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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Straw's Big Mouth

One of the pleasures of the last few years has been Darryl Strawberry’s return to the Mets fold.

Straw left town under a pretty toxic cloud composed of his own problems, a nasty contract dispute, and our disappointment with the reality that he turned out to be Darryl Strawberry and not some amalgam of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron. That cloud was only thickened by Darryl’s unerring ability to say the wrong thing: Remember the idiotic book he “wrote” with Art Rust Jr. in which he claimed playing at Shea had been like playing in Dred Scott Stadium in downtown Johannesburg? When Darryl got asked about that line, he had to fess up that he had no idea who Dred Scott was, though he did get partial credit for knowing Johannesburg was somewhere in Africa. That was pretty funny, but it didn’t exactly help. Neither did Straw’s precipitous decline with the Dodgers. Weirdly, we didn’t feel like he got what he deserved; rather, any instinct for vengeance faded away and left us feeling mournful. It had all gone wrong somehow, and maybe if Darryl hadn’t done this dumb thing and the Mets hadn’t dug in their heels and X and Y and Z hadn’t happened he never would have left, and the Mets wouldn’t have disintegrated and Darryl wouldn’t have descended … but we had and he had, and there we were.

And then he became a Yankee.

And then more happened. He had frightening bouts with cancer. He had problems with cocaine, and prostitutes, and cops with guns. Some of it was cruel fate that was out of his control, some of it was Darryl’s poor choices, a lot of it was so intertwined that it was impossible to say what had led to what. Eventually we kind of lost track of it all. Darryl was out there somewhere, a fallen Met like Doc, a man for whom you hoped the best while bracing for the worst.

Happily, the best seems to have won the day. Darryl appears (and one always says this rapping fingers on whatever wood is at hand) to have put his problems behind him. He appears (knock wood even more fervently) to have escaped cancer’s dreadful clutches. And the Mets have reclaimed him and he’s reclaimed us. He shows up at spring training in garish Port St. Lucie Mets garb and you’re struck by how good he looks for a guy nearing 50 — he’s  a little thicker, but aren’t we all? He appears at Citi Field or some other Mets event and is adored and returns that adoration. He’s ours again, and though L.A. and the hurtful words and all the rest are still there, we have to reach for the resentment instead of having it instantly at hand. Increasingly, we honestly don’t remember.

Straw turns up a lot talking about ’86, which is always entertaining. For one thing, he’s candid where most athletes have trained themselves to be deliberately dull — thanks to my day job, I’ve watched working versions of the first two episodes of MSG’s forthcoming “Summer of ’86,” and Straw pulls no punches in discussing the ’86 Mets and their dust-ups on and off the field. What really gets me, though, is what a good time he has telling those tales. Faith and rehab and a good marriage seem to have taken Darryl Strawberry to a better place, where he can keep his many demons at bay, but he sure remembers cavorting with them, and the old raconteur isn’t exactly submerged. Darryl talks in terms of mistakes and cautionary tales, but you can see the twinkle in his eye as he takes you through the preamble. Man, everybody should really disapprove of this stuff. Hey, lemme tell you all about this one thing you should REALLY disapprove of. We were in Pittsburgh, and it was CRAZY….

All to the good. Darryl on the 2011 Mets, though, is something else.

For instance, Darryl thinks Wally Backman should have been Jerry Manuel’s replacement, not Terry Collins. That’s not a crazy position — Wally had a lot of success with the Cyclones, after all. But what’s Darryl’s reasoning: “Because he played on the ’86 Mets. Were you around when ’86 happened? He was one of our fiery players, a gutty type of guy who did everything. He would scrap, get on base and played the game the right way. When you see guys playing the game the right way, you know they understand the game.”

