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…sort of.
So I’m sitting here sorting through more 1986 memories. Just like that, it’s 27 Fridays down and only 16 Flashbacks to go. So much Baseball Like It Oughta Be, so little time. I’m wondering what aspect of that championship season to highlight next when I hear rumbling in the hallway here at FAFIF Yards. Since we don’t usually receive visitors during working hours, I open the door to my office and find some unexpected guests.
“Uh, can I help you?”
It’s a gaggle of voices. I can’t make out precisely what any of them are saying.
“EXCUSE ME! CAN I HELP YOU?”
“You guys seemed to be causing a ruckus out there and if you don’t mind, I’m trying to do Flashback Friday.”
With that, there’s a collective “all right!” from what is, to tell you the truth, kind of a motley crew.
“Didja hear that, fellas?” one of them says. “We’re right on time!”
“Yeah!” another answers. They’re all exchanging high-fives.
“Um, I don’t know what you’re excited about, but I’m trying to blog.”
“We know,” says a voice from the back. “That’s why we’re here.”
“You’re here to watch me blog? Can’t you just read it at your desks like everybody else?”
“No man,” says another. “We’re here to be in the blog! It’s Friday!”
“I don’t understand.”
“Flashback Friday! It’s our turn!”
With that, the whole bunch of them burst through the door. I count ’em up…one, two…six. Six altogether. They range in age from I’d say 5 to 35. They’re all wearing Mets caps.
It’s dawning on me what’s going on. And I don’t like it.
All at once, they give me a big “WE’RE HERE!” Just as quickly, it devolves into a discordant chorus of “Do me! No, do me! Me next! Me first!”
I’ve got to take charge and fast. I’m not good at that, but it’s what must be done.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP ALL OF YOU!”
That does the trick. They’re quiet.
“That’s better. Thank you. Now if one you would represent the group and tell me exactly what you want…”
They all start babbling again. This is not a good group.
“Tell ya what,” I say. “Let me hear from the oldest.” With that, the 35-year-old steps forward.
“You remember me, don’t you?”
“What do you mean kind of? You lived with me for an entire year!”
“Yeah,” the second-oldest chimes in. “You lived with all of us for a year.”
The third-oldest then feels compelled to remind me, “And in a very real way, you’ve continued to live with us.”
“So why,” asks the fourth-oldest/third-youngest, “don’t you tell everybody about us?”
“Or me at least?” asks the second-youngest.
“Or me?” queries the youthiest.
In unison again: “WHY NOT?”
What an annoying bunch. I don’t want to deal with them but the time has come. “Can I have the oldest again and ONLY the oldest please?”
So the 35-year-old steps forward and lays it out for me.
“Greg, we’re big fans. We really are. We’ve been reading you since you started doing this.”
“Well, actually we weren’t reading from the very beginning. First we clicked on a link from Metsblog — that’s a great site, by the way; nice, short items — and then we had some other stuff to do, so we didn’t really read every day, but eventually we bookmarked you.”
“That’s nice of you.”
“We really like that stuff you did about taking your kid to the game on the Fourth of July.”
“Uh, that was Jason.”
“And the ‘Our Team, Our Time’ riff. That was classic.”
“That was also Jason. But I’ll pass it along.”
“Plus all that information on the walkoff wins and living in Michigan and that bit where you pretend you’re Rasputin. How do you put those together?”
“Those are like three other blogs. And it’s Nostradamus, not Rasputin.”
“To be honest, we don’t have a lot of time to read blogs, especially the long ones. You know, we’re busy all day.”
“But we really got into Faith and Fear last summer when you started doing Flashback Friday. You know the way you did it then? That was really good.”
The 35-year-old (who is terrible at sucking up to me, incidentally) is referring to the beginning of this series predicated on the very real notion that my life as a Mets fan had been shaped and reshaped every half-decade on the half-decade, starting from the time I was 7, in 1970, and running through 2005, when I was 42. There was a reason I chose those years, because they were truly key years in my baseball development.
“I’m glad you liked them.”
“Naturally, we were looking forward to more Flashback Fridays in 2006.”
“Well, like I said, I’m working on one now, just like I’ve been doing all year.”
“Yes. That story about being in prep school was very touching.”
“Actually, that was Jason.”
“So anyway, we notice you haven’t really been keeping up.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve done a Flashback Friday every Friday.”
“Uh, yeah. Those have been kind of disappointing. Not the drinking in prep school — that was good — but all the rest.”
“What’s wrong with them?”
“They’re kind of boring.”
“What do you mean they’re boring?”
“Well, they’re all about the same thing.”
“I know. It’s the twentieth anniversary of 1986, the year the Mets won…”
“Yeah, yeah, they won the World Series. They were really ‘great’ — we get it.”
“There’s more to it than that. It was such a multifaceted year, all the personalities, all the drama, the added luck that this year they have a chance to celebrate the anniversary with maybe another championship…
“What about us?”
