In 2015, the New York Mets have undergone a renaissance. For the first time in almost a decade, the New York Mets are in first place in the National League East. It was a long road back to prominence with a long rebuild and GM Sandy Alderson bringing in some extra pieces to help along the way. But one thing has carried them this far. Power arms in the rotation. They drafted Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. They traded for Noah Syndergaard. It’s how they won a championship in 1969 and got to the series in 1973.
It’s also a big reason why they won a championship in 1986. The New York Mets of the 1980’s are one of baseball’s lost dynasties. It’s why if you are in a position to win a world championship you need to go for it, because you never know if you can get that chance again. Look no further than the current Washington Nationals’ teams.
I grew up in a house of Mets fans. My father was one of the bigger Mets fans you’ll ever meet, and he transformed my mom into a Mets fan (well with the help of Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez). The 1986 Mets were one of the best championship teams ever, however, the 1980’s Mets should have been much more.
The credit and the blame for this does fall a bit to Frank Cashen. He was the architect of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Orioles teams. A staff that had four 20-game winners (sound familiar?)
Cashen took over the Mets in 1980 and began to build. He had Hubie Brooks and Mookie Wilson already in the system. It was time to add and with one of his three first-round picks that year, added Darryl Strawberry. He added Kevin Mitchell and Doug Sisk as free agents.
1982 was an important year to set up the later runs. They traded fan favorite Lee Mazzilli to the Texas Rangers for two arms; Walt Terrell and Ron Darling. They then added a young high school fireballer named Dwight Gooden and lefty Randy Myers.
1983 brought two key trades. At the deadline, the team needed some veteran leadership. Whitey Herzog did not like Keith Hernandez, the former MVP. The Mets sent Neil Allen to complete the deal and gave the Mets the first baseman they needed.
Every good team usually has to get past one team before they can get that ring. For the Mets in the 80’s that obstacle was going to be the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs.
In 1984, the Mets finished above .500 and won 90 games for the first time in years, but the Cubs won 96. They were just one bat short with the pitching continuing to develop.
The second one was much bigger, and set them up for the championship run. Sometimes teams need to use their prospect base to help fill a hole and land that one last piece. Frank Cashen needed a veteran bat to go in between Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry.
The Mets won 98 games in 1985, but those Cardinals won 101. The Mets couldn’t get over the hump. They were two games out the last week of the season, but could only beat the Cardinals two out of three games, then lost two of three to the Expos to end the season.
As we all know, the team went wire-to-wire and after two classic series, the Mets finally managed to pull off a championship. The team fought together, partied hard, and won. All the building. All the trades. They finally worked out.
But this is the only championship these 1980’s teams would get. There was no Wild Card. You had to win your division. That was it.
Kevin Mitchell was an important Swiss Army Knife kind of player to the 1986 team. But, he allegedly chopped a head off a cat of his then girlfriend after a fight and took his uniform off before that huge hit in the Game Six rally.
But Dwight Gooden tested positive for cocaine during the spring and didn’t pitch for the Mets until June. They finished second.
Then came the inexplicable trade of Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to the Phillies for Juan Samuel. Samuel was to play center field, except he was a second baseman until that year. Gooden got hurt. The Mets tried to salvage the pitching by acquiring Frank Viola in a deal from the Twins, but that didn’t work as Viola went 5-5 down the stretch.
Hernandez left. Carter was released. Davey Johnson was fired 42 games into the season and the team rebounded to finish second, but again no playoffs.
1990 would be it as Darryl Strawberry left as a free agent, Gerry Hunsicker became the GM and the team cratered to a fifth place finish.
One championship. That’s all the 1980’s Mets had to show. It’s a cautionary tale. It goes to show you how when you have a good team, you should do what you can to try and win that ring. Not everyone is going to be like the Yankees of the late 1990’s or the Giants in this one. Your team could end up like the Mets.
Good times are back in Queens, but will the success be just for this year or can they build on this new foundation? With the pitching they have, they certainly could, but those Mets teams of the 1980’s had everything and just one ring. All kinds of talent in the 1980’s and just one ring to show for it.