Except for one fairytale season in 1969, when they won the World Series, the New York Mets were largely synonymous with futility for the first quarter-century of their existence. The Mets languished in the shadows of their pinstriped neighbors in the Bronx—the New York Yankees—but consecutive second-place finishes going into the 1986 season raised hopes of a second World Series title for the franchise.
With a constellation of stars on the roster (Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter and phenoms Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry), the Mets won more games than any other team in National League history besides the 1906 Chicago Cubs and 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Unlike 1969, when no one thought the Mets could win, in 1986 the Mets were seen as a powerhouse, a 108-win team that topped their rivals in the NL East by 21.5 games,” says official Major League Baseball historian John Thorn.
With their prodigious drinking and penchant for fisticuffs both on and off the diamond, the ’86 Mets dominated not just the back pages of New York’s tabloids but the front pages as well. Pitcher Ron Darling described the team as “a traveling rock show” in his autobiography. As brash and resilient as their home city, the ’86 Mets embodied New York and delivered one of the more memorable seasons in baseball history.
Here are six of the wildest moments from their championship season:
1. July 19, 1986: Four Mets Spend a Night in a Bar and Behind Bars
After suffering a loss in Houston, four Mets players celebrated the birth of infielder Tim Teufel’s first child at Cooter’s Executive Games and Burgers. After spending the night drinking, the Mets wanted to keep the party going after the bar closed at 2 a.m.
When Teufel tried to depart with an open beer, however, a uniformed Houston policeman hired by the bar to provide security tried to grab it. An altercation ensued, and Darling rushed to his teammate’s defense by delivering a what he called a “world-class sucker punch” to the officer before the pitcher was flung through a plate-glass window.
Teufel and Darling were arrested for aggravated assault of a police officer, and pitchers Rick Aguilera and Bob Ojeda were handcuffed and charged with hindering an arrest. The four Mets spent 11 hours in a holding cell inside the Houston City Jail before being released. Arriving at the Astrodome for that evening’s game, the four players found that their fun-loving teammates had decorated their lockers with strips of black adhesive tape to make them look like jail cells. The charges against Aguilera and Ojeda were eventually dropped. Darling and Teufel paid a $200 fine and received one-year probation.
2. July 22, 1986: ‘Base Brawl’ in Cincinnati
The Mets threw punches on the diamond as well, and a late July game in Cincinnati turned into a slugfest in more ways than one. In the 10th inning, Reds outfielder Eric Davis, who was pinch-running for player-manager Pete Rose, stole third base and accidentally bumped Mets third baseman Ray Knight when standing up.
The pair exchanged words, then shoves. An enraged Knight then connected on a right hook that emptied the benches. As Mets outfielder Kevin Mitchell tossed opposing players to the ground like rag dolls, Reds pitcher and karate black belt John Denny subdued Carter with a death grip to his shoulder blade.
The brawl in Cincinnati was New York’s fourth in an eight-week span. “People hate winners. That’s what it comes down to,” said Knight, a former Golden Gloves boxer. Opponents also hated their arrogance.
“They were definitely not liked and did things not considered proper in baseball with the showboating and the curtain calls,” says author Jeff Pearlman, who chronicled the ’86 Mets in his book, The Bad Guys Won! “They enjoyed fighting, and Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight are probably two of the top 50 brawlers in baseball history, and they’re on the same team.”
3. August 29, 1986: The Mets Truly Become Rock Stars
Inspired by the “Super Bowl Shuffle” recorded by the reigning Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, nine Mets players cut a boastful rap of their own, “Get Metsmerized.” The song, which pledged a title for New York, was recorded after one game in the regular season. The Mets had 161 games remaining.
“Get Metsmerized” never threatened the charts, but a team-commissioned song composed by Leigh Palmer, who had written the Meow Mix jingle, went triple-platinum. The four-minute video for “Let’s Go Mets!”, which debuted on the Shea Stadium Diamondvision in a late-season game, featured cameos that ranged from Howard Stern to hirsute film critic Gene Shalit and received regular airplay on MTV.