I’m no logician, but this strikes me as a little circular. Wally was an ’86 Met + the ’86 Mets won = Wally should be manager. Like an ex-beat cop or a war veteran, Darryl’s world is shrinking to a band of brothers, their increasingly mythic deeds, and inherent qualities that are best detectable in hindsight. (Remember we’re talking storytelling here: If Bob Stanley’s pitch doesn’t go to the backstop and Mookie grounds out, the ’86 Mets are a bunch of thugs who boozed a title out of their grasp.) The Mets gave Collins a contract that doesn’t block any manager’s path and did a fine job keeping Backman in the fold and steering him to Binghamton. As a Mets fan who will always regard Wally Backman as at least a minor demigod, I’m very happy about this. But now that it’s done, Darryl barging through the china shop breaking stuff isn’t helpful.

On the other hand, at least he’s around to break stuff. Writing this, I find I’ve changed my mind somewhat. Yes, Darryl Strawberry is being a distraction. But hey, he’s still around, wearing an orange and blue cap, and periodically saying things that make you sigh or roll your eyes or want to shake him. That’s familiar. It’s aggravating and amusing and, in the end, gratifying.

21 comments to Straw’s Big Mouth

  • He’s the Mets’ Keith Richards….always welcome, always open, always a survivor, always a Met – like Keef’s always a Stone.

  • It’s a fine line of course, between distraction and entertaining. It’s fine on SNY. Say whatever he wants. Other people certainly aren’t being kind to the Mets. Jon Heyman was probably even clearer in his opinion that Backman should’ve been manager over Collins. But maybe stay out of the clubhouse if the players don’t want you there. (Frenchy’s a whiny baby anyway, but still) You’re an analyst. Not a coach or a former player returning for a visit.

  • Andre

    Wait Teufel was an 86 Met too and he manages Triple A should he manage the Mets too?

    • It’s funny how that’s so glossed over. He manages HIGHER than Backman and has been here longer.

    • Wonder how Teufel feels about Strawberry’s comments though? Is he like the Jay Cutler of the ’86 Mets?

      • Will in Central NJ

        Back in the day, per Jeff Pearlman’s “The Bad Guys Won”, Darryl wasn’t often kind to Tim Teufel. In fact, a downright bully to the 2nd baseman. But that was 1986, and maybe they’ve patched things up since then…

  • Dave

    And as I recall, back in 86, Darryl and Wally weren’t exactly the best of friends…Wally criticized Darryl for always being “sick” and Darryl responded by calling him a “little redneck,” which Wally took as a compliment…if Darryl wants to get all “I love you, bro” now, let him, it’s part of his maturing with age. I’m sure Collins is enough of an adult to understand that no manager is hired with 100% approval from everyone.

    I’m with you, Darryl (and Doc) are part of the family no matter what baggage they bring, they belong here and it’s good to have them back.

  • boldib

    Darryl didn’t [barge] and it’s not a “china shop”. It’s baseball.

    He expressed an innocuous opinion at a baseball dinner when he was, undoubtedly, asked.

  • How many extra tickets do you think the Mets could sell if they promised Straw would be taking BP for one day only? He’d get 20 cuts, all aiming for the Pepsi Porch and Shea Bridge.

    If Adam Sandler and Kevin James can take BP, so can Straw.

  • Dak442

    Because I’m a human being I am happy that Straw has found some peace, and that he appears to have beat back the cancer. As for the adulation and adoration… none from me. The guy threw away god-given ability lesser players (not to mention regular dopes like us) would have killed for, and he ditched us for LA.

    I was hoping Wally would get the job, but really – being an ’86 Met should DISQUALIFY you from positions of authority! You ever read how these knuckleheads behaved? You have to wonder how many more titles we might have won had there been a couple of grownups involved.