“What about you?”
“When are you going to do us?”
“What makes you think I’m going to do you?”
“Fun is fun, but it’s the second half of the year and surely you’ve told us all you’re going to tell us about that stupid ground ball going through that first baseman’s legs.”
“I haven’t even gotten to that yet.”
“Oh come on! You’ve mentioned it probably a dozen times. But you haven’t done a damn thing about me, 1971!”
“Or me, 1976!”
“Or me, 1981!”
“Or me, 1991!”
“Or me, 1996!”
“Or me, 2001!”
Six years are now crying at me.
“WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET OURS?”
Exasperated, I turn away from them. Then I turn back. They’re still here. I have to confront them. It’s not going to be pretty.
“So,” asks 1971, “when are you going to make with the ‘The Year was 1971, I was 8 years old’ jazz? I waited all winter and spring for that.”
“Yeah,” 1976 butts in. “‘I was 13 and baseball was a big deal because I was so unpopular.'”
1981: “‘I was 18 and I didn’t have any dates.'”
1991: “‘I was 28 and I had a stupid job.'”
1996: “‘I was 33 and I was lame.'”
2001: “What they said.”
“You realize,” I tell them. “That none of you is making a very effective case for yourself.”
There’s a collective gasp, followed by a “whaddaya mean?” They’re not terribly bright, these years.
“It’s obvious you years did not take last year’s Flashback Fridays to heart. Those years were special.”
“And what about us?”
“Go ahead, we can take it.”
“All right, you asked for it. You all pretty much sucked.”
“WE DID NOT!”
“You did too!”
“WHAT DO YOU KNOW?”
“WHAT DO I KNOW? I LIVED WITH EVERY GODDAMN ONE OF YOU FOR A YEAR! I KNOW THAT YOU SUCKED! AND WHAT’S MORE THE METS SUCKED DURING YOU!”
Now there’s a lot of whimpering and self-doubt. I didn’t mean to cause it but they brought it on themselves. The years that ended in 0 and 5 deserved to be flashed back to. The years that ended in 1 and 6, except for 1986, earned no such special treatment.
1971, the group’s de facto spokesyear, is vehemently disagreeing with me. “How can you say that we were bad years? Didn’t you like second grade?”
“Look,” I demand. “Let’s separate the personal from the baseball for a moment. Let’s just look at you as a Mets year.”
“I’m willing to do that.”
“All right, 1971. You were 83-79.”
“So? 1970 was 83-79 and you glorified that bitch like it was a pennant winner.”
“At least 1970 was a pennant contender. You fell apart in the middle of summer.”
“Oh yeah? Well, your big hero Tom Seaver had a 1.76 ERA in 1971. He went 20-10. Whaddaya think of that?”
“I’ll tell you what I think. I think with an ERA like that, he should have won 25 games and if he had, he would’ve won the Cy Young, not Ferguson Jenkins on the bleeping Cubs. If you had scored for him, he’d have had another award. But you couldn’t score for anybody.”
“When did you get so results-oriented?”
“Truth be told, 1971, I can barely remember you. You took place one year more recently than 1970, yet 1970 is a touchstone. You’re just a lousy offense tied for third with the Cardinals. I’m not doing a Flashback Friday on you.”
1971 is feeling very rejected. But 1976 is getting feisty.
“What about me? I won 86 games — second-most in team history to that point!”
“And you’re proud of that?”
“Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Listen ’76, I do remember you. I remember your record, but I also remember how it came about.”
“That’s right uh-oh. Uh-oh as in Mickey Lolich instead of Rusty Staub. Uh-oh as in Roy Staiger the big disappointment. Uh-oh as in Pepe Mangual and Jim Dwyer. Uh-oh as in Joe Frazier. And uh-oh as in you could only score enough runs to win Tom Seaver 14 games.”
“I still won 86 games.”
“Yes, but like 50 of them were after you were almost 20 out. The year was hopeless and then you put on this big pointless finishing rush.”
“You liked it while it was going on.”
“I like it less now that I know it preceded 1977.”
“How is that my fault?”
1976 is shamed, knowing it set the stage for the downfall of the Mets for the next several years, one of which comes forward next.
“Two for the price of one here!”
“Hi there 1981.”
“You sound downcast, Greg.”
“Well you weren’t a very encouraging year.”
“You mean years! We split in two.”
“Uh-huh. Just like paramecia.”
“That’s the spirit!”
“No, it’s not. However many of you there were, you were terrible.”
“How can you say that? You were a big fan in 1981!”
“The strike made me desperate for baseball, any baseball. You were a monumental letdown in the first half. You were an unconscionable tease in the second half. You didn’t get anywhere near the playoffs and you got Joe Torre fired.”
“Torre? He’s a bum! He’ll never amount to anything.”
1981 finds a chair. 1991 steps forward. Oh, this is gonna be good.
“I had spunk!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Buddy Harrelson was my manager. Everybody loved Buddy!”
