There was an element missing from my joy of watching the Cubs sweep the Mets this week. Back in the mid- to late-1980s while I was learning to swear in the left-field bleachers, a sweep of our Eastern Division rivals would have meant so much more. Not only in terms of the standings, but because our boys in blue would have swept the 'bad boys of baseball' as chronicled in the book, "The Bad Guys Won," which tells the tale of the brawling, boozing, bimbo-chasing World Series Champions of 1986. Cubs fans used to passionately hate the Mets, maybe even more than the Cardinals, whose Midwestern-style rivalry is more gentlemanly.
During the 1980s our Mets rivalry was Second City vs. First City. Deep Dish vs. Thin Slice. Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. It was more fun back then to play them, not only because they were a great team that regular lead the division, but because some of their players were just so easy to hate.
NYC's "bad boys" were an aggressive and edgy crew. Why? It could have something to do with the massive amounts of cocaine some of them were shoving up their noses. It's highly debatable whether or not coke would have helped or hurt the performances of All-Stars like Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and David Cone, (and non All-Star Lee Mazzilli), but the false sense of confidence and fleeting energy that cocaine can provide came through in the Mets' general jerky attitude. I noticed the Mets cokey cockiness as early as when I was 10 years old, even if I didn't know what cocaine was or what it did. If you've ever hung out with someone on the stuff, you know they are really annoying, and everything they say and think is the most important thing in the world to them. Coke is an ugly drug for an ugly team. And even though, as some of you will point out that there were also Cubs players accused of coke use in the 1980s, including Gary Matthews, who was linked to coke by Lonnie Smith at the Pittsburgh drug trials, and Fergie Jenkins, who was suspended in 1980 after being busted with cocaine and hash, these incidents didn't result in an overall team coked-up jerkiness that the Mets employed. I guess we know now why Keith Hernandez became the pitchman for 'Just For Men' hair dye. His mustache was white!
Even worse than the Mets' drug abuse was their boozing, brawling, and womanizing. Second baseman Tim Teufel and pitchers Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, and Rick Aguilera were arrested for a bar fight in Houston in 1986. Lenny Dykstra drunkenly crashed his car and almost died (he was playing for the Phillies at the time). Vince Coleman, Dwight Gooden, David Cone and Darryl Boston were all accused of rape. And after the 1986 Mets beat Houston to earn a trip to the World Series, they caused $50,000 worth of damage on their charter aircraft back to NYC by throwing beer, cake and champagne around the plane while allegedly snorting mounds of cocaine. To me, that sounds like the whole team was blown out of their mind! Even 12-year-old me knew they were crazy jerks. Man, did I loathe them!
Yes, it would have been more fun to sweep those drug-fueled jerk Mets, rather than the rebuilding ones whose entire organization just got fleeced by Bernie Madoff, and whose epic end-of-season meltdowns in 2007 and 2008 made them the goats of NYC. After living in New York for 18 years, I also have a bit of a soft spot for a Mets fan. It's tough to be one in the shadow of the mighty New York Yankees. The Mets are the working man's team for the baseball fans who cherish an underdog. Their stadium is located amidst chop shops, umm, I mean mechanics… and the most ethnically-diverse neighborhoods in the world. It's the team for New Yorkers who hate the Yankees and who were abandoned by the Dodgers and Giants and were left without a National League team. If the Yankees are the world's team, the Mets are New York's team.
But in the 1980s the Mets finished second to the Cubs' Eastern Division Championships of 1984 and 1989, a constant thorn in our side. The Mets enviably finished in first in 1986 and 1988, winning it all in '86 on ex-Cub Bill Buckner's error. And between 1984 and 1991, they never finished lower than second. I couldn't stand the Mets back then! Boy! It would have been fun to sweep that team this week!
The bad blood continued between our teams for a while longer -- check out this 1996 brawl. But now, 20 years later, the rivalry has subsided, and an entire generation has reached adulthood and won't know the joy of hating the 1980s Mets. That generation only knows the pathetic aftermath of Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and Lenny Dykstra prison sentences. They only know David Cone, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez as broadcasters with the latter being a cultural icon in many respects from his post-player acting career. It all turned out so sad and strange, especially for Dwight Gooden who was so talented, and fell so far because of his horrible drug problems. Lenny Dykstra, I think I can continue to loathe for his thieving and for dissing Mitch Williams in this interview.
But I miss hating the Mets. If you have any suggestions as to how to rekindle some Mets hatred, please leave them in the comments. Hopefully we'll meet in the playoffs soon, and our rivalry can be rekindled for another fleeting moment. Maybe I can even hate Keith Hernandez again… but I'll never hate the stache….
P.S. If you have 20 minutes and haven't seen it, check out this video: "I'm Keith Hernandez" It's hilarious.