The 1986 New York Mets will live in infamy, in a roller coaster season that saw them win 108 MLB games, a magical team that was known for come from behind victories, on field brawls, a never say die attitude, and a World Series victory that catapulted them to rock star stardom in the city of New York. Off the field the team could not get away from its demons with star players doing cocaine, drinking, gambling, and according to one former player Kevin Mitchell even decapitating a cat!
On the back of the leadership of two incredible veteran players who could not be polar opposites, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez led a talented squad that had Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman, Ray Knight, Sid Fernandez, Howard Johnson, and Jesse Orosco to the Mets second ever World Series championship. And their last.
That 1986 season the Mets despite their off-field issues and on field brawling, the team is famous for destroying an airplane, won it all and Jeff Pearlman’s book “The Bad Guys Won!” is the definitive account of the 1986 New York Mets, who they were and what they became, New York’s biggest one hit wonder.
Jeff Pearlman’s “The Bad Guys Won!”
Behind the drug use, brawling, late club nights, and Lenny Dykstra getting out of speeding tickets, the 1986 Mets had a character that few sports teams in New York have had since. They were the bad guys, not for the wealth that at times the late 90’s Yankees would showcase, but because of their macho alpha intensity. Davey Johnson knew he had a group of players that had an array of discipline and personal problems, but when he got them clicking, the 86 Mets were near unbeatable. One of the highlights of Pearlman’s book and what the 30 for 30 documentary captured was the brotherhood the team had. Despite Strawberry’s attitude, Gooden’s cocaine use, Carter’s rated G presence in a triple x atmosphere, the Mets respected each other, in their own way, and fought for each other like a true team does to grind out wins and stay alive in difficult moments.
The book does a magnificent job of capturing the feeling around, maybe the most entertaining World Series game of all-time, Game 6 against the Boston Red Sox which the Mets came from behind to win on the now famous Bill Buckner ground ball through the legs. The image of Ray Knight scoring and celebrating with his teammates is the definitive image of the rowdy 1986 Mets.
At the time of the books release in 2004, The Bad Guys Won spent eight weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, The book captured the city’s fascination with a team of characters, who without question were the best players in their positions as the season went on. A New York team that the city has not seen or has been as crazy about since the New York Knicks of the 90’s. Despite the elegance and domination of the New York Yankees of the late 90’s early 2000’s, the 86 Mets were a product of what the 80’s were, live free and fall hard.
Could a team like the 86 Mets exist today?
The answer is no, social media and team marketing front office have made it virtually impossible to think that a group of players who would say whatever came to mind at a press conference can exist in sport today. Keith Hernandez is famous for saying after the Mets won the 86 championship that in game 6, he cracked open a beer during what he thought were the final outs of game 6, could you imagine Messi or LeBron saying something like that during a Champions League or NBA Finals?
Today with cancel culture the 86 Mets would be labeled as villains, drug addicts, womanizers, gamblers, they were all those things but in 86 it was done in the heat of the night. The 86 Mets were lighting in a bottle a team at its most obvious high but by 1989 had hit rock bottom. Pearlman’s book also highlights how the foundations we laid in 1986 for there to be no dynasty, the team, the way it was being run was simply out of control.
For many new generations of MLB fans, the 1986 Mets is something that they may never see, a very rough around the edges, out of control, lunatics running an asylum team that won it all despite all their flaws. A year’s brilliance which led to a lifetime of reflection for fans, players, and the game.