“Everybody loved Buddy as a player. Everybody cringed in embarrassment when Buddy would argue with David Cone in the dugout or leave Rich Sauveur in too long.”
“We had a big run in July. You liked that!”
“I would have liked it a lot more if you hadn’t collapsed in August.”
“Aw, it wasn’t that bad.”
“It wasn’t? Just in case you ever came back, I saved my 1992 Elias Baseball Analyst. Wanna know what it says about you?”
“That I had spunk?”
“It doesn’t mention spunk. But it says you had a 52-38 record after 90 games.”
“And that you won just four games in the next four weeks.”
“It was just four weeks.”
“‘No team in this century wound up with that good a record through its first 90 games had ever finished so badly.'”
“Was it really that bad?”
“1991, you went 77-84.”
“That’s pretty good compared to some of the other records we’ve had around here. 1993 was 59-103. I’m a pennant winner by comparison!”
“You’re missing the point, which is what you did a lot back then. We had come off seven straight big-time contending seasons and in July and August of ’91, it all ended. You were the beginning of the end and the end all at once.”
“How could you say such things about Buddy Harrelson’s team?”
“It wasn’t even Buddy Harrelson’s team by late September. You got him replaced. By Mike Cubbage.”
“Uh, I don’t remember that. Was he spunky?”
“1991, I swear if you don’t get out of here…”
1991 never could handle the pressure, but always did know when to quit. Not that there’s much to look forward to after ’91.
“Things are looking up for us, wouldn’t you say?”
“No they’re not.”
“You kidding? Did you see that great finish in ’95? And all this young pitching we have?”
“Don’t ride another year’s coattails, ’96. After Opening Day, you didn’t build on 1995 at all. And all that young pitching — Isringhausen, Pulsipher, Paul Wilson — crumbled and never recovered. Neither did the team.”
“Funny, I remember it being much better.”
“Yes. Didn’t Doc pitch a no-hitter that year?”
“For the Yankees.”
“And didn’t Darryl make a big comeback?”
“With the Yankees.”
“And Cone helped win a World Series.”
“On the Yankees.”
“Was I in the playoffs at least?”
“No, you finished a distant fourth. And you also got a manager fired.”
“But you didn’t even like Dallas Green.”
“I’ll give you that, but that’s all. Take a hike.”
1996 takes a hike. That leaves one more year to have its say. And I know exactly what it’s going to say.
“Whew! Thought I’d never get to the front of the line. It’s almost like a…”
“A Space Odyssey?”
“How did you know I was going to say that?”
“You used that bit in 2001, 2001. You used it a lot.”
“We had some good times, didn’t we, Greg?”
“Oh, you’re having a selective memory. What about the partial season tickets?”
“I won’t deny I derived some satisfaction on some of those Tuesday and Friday nights.”
“Damn right! We won most of those games!”
“Not much went well the rest of the week. And you can’t meander like you did for almost five months and then try to make it up all at once. It doesn’t work”
“It almost worked.”
“Almost is the key word.”
“What about that post-9/11 game with Piazza hitting that home run? You were there! You loved that!”
“Yeah, I saw it again the other night on SNY. It was beautiful in its own painful way.”
“Toldja I was a good season.”
“2001, two days later, you blew what could have been the greatest comeback story in baseball history. And then a week later you blew it again!”
“You’re blaming me for Armando and Franco and Brian Jordan?”
“It was your year, pal.”
“Quite a Space Odyssey, wasn’t it?”
“Stop it. Just stop it.”
2001 stops. So do the other uninvited ones and sixes. They’re all pretty shattered. I face the difficult task of easing them out without destroying them any more than they were each destroyed, respectively, 35, 30, 25, 15, 10 and 5 years ago.
“Look, I lived with each one of you and yes, a little of each of you is still with me, but face facts. You were lousy years to be a Mets fan. For every bit of joy and growth I derived from you, you gave me heartache and pain in amounts ten times worse. Bad players, bad managers, bad breaks…the less I do to remember you, the happier I’ll be.”
There it is. The riot act. It needed to be read and I read it.
“We’re sorry,” they say.
“You sure were.”
Just then there’s a hearty knock outside. With it, 1971, 1976, 1981, 1991, 1996 and 2001 scatter. I open the door. It’s my big, strapping, reassuring friend of twenty years.
“Hey ’86. Good to see you again.”
“Why wouldn’t you see me? You know you can count on me every week.”
“That I know.”
“So, whatcha got for me today? Eric Davis fight? Let’s Go Mets video? The clinching? Astros? Buckner? Can’t wait to do Buckner. What’s it gonna be?”
“Why don’tcha take this Friday off?”
“Really? Everything OK?”
“Yeah, just got caught up in some nonsense.”
“I’m sure. But come back next week.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be here every Friday through October. I know our motto: Twenty years, 43 Fridays…”
“Except this wasn’t exactly one of them.”