Saturday, August 19, 2006

You Didn't Have To Be There

It started out like another Met attempt at honoring their past gone horribly awry.

I could understand Buddy Harrelson wearing number 3 when his placard and the scoreboard clearly reflected the "23" he wore during the year that was being honored tonight. After all, Harrelson did have some experience with the single digit.

But Kevin Elster modeling the post 1986 number 21?

And Randy Niemann wearing 48? Did Niemann ever wear 48 as a player with the Mets? I mean, how awkward was it when Howie Rose so obviously had to shift course on a dime like Barry Sanders in his own backfield when he announced "He wore number 40...he's, uh, wearing number 48 now, Randy Niemann!" (And speaking of awkward, how awkward was the post ceremony video where you saw all of the great moments and great footage of that '86 crew that was the soundtrack and sighttrack of twenty years ago...and then stuck in the middle was two seconds of Niemann on the mound pounding his glove because he did nothing else on camera that year except pour more champagne in Houston than everyone else?)

Was Ron Darling going to come out wearing 15?

But if everything went right in the 1986 World Series, maybe they wouldn't be special enough to warrant a celebration quite this special, right? So you can say that those missteps with the uniforms were merely a reminder that sometimes, the other team comes into Shea and wins the first two games of the Series.

Because like the rest of the '86 Series, the rest of tonight's ceremony was really something to behold. Mets emerging from the stands, walking through the crowd like the "men of the people" they were. Tim Teufel eschewing the umbrella like real men should. Mookie and Lenny...competitors for one job turned outfield mates co-existing (and sometimes co-lliding)...sharing the hug heard 'round the world tonight. Keith Hernandez passing the emcee duties to Mookie, one of the few '86ers (with Jesse Orosco) who went through the dark years of the early 80's (in a moment which prompted my friend the jinx to call me and ask "is Keith drunk?")

Wally Backman, right after the World Series, said that he couldn't wait until this team got its twenty year reunion party. Amazing how it seemed so far away at the time, but here we are and that day has come and gone. I guess the one thing that got me was the love shown towards this group of players by a fan base booming more and more each day by people who weren't old enough to remember how the Mets dominated back then. They didn't experience it quite like I did, but loved the same guys that I loved with seemingly as much fervor and delight.

The crowd there tonight must have been filled with younger generationers who cheered more for the "idea" of '86 than the actual players. You know how I know that?

Even Doug Sisk was cheered.

It may have been the twenty year anniversary we were celebrating, but it was probably the first time in at least twenty-two years that Sisk heard a nice ovation. But I guess when you're part of a team that has been immortalized, you're overdue for some love.

Not having been alive for 1969, I know how these younger folks feel. I was certainly in awe of guys like Tug McGraw, who's general quirkiness and coined phrases combined with his fiery mound demeanor and emotions worn on his sleeve held him a special place in my heart. And Tom Seaver, who fortunately I didn't have to wait until a reunion special to cheer having been at Seaver's return in the 1983 opener. And Ed Kranepool, who's longevity made him as close to a living legend as I knew at the age of nine. And Tommie Agee, whose catches in the World Series were imitated by myself plenty of times with no regard for my physical well being.

I never saw them in their prime and was always a touch saddened by that, and I'm sure you younger folk can relate if you never saw Keith and Gary and Darryl et al in their prime. The Mets having been an important fabric in my life for so long made the fact that there were Mets before my existence tough to deal with...especially the fact that there were winning Mets before me. The fact that the Mets won an incredible, inconceivable World Series before my time while having to endure the Richie Hebners, the Willie Montanezes and the Bruce Boisclairs of the world hit me with the stark reality that the Mets might not win again until the year after my death. Instead, the closest I would get would be the elder generation sitting me down on their knee and gently whispering: "son, you missed a hell of a team, those guys in '69. You had to be there."

Luckily, Frank Cashen traded for Keith Hernandez and before you knew it, Jesse Orosco was throwing his glove up in the air.

For those of you that were there tonight to celebrate that moment...specifically to you fans who were loud and proud tonight even though 1986 was before your consciousness: when you cheered for them, I felt it. When you chanted, I heard it. The louder you got, the better it felt. You cheered for my time. You cheered for my youth. And I probably felt it almost as much as the players did. You made me proud.

And by the way, you missed a hell of a team, those guys from '86. But judging by your volume and your emotion, you probably understood that.

