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.
Should you be attending any of the Subway Series games this weekend, you may hear some ignoramii who don’t usually sit in the seats of our beautiful ballpark spew some blather about rings, as in what we witness across a baseball season is all about them. The rings, that is…
I don’t know if that’s as top-of-mind a remark as it was in the early years of Interleague play considering there haven’t been many rings rewarded for winning World Series in New York lately. Come to think of it, over the past five years, I guess there have been none…
Anyway, it’s not about the rings, save for the players, coaches, manager, front office staff, parking lot attendants and so forth. The fans don’t get rings. What we get, if we’re really, really lucky, is a parade.
New York hasn’t seen one of those since 1986. Not a worthwhile one anyway.
Though I didn’t attend a single World Series game twenty years ago (I say that as if that was a decision I made), I did go to the ticker-tape parade that followed the World Series by about twelve hours. I think even then they were telling us it wasn’t really ticker-tape anymore, everything is on computers, so it’s computer paper. Perhaps. I do recall it as a big mess. A spectacular, gargantuan, wonderful mess — ton upon ton of shredded paper falling to the ground, whatever its source.
There was the tiniest speck of yellow paper, like a hole that been punched out of something from a stockbroker’s printer, that fell to and stuck on the left lens of my glasses. Got lodged in the frame on the side closest to my eye. Too tiny to do any harm, so in a variation of I’ll never wash this hand again, I didn’t remove that speck for more than a week, and then only because I was going to be in a wedding party.
The parade, like all New York parades, was downtown…wherever that was. I didn’t really know. My southbound world stopped at 14th Street. I was working part-time for a magazine there, View magazine, a trade publication for the television industry. Every other Monday or Tuesday, I’d go in and input a slew of local ratings from Nielsen and Arbitron. If inputting numbers about TV sounds like any more fun than inputting numbers about anything else, it’s not, not really. But I figured 14th Street was close enough to Chambers Street where they said you should get off the subway to go to the parade. Good deal, I figured. I’ll go to the parade and then back up to 14th Street to do my ratings.
My definition of “go to the parade” doesn’t necessarily encompass seeing a parade because I would have had to have arrived near City Hall shortly after Jesse got Barrett on a swing and miss (struck him OUT!). I think I saw some vehicles go by that may have held some Mets or somebody who saw some Mets. All I saw were people. People everywhere. Chambers Street was a few blocks from the action. I knew I was close to it when I saw a throng, a mob and a mass converge with an avalanche of humanity. I just squeezed in and hoped for the best.
The best wasn’t viewable. I’ve never been in such a large crowd. Never such a surly crowd either, but no wonder. We had won the World Series but it was like we lost the right to move freely. You really didn’t need to use your feet once you were in the middle of it. It picked you up and whisked you along at its own whim, though not without some elbows and angry words. For a moment there, I wondered if I’d get back to work that afternoon or home that night.
But it was worth it. I can say I was there. I remember a guy climbing up a light pole near the Modell’s on lower Broadway and breaking some glass that protected the old New York Sun clock. There was something on the news about it. Hey, I thought, I can say I was there that when it happened. (I could be confusing the juxtaposition of the store and the clock, but that’s what I see when I look back two decades.) I also remember a blizzard of counterfeit championship t-shirts and stuff for sale. You could buy a team picture of the 1986 World Champion Mets about every few feet once you emerged from the mob. I didn’t because it was quite evident that on the flip side was a picture of the (and it said this) 1986 World Champion Red Sox. Made me wonder how the bootleggers planned to unload their inventory if the unthinkable had occurred. That’s a mighty long schlep to Boston. Unless the supplier was based in the middle of Connecticut and sent out his vendors before Jesse’s glove touched down.
Bill Bell of the Daily News captured the sweep of the scene in tingly tabloid prose:
The crowd was put officially at 2.2 million, making it, according to [Mayor] Koch, the largest celebration in New York history. It was easy to believe — at some places along the Broadway parade route, people stood 20 deep. Uncounted thousands of kids cut classes, suburban matrons interrupted shopping trips to share the moment, Wall Street types forsook the pursuit of bucks and Met maniacs climbed trees, hung out skyscraper windows and teetered precariously from utility poles.
I didn’t see Ron Darling or Darryl Strawberry or any of those who made this event necessary. Craned my neck a lot to make the dream work, but as far as I know, no dice. It’s twenty years later and I could lie about it, but I won’t. I just went back to View, did my thing and left. On the elevator on the way out, some dude spied my Mets jacket and asked me if I had just run out and bought it.
“I got this jacket when the Mets were in fifth place,” I asserted. I couldn’t lie about that either. He was satisfied and so was I. Hell, I was ecstatic. So what if I hadn’t seen anything in person? I just watched the Mets win the World Series on television.
When I got home, I got something more to watch. My mother, in full Mets fan mode then (whose mother wasn’t?), had taped Channel 4′s parade coverage. Didn’t appreciate what a great idea and gesture that was for a couple of nights. Once I got some sleep (I was up all night after we won not just from excitement but because I had to compile all those dopey ratings for inputting), I sat up and watched the parade I hadn’t really seen.
