlier, our senior year of high school. It rained on April 14, 1981 and I missed a Spanish quiz for nothing (which may or may not explain why I hablo so expertly today) but the chance to eyeball the newly installed Kingman Fallout Zone warning signs in the parking lot we’d read about in Newsday and the chance to bring it up right here. Joel and I walked away soaked from Shea; we were two of maybe eight people who held out hope that it would clear up — but ya gotta have miles and miles of hope, especially in the rain, especially in 1981, especially if you’re taking Spanish with Mr. Ritaccio who wasn’t too keen on anybody missing his quizzes.
I was away at college the next four years and, given the sold-out nature of Opening Day I in ’86 and Joel’s work schedule at Chwaktsky’s of Oceanside, Opening Day II represented our next best chance at getting even with the weather and the fates. But it rained. It rained a lot. Torrents of Biblical proportions. Joel and I showed up anyway just in case it might stop on our account.
Alas, there was no Opening Day II that day. Oh-for-two at home openers and faux openers, we turned around and headed back to Long Beach, stopping at the recently opened Chi-Chi’s in Valley Stream for lunch, though not before exchanging our rain checks on the spot for a game against the Astros in May. So we got some pretty excellent (I mean excellente) nachos and we got a win eventually.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals would have to be dealt with. Two rainouts in April translated to two doubleheaders in August. For one of only two times that I can recall, the Mets played a six-game series at Shea.
Four days…six games…Mets…1986…who could ask for anything more?
Sad to say, it was a 2-4 series, but really, what’s so sad about that? The Mets had themselves a pretty nice double-digit cushion, so Whitey could do his worst and we wouldn’t feel a thing. Thus, I smile remembering the doubleheaders. The beginning of the first one, a Thursday twinighter, coincided with me coming home from work early enough to grab a radio and a lounge chair and make my annual appearance at the Roosevelt Boulevard beach. I stretched out in the late afternoon sun and let the Murph and the Thorne wash over me until I remembered I don’t much care for the beach, which explains why I put in only annual appearances there despite its proximity to my address (two whole blocks away). I was home in the central air conditioning by the time Kevin Mitchell drove home Mookie Wilson with the walkoff run — though I’m not sure if it’s really a walkoff if it takes place in the first game of a doubleheader.
I bought tickets to the Sunday twinbill and went with my college buddy Rob Costa. They were lousy seats way up in the left field upper deck, but I was surprised there were seats at all. This was two 1986 Mets games in one day against our theretofore archrivals. New York must have been napping to allow two ducats to be available to the likes of me. We lost the first game 2-1 (Aguilera came out early with an injury) but then romped in the nightcap. Home runs for Heep, Teufel and Dykstra, a win for starting pitcher Randy Niemann, his only Met start, his only remotely positive on-field contribution that I ever observed.
More important than the loss and the win was the marvelously pleasant afternoon with Rob. He wasn’t much of a fan but it was a good excuse to spend time with someone whom I would only see four more times before he died depressingly young 12 years later. We pounded overpriced Budweisers as the Mets pounded Danny Cox, Ricky Horton and ghost of 1979 Met past Ray Burris (with Lee Mazzilli suddenly relocated to our dugout, we weren’t afraid of no ghosts). It rained in April and I was distraught. It was sunny in August and I’m still glad Rob and I got that extra game in.
And what about that rainout from the first week in Pittsburgh? That got grafted onto a Friday night in June and became our only loss to the Pirates all year. Yet it wasn’t such a bad loss because it evolved into the second of a series of brawls that would mark the ’86 Mets as pugilists for the ages. That opener featured perhaps the funnest fight of the season, the one started by our first base coach, Bill Robinson, calling out Rick Rhoden for doctoring the ball. Know any other teams where a coach takes on the other team’s ace? Boy, the coaches on my team were tough, I tell ya…
Earlier that afternoon, I was coaxed from my anticipatory doubleheader trance by Joel and our non-baseball-conversant pal Larry for a trip to a pizza place in Point Lookout. The Mets relevancy of that detail is negligible except that Joel referred to a heavily advertised Matthew Broderick vehicle opening the next week as Forrest Sawyer’s Day Off. To this day, when I see the now venerable anchor or watch Ferris Bueller, I think of that remark, and Bill Robinson throwing down with Rick Rhoden hours later, and how we took 17 of 18 from Pittsburgh, and, eventually, 108 wins and a world championship, a world championship, by the way, that was clinched in a Monday night makeup game after it rained.
I’m kind of rambling now. But that’s what you do during rainouts.