I guess you didn't have to be there after all.

***

As for the game tonight, the one thing that I fear the younger fans and myself will generally disagree on are those throwbacks. I love what Gary Cohen calls the "racing stripes".

When the Mets added the piping to their entire wardrobe in 1983, there was a newspaper columnist who wrote that the piping was similar to that of the Montreal Expos and that hopefully, the Mets can match the success of those early 80's 'Spos. Well not only did the Mets do that, they exceeded it.

When the Mets ditched the piping in 1993, it was also done after the Expos had done the same thing the year before. Well not only did the Mets match the Expos relative mediocrity, nobody surpassed the awfulness of a franchise that never made the postseason (outside of a split season) as the Mets did in that horrible season of '93.

Which is why I will always love the piping.

And if you watched the game, and if you used that piping to see Matt Holliday drop a very catchable fly ball in left field, and instead saw Dave Parker drop the final out of what became a classic Mets/Reds brawl back in '86, you could be forgiven.

If you saw Yorvit Torrealba's passed ball and thought of Rich Gedman...if you saw Kevin Mitchell score instead of Carlos Beltran, you could be forgiven.

If you saw Keith Hernandez diving to catch an infield flare in the sixth, singling to the opposite field in the bottom of the frame, and scooping up a double play relay in the seventh inning instead of seeing Carlos Delgado doing the same, you could be forgiven.

If you heard Lenny Dykstra in the booth tonight railing about how David Eckstein was a pretty good player, but "he didn't...I hit home runs when they mattered and that's what counts. These guys today that hit 30 HR's and punch out 160 times...it's a joke", and you were glad that the final out came when it did for Lenny's sake, then you realize that there are old guys out there a lot more bitter than myself.

And if you see that someday, twenty years from now, someone will ask Tom Glavine what made the '06 team so special and he will reply that "Lastings Milledge was our fifth outfielder", just as Ron Darling would reply that "Kevin Mitchell was our utility player" about '86...

Then you should agree that we should bring the piping back a little more often. Remember to line it up right.

20 comments:

them mets said...

Thanks for a great piece. I really loved reading this!

I don't know if I count as a younger generationer (I remember '86, but not clearly, since I was only 6 years old), but I definitely agree with you about the racing stripes (although they really do require the stirrups). I'll always remember the Mets in pinstripes. They look so crisp; the current pinstripe uniforms look like pajamas in comparison.

Keith Mace said...

Great Post, I was born in 86 on the exact day the mets won the pennant and was named Keith after Mr. Hernandez himself. Unfortanetly my first real mets memories are of the horrible 90's. This season is the most exciting I've experienced and watching this celebration really only helped build up the excitement watching these guys get a heros welcome decades later. I can only hope to be reminiscing 20 years from now how you were today.

And for anyone who wasnt around or old enough to remeber the 86 team, I would definetly reccomend reading "The Bad Guys Won" as it gives you a great idea as to why they were so memorable.

Tommy_Calzone said...

As a 9 year old boy I remember that season as it was yesterday.

And Sisk was my introduction to fully understanding booing.

I was there tonight.

(we tried to get the "Sisk Sucks" goin but to no avail)

2nd row behind home plate.

literally across the aisle from the arm rollin lady.

(by the way she had more energy than any of us and we counted 7 beers in her by the 5th!!!)

Had the tixx all season figuring I am hooked up, right???

Until they set the podium at second base!!!!

WTF WTF WTF~!!!!!!!!

Anyway not all of us are too young damus. But I get what your sayin.

I will say I did expect a little more tribute. Took them longer to set up than the whole ceremony.

Was hopin to hear from a few more of the crew.

Either way it was a night I won't forget.


Tonight I was 9 years old again.

Metstradamus said...

The rolling arm lady was there???!?!??? WOW!!!

Coop said...

Roling arm lady is Bo Fields - real cool lady

Damus - I too was at the game...I also thought of Kevin Mitchell scoring when Beltran scored...how eerie

And - I was laughing at the crowd cheering Doug Sisk. I told my boyfriend that if it was appropriate, they should boo him.

Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks.

Franchise Opportunities said...

Very good article.
Great Job!

Kyle in Newport News said...

Unfortunately, the Mets' celebration suffered from the same flaw as the Red Sox' "celebration" on opening night of the 2006 Mets @ Fenway series:

Inconsistent Pants!