4. September 17, 1986: Mets Fans Go Crazy
In sole possession of first place since April 23, the Mets squeezed all the drama out of the pennant race before clinching the National League East title at home with 17 games remaining in the season. While Mets fans prepared to celebrate their team’s first playoff berth in 13 years, general manager Frank Cashen worried about what they might do to Shea Stadium’s diamond.
A taped message from Cashen that played on the Diamondvision warned fans, “We must keep our playing field intact, so any celebrating of a division clinching cannot be done on the field. If you’re a real Met fan, you’ll certainly understand this.” However, even before second baseman Wally Backman’s throw settled in Hernandez’s glove for the final out, Mets fans had overwhelmed the 200 security guards ringing the field’s perimeter and stormed the infield.
The scoreboard flashed “PLEASE STAY OFF THE FIELD!” as fans ripped hats and gloves off their heroes. Mitchell and three police officers rescued Gooden from beneath a pile of humanity. Fans tore up the bases, home plate and vast swathes of the turf, which left Shea Stadium looking like a sandlot and Cashen seething. “My emotions have ranged from incensed to disgusted,” he said. “It was vandalism and destruction, pure and simple. It was a disgrace.”
“These fans don’t deserve this team,” muttered head groundskeeper Pete Flynn, whose crew spent 10 hours repairing the field for the following day’s game.
5. October 15, 1986: One Wild Pennant-Clinching Ride
Following two pulsating wins at home against the Houston Astros, the Mets took a 3-2 lead as the National League Championship Series returned to the Astrodome. Although ahead in the series, the Mets knew a Game 6 loss would mean Astros ace Mike Scott, who had already defeated them twice in the series, would pitch in the decisive Game 7.
Down 3-0, the Mets rallied to tie the score in the top of the ninth to send the game into extra innings. In the 14th, the Mets took a lead, only to watch Astros outfielder Billy Hatcher clang a home run off the left-field foul pole. After scoring three runs in the 16th inning, the Mets held on for a 7-6 victory in a 4-hour and 42-minute game.
With champagne, beer and hard liquor flowing freely, the charter flight back to New York turned into an airborne “Animal House.” Players and wives broke seats, became sick from overindulgence and ignited a food fight at 30,000 feet with slices of chocolate cake flying about the cabin. Gooden wrote in his autobiography that he saw a teammate doing lines of cocaine in the bathroom with a door open. It was the first—and last—time the Mets flew on United Airlines, which sent the team a $7,500 bill for the damages.
6. October 25, 1986: A World Series Comeback for the Ages
Live from New York, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was a Saturday night to remember. With the American League champion Boston Red Sox at bat in the top of the first, a soap opera actor in a white jumpsuit parachuted onto the field with a “Go Mets” banner dangling from his ripcord. Boston took a 3-2 lead before the Mets tied the score in the eighth inning off Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi, who had been traded by New York before the season.
After the Red Sox took a two-run lead in the top of the 10th inning, Schiraldi retired the first two Mets hitters, leaving Boston one out from its first championship since 1918. After making the second out, Hernandez retreated to the clubhouse and watched the game on television with a Winston Light cigarette in one hand and a Budweiser in another. Prospects were so bleak that “CONGRATUALATIONS RED SOX!” briefly flashed for a few seconds on the scoreboard, while the announcement that Red Sox hurler Bruce Hurst was named World Series MVP echoed through the press box.
As the championship trophy and champagne cases were wheeled into the Red Sox’s locker room, Carter singled off Schiraldi. Mitchell, who was on the phone in the clubhouse with his travel agent making plans to fly home when he was summoned to pinch hit, followed with another single, as did Knight. Called from the bullpen, Boston pitcher Bob Stanley then uncorked a wild pitch that tied the score. Three pitches later, a little dribbler off the bat of Mookie Wilson rolled between the legs of hobbled first baseman Bill Buckner as Knight scored the winning run.
“When you cover sports, you see how clubhouses divide into smaller groups, but that clubhouse was so cohesive, they really did feel like a brotherhood,” Pearlman says. “They didn’t want to be the one to make the last out.”
New York’s confidence was sky high going into Game 7. “On a scale of 1 to 10, they were probably about a 12,” Pearlman says. After falling behind 3-0 in the second inning, the Mets again scrapped back to take the lead and captured the World Series with an 8-5 victory.
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