Why do the New York Mets fans constantly live in the ’80s bubble? That’s a great question and one that can only be answered by a Mets fan. Playing in the same metropolitan city as the New York Yankees — with their 27 World Series championships and unrivaled history and tradition — shows why Mets fans live in the ’80s. After all, that was the best time to be a Mets fan.
Mets fans have long been treated like the little brothers in New York. They are the little brother who can never beat the big brother in anything until getting one shining day in the sun. That day gets frozen in time forever and is always brought up by the little brother when he gets pushed around. That moment in time was 1986.
The 1980s Davey Johnson era was set up to be the one time the Mets could dominate not only New York but all of baseball. Oh, there were other brief times the Mets were good. The 1969-76 Mets, known as the Tom Seaver Era, was a good time until the trade. That trade that took the heart out of Mets fans when Seaver was traded amid a contract dispute. Forever known as “The Franchise,” Seaver is still acknowledged as the greatest New York Met ever. That era saw the underdog Mets win the 1969 World Series against the juggernaut Baltimore Orioles and very nearly upset the mighty Oakland Athletics in the 1973 World Series. (God bless Tom Seaver in all his future battles with dementia.)
Bobby Valentine had a five year stretch that resulted in back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history. Bobby V’s Mets failed to win a World Series, however, losing to the hated cross-town rival Yankees in the 2000 World Series. Willie Randolph had a good stretch that led to one playoff berth. However, he also had back-to-back September collapses that knocked the Mets out of playoff contention. Plus, he was always considered a Yankee to Met fans.
Then there was the Terry Collins Era that will not get the credit it was due. Terry led the Mets to back-to-back playoff appearances for only the second time in franchise history. However, the infamous Matt Harvey World Series Game Four Decision will constantly be attached to the psyche of Met fans when Terry Collins’ name gets brought up.
Why Mets Fans Love the ’80s
In the aftermath of the Tom Seaver trade, the Mets were coming off a stretch of their worst baseball since the Lovable Loser period immediately following expansion. To put in perspective, from 1977-83, the Mets were more than 200 games under .500. Meanwhile, in that period, the Yankees made the playoffs four times and won back-to-back World Championships in 1977-78.
Davey Johnson burst onto the scene as the Mets manager in the 1984 season. Johnson came up through the Mets system. He and the many players he coached along the way formed the foundation of what was predicted to be multiple championship teams. Johnson’s Mets, perfectly built by both the farm system and shrewd trades, were poised to be a dynasty. The Mets front office was hitting everything out of the park. With limited TV exposure on out of town players — especially American Leaguers — the players brought in were virtual no-names who became instant heroes.
Mets fans could see it. They could smell it. 1984 was a good season. 1985 was better, as the Mets came within a hair of making the playoffs with 98 wins. These Mets, Davey Johnson’s Mets, took over New York City for the first time in a long time. They were poised to deliver this frustrated fan base World Series titles. Yes, multiple titles were expected.
It was a great time to be a Mets fan. The best pitcher in baseball was a Met called “Dr. K” — Dwight Gooden. Arguably the best position player was Mets right fielder Darryl Strawberry. Two accomplished veteran players who were once the best at their positions — first baseman Keith Hernandez and catcher Gary Carter — now were co-leaders on the Mets, despite this being the back end of their careers. This team was chock full of young players and older, established players that clicked together in magical form. The man at the helm, Davey Johnson, could not do any wrong.
The Winning Mets
What a magical season. The Mets had their division all but wrapped up by the all-star break. The Met fanbase felt emotionally attached to this team. This was the one team Met fans can use against the big bad Yankee fans. The fan base not only adopted but basked in the cocky nature of their beloved Mets. As easy as the regular season was the postseason was just as hard. The heart and grit and determination the Mets showed in not being denied a World Series championship was not lost on the fan base. Sure there were lucky moments. Met fans couldn’t care less. We are not lucky we are just better than everyone else.
The Mets which was primed to be dominant only won that 1986 World Series. The only other year they made the playoffs was in 1988 and lost to an inferior Los Angeles Dodger team that eventually won the World Series. As the years started to quickly go by, slowly the Mets mighty 1986 team was starting to get dismantled. The veteran players got old quickly. The two budding stars were fighting personal demons. The seemingly perfectly fit players did not fit anymore.
A mere 42 games into the 1991 season, Davey Johnson was fired as Mets manager which started another six-year losing cycle. However, in a seven-year stretch from 1984-1991, had the wild card rule been in place the Mets would have been in the playoffs every year. Instead, during that stretch, the Mets were 201 games over .500, but it only resulted in two playoff appearances and one World Championship.
The Question for Mets Fans Is…
So the question is why do Mets fans always go back to the 1986 Mets? Why, when every time there is a managerial opening on the Mets, do the fans want to reach back to the ’86 Mets and demand for Wally Backman to get the job? Backman was once a budding managerial prospect in the Mets organization who was let go and never brought back. Why do Mets fans clamor for Keith Hernandez to be the hitting coach and Ron Darling to be the pitching coach? After, all Hernandez and Darling have been in the Mets TV broadcast booth since the 2006 season. Mets fans regularly hear them calling out the Mets for bad play on the air. However, the two also say how they would try to fix the Met players they are critiquing.
There have been other 1986 Mets who coached in all levels of the Mets organization. The list includes Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, Tim Teufel, and Carter. Whenever a player does not show any hustle Mets fans always hear the same comments. “Bring in Backman! Bring in Nails (the much-maligned Len Dykstra)! They can show them how to hustle!” “Why can’t this team show any toughness like Ray Knight and Kevin Mitchell did?” If anyone were to ask Mets fans, they would prefer the current coaching staff to be compromised of all 1986 Mets.
Immortality for the 1986 Mets
For a team that was destined for sustained greatness to only win one world championship, they are forever praised for that one year. Mets fans flock to the stadium whenever the Mets decide to honor that team. It’s the fruits of being a part one of the only two championship teams in franchise history.
(Author’s Note: For me, 1986 was a magical season. Like other Met fans, I expected this team to win every game they played. No opposing pitcher was good enough to beat them. There was no opposing lineup that was too tough for the Mets to pitch to. No deficit was too big for them to overcome. I remember going to Game Two of the 1986 World Series. I was 12 years old. The Mets lost that game 9-3. My father wanted to leave in the eighth inning to beat the traffic. I looked at him and said, “We got this. The Mets are going to score seven runs in the ninth inning and win this game.” This is how Met fans felt about this team.)
They were cool and never gave up. The players were cocky and arrogant. On four occasions during the season, they fought. One of those fights was between hitting instructor Bill Robinson and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Rick Rhoden. Even the coaches were showing fight. How could anyone not love a team where the coaches are fighting? Only eight other major league teams had more wins in a single season than the 108 wins the Mets had in 1986.
The Real Question
But the real question is why a team, despite winning a world championship while underachieving, is still held in the highest regard. Ask 10 Mets fans that question, and they will give 10 different answers. As for this author, despite feeling like this Mets team should have won more than it did, they did complete the job in 1986. No other Mets team has been able to do it since then.
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