Unser said...

Great night. I really enjoyed watching it on SNY, from the the pre-game to the end. Brought back a lot of teenage memories.

Loved Lenny's comment that he didn't want to play a Game 7 in the NLCS, not because he didn't want to face Mike Scott, but because he didn't want to hear Carter complaining all night that Scott was scuffing the ball . . .

BTW, I took a look at Lenny's career stats in the post season (with the Mets and Phillies). See http://www.baseball-reference.com/d/dykstle01.shtml.
.321 BA, .433 OBP, .661 SLG, 10 HRs, 19 RBIs. Clutch, in every sense of the word.

Appropriate that Doug Sisk walked to his placard. I can still picture him walking the bases loaded just about every appearance.

Noticed they were playing '80s songs all night - did they do the Curley Shuffle during the 7th inning stretch?

One thing that was missing - props to the current team. I figured either Keith or Mookie would have wished the '06 team luck or something. What happened there?

alias said...

great piece. i loved the players walking through the crowd. it was especially great to see strawberry interacting with the fans. he was clearly reveling in the moment. that man needs all the love and support he can get.

most disappointing was the mookie speech. hes a great mets icon but not much of a public speaker. should have let carter or hernandez carry that load. and no love for doc, knight, davey and mcdowell.

and dysktra was fabulous in the booth. when he said how much he loved it at shea, he clearly meant it. no bs from nails. id rather have him sit in for two innings on fridays than ralph. (although i like that ralph has gotten a little saltier in his old age.)

great night all around.

Kyle in Newport News said...

Glavine has a cold finger that could be a symptom of something season-threatening. Check ESPN.com for more information.

Vicki, St Pete Florida said...

I was in ninth grade in 86, and it was the most fantastic experience I have ever had. My dad and I went to so many games that year! Our whole school were Mets Fans, and I can remember first period and being kinda awake and talking about it all period with our teacher who was also my softball coach.

I love those guys and I loved seeing them again. I think part of the problem though, was that they were trying to put an hour's worth of ceremony into a half hour, with no mention of who wasn't there. It was great to hear the guys in the booth and Nails was right on. I hope they come back more often.

Vicki, St Pete Florida said...

PS. I just found your blog, and I enjoy it. Great writing.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't the current team at least wear the uniforms in a retro style as well? Enough with the pajama uniforms! Get back to wearing them like real players with real stirrup socks!!!

Patrick Burke said...

"For those of you that were there tonight to celebrate that moment...specifically to you fans who were loud and proud tonight even though 1986 was before your consciousness: when you cheered for them, I felt it. When you chanted, I heard it. The louder you got, the better it felt. You cheered for my time. You cheered for my youth. And I probably felt it almost as much as the players did. You made me proud."

--As someone who was just a couple years too young at the time, I really appreciate those words Metstra. We cheered for the team we love. We cheered for a return to that glory. And most of all, we cheered for the greatness that was the '86 Mets. Teams like that come along once in a lifetime. Hopefully, I'll get mine soon enough.

Shari said...

Hi Mestradamus- Great post-oh and about Doug Sisk-
I don't remember if it was during the game Saturday or during Sunday's game, but I think it was Darling who said he was glad that Sisk got the cheers he did on Saturday night, because he had some trying times back in 1986.

Metstradamus said...

Shari, I think that was Sunday's game where he said that (I think). I know the fans treated him like garbage in AND OUT of Shea Stadium. I remember him and Orosco sharing a place in Queens and fans would defile Sisk's car and leave garbage in it.

And on another Sisk topic...didn't Sisk become a replacement player briefly?

Shari said...

Wow I can't imagine a time where players had to share places to live.

I for one hated Sisk, he made me cringe. I knowhis stats look good for 2006, but in the mid 80's his number stunk, and all I remember him doing was walking the bases loaded. He was awful. How did the fans know his car? Something makes me think he probably owned an AMC Pacer or some other jalopy.

Metstradamus said...

That's a good question. He might have stupidly left his mail in his front seat. In '87 there was a Mets player (I'll leave him unnamed) who left his car in front of the press gate...and everyone knew who's car it was because not only did he leave his mail in the front seat, but his credit card receipts too. Fans were copying everything down. I hope they didn't run up his bill too much...

Metstradamus said...

Vicki from St. Pete,

A belated thank you for your kind words!!!