    • There’s probably a human resources lawsuit embedded in disqualifying a potential manager on those grounds. Literalism aside, I don’t think of Tim Teufel as a 1986 Met in the Backman-Straw sense (Cooters arrest notwithstanding). I think of him as a Met who played on the 1986 team; Mookie and HoJo would be in that personality subset, which doesn’t lessen their contribution the championship in question one little bit. 1986 Met has become something of a latter-day brand name for hell-raising ass-kicker (or ass-kicking hell-raiser), with often (if not always) the last ass getting kicked their own in terms of real life. That’s Straw, that’s Wally, that’s Dykstra, that’s Knight and Keith and Doc and Ojeda and Darling and Mitchell and…

      Gary Carter didn’t raise hell but he’s 86′d in for general boisterousness, no matter how Lord-loving and Ivory Soap-clean it may have been.

      • Yep, Gary could drink an entire case of Faygo and blow through the whole New Testament in one night and still come in and catch nine innings and deliver a key RBI. The opposite of the Scum Bunch, but equally high-octane.

  • WalterA98

    Straw spoke on behalf of most Mets fans. As long as he is back in the Mets Family he can say all he wants. What does Terry Collins have that Wally doesn’t? Tim Teufel getting the Buffalo job was a matter of organizational loyalty. If the Mets consider Teufel to be higher in the managerial depth charts than Wally then why wasn’t Teufel a finalist for the Mets job? We, the fans, do not have a voice. Our concerns are constantly ignored by Mets management. Thanks Darryl for saying what I feel. Wally Backman should be our manager.

  • Joe D.

    Jason,

    I don’t think Darryl simply meant that Backman being an ’86 Met he should have been hired as manager. He said one playing the game right shows he understands the game. That is a valid point and a prerequisite for any managerial consideration.

    Of course, there is one qualification which Darryl didn’t consider and maybe didn’t because he is too close to the situation as are many of his 1986 teammates, that being how one handles his own self, let alone the players to be under him. Babe Ruth wasn’t offered the Yankee job because of his irresponsible behavior. The same might hold true for Wally as well as some of his other 86 alumni when it comes to future managerial openings.

  • Drew Toucher

    Personally, I had been pulling for Backman… mainly because I was familiar with him and because he was a fiery competitor. But having familiarized myself with Terry Collins, I don’t think he was a bad choice at all. Terry’s a hard-nosed, play the game the right way, run out every friggin ground ball type of coach. And that’s what we need. We don’t need any more Willie Randolph/Jerry Manuel calmness. We need somebody to kick the buffet table over after a crappy game. We need somebody to pull FMart out of the game when he stands at home plate after a pop out in his 2nd big league at bat and say, “Now listen here son…” We need a little discipline in the clubhouse, not another “players manager”. And I think that’s what Terry Collins brings to the table. He may be a little rough around the edges. He may be a little “my way or the highway” or at least “play the game the right way or don’t bother showing up.” But I’m all for it. I think it works. Players need to know who’s in charge in the clubhouse. See Tom Coughlin.

    • Will in Central NJ

      Drew, I agree with you. Collins was an outside-the-box selection, and for the relatively short contract duration, the Mets won’t be chained to him if results are not optimum. New blood may well be just what the Amazins’ need. After the collapses of 2007 and 2008, and lack of bottom line progress in 2009-10, there must be change. We may have it in Terry Collins.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Wasn’t it Wally Backman that Darryl called a “Little Redneck” at some team altercation years ago?

    I guess Darryl has mellowed on that too. Come to think of it, that’s one of the few things Darryl said back then that I agreed with.

  • Chaka

    I’m a bit surprised at the amount of support Wally Backman got when he was in the running for Mets manager. Has anyone ever seen footage from his reality TV show when he managed independent ball? Yikes! One episode he encouraged his players to stop talking to the media because, in his view, the local paper falsified a story. That would NEVER fly in New York. And some of his childish tantrums and over the top arguments with umps…oy vey! His troubled past kept him from managing the Diamondbacks and the Mets really don’t need more off-field issues (K-Rod, Madoff, etc.). That said, he might be that big personality and motivator the Mets will need someday. I’d be interested to see what kind of manager he’ll be after a couple more years in the minors. I don’t know…Valentine was a bit of a psycho, but he was one of the best managers the team ever had.