That was late October 1986. Somewhere along the way, the tape was tossed into a bag or box of other tapes. And it wasn’t fished out again, as luck would have it, until November 2000. November 2000 followed October 2000. Do I have to explain why in the wake of the events of late October 2000 I wanted to watch that parade all over again?
I watched it five-and-a-half years ago for the first time in what had been fourteen years. And I made some notes to which I’ll refer now.
The 1986 parade, by turn-of-the-century standards, was primitive. I never actually watched any of the forced marches put on by the city in 1996, 1998, 1999 or 2000, but the clips I couldn’t avoid featured floats and celebrities and Rockettes and all kinds of distractions. I understand why. Nobody could have possibly stood to have stared at the baseball personnel involved in those events and not gotten tremendously ill. You get a lot of people in a limited space and they’re all throwing up, you could have an epidemic on your hands and boy, wouldn’t have that ruined Batboy Giuliani’s good time? No, in 1986 a parade was a parade. Ours had Mets in convertibles waving at people…people like me who they couldn’t see because I was blocks away and barely able to breathe, but I’m sure they knew I was out there. Who needs Rockettes when you’ve got that?
Coverage was also rather primitive. WNBC could have used a crane shot. There was a lot of Al Roker pointing to cars going by. Still, you could make out the ticker tape/computer paper and let me tell ya, that stuff looked real good back then.
City government was quite a circus in those days. Gabe Pressman and Tony Guida, as City Hall reporters, were stationed by the site of the ultimate ceremony, and they had to vamp for the better part of an hour. No players came out. Every now and then, a pol would appear. The crowd, not a ticketed elite, but kids who slept out, began chanting BORR-ING! Eventually, our heroes materialized, introduced by Bob Murphy. Ooh, the excitement!
And then not. Mayor Koch, quite possibly the city’s least sports-literate mayor ever, took to the podium and began to give a speech, an actual speech when all anybody wanted was to adore the Mets. He was booed mercilessly. His response? He began to introduce the Board of Estimate.
The Board of Estimate? Sounds like an offshoot of Elias that was established to account for statistics not backed up by box scores, but no, they had nothing to do with baseball and the crowd wanted nothing to do with them. Who told Koch that 2.2 million of his constituents jammed into the Canyon of Heroes to get a glimpse of Andy Stein? Hizzoner dug the wax out of his tin ears and got the hell off stage to make way for the champions.
I mean “cham-peens”. Both Murph and Koch referred to them as such. The 1986 Mets had to be the last team to be cham-peens of anything. The previous cham-peens probably won their title in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
John Gibbons and Rick Anderson were among those presented with keys to the city (six inches long, made of lead alloy, replicas of the real 1812 McCoys that actually opened the doors to City Hall, reported Bell from the News). Neither player was on the World Series roster, which meant Frank Cashen screwed them out of the World Series rings that the parking lot guys got as a matter of course. So for Gibbons and Anderson, it wasn’t about the rings either.
As the Mets rose to speak, the sound zitzed out. Microphones that were in fine form for the introduction of comptroller Harrison Goldin didn’t work properly for first baseman Keith Hernandez. Once fixed, the most haunting words heard belonged to Mookie Wilson, who exclaimed to a complicitly believing audience, “1986: Year of the Mets! 1987: Year of the Mets! 1988: Year of the Mets!” He was then drowned out by cheers…and the uncertainty that the future holds, but we couldn’t have known that then.
The players, even the loquacious ones like Carter and Knight, kept their remarks brief — none of the bullshit crying jags shamelessly displayed in the faux parades of the late ’90s. Mex told the crowd they made the difference in Games 6 and 7: “Boston couldn’t handle the Mets fans.” He wore one of the t-shirts handed to the players in the clubhouse the night before; seems he couldn’t handle the celebration and wasn’t up to getting all spiffed up like milkshake drinker Carter. I’ve always wondered if the players keep those shirts and hats. Or if they get fresh ones for posterity. I’m guessing they’re pretty badly soaked with champagne. Then again, so was Keith. Speaking of which, no sign on TV of Doc, though Jane Hansen of Channel 4 alerted us we couldn’t see him right now because he just went to be with his wife.
I have the tape on a shelf now where I know I can lay my hands on it as needed. Maybe I’ll watch it again later this year if I don’t have a new parade tape (or DVD) to add to it. Next time I see it, I imagine I’ll feel the same way I did in November 2000. When Murph went into the Hall in 1994, he referred to the ’69 Mets as “my boys of summer”. That’s how I felt about ’86 watching this parade just weeks after the 2000 Mets had played semi-nobly in a World Series. All at once, Piazza and Alfonzo and everybody else I’d been living and dying with for two, three, four seasons didn’t exist…through absolutely no fault of their own. All at once, I was a year out of college again, counting on the team that had rescued us from baseball oblivion in the early 1980s to do just one more thing on our behalf — win everything in sight.
They did that, and for making good on the ultimate promise, I’ll never forget them. That much is pretty obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to restate it here every few Fridays. They gave us a season like no other, a postseason like no other and, once that was irrevocably secured, a parade like no other before or since. In my mind, its truth is marching on.