Mets in the 1980s: Success and what might have been

Dwight Gooden fires away in first inning of

Dwight Gooden fires away in first inning of his return to the Mets during a game at Shea Stadium. (June 5, 1987) Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill

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When Hubie Brooks was traded from the Mets to the Expos on Dec. 12, 1984, he was surprised and disappointed. Then it really hit him. “Damn,” the highly regarded infielder said at the time, “I’ve got to face Dwight.”

Dwight Gooden was that much of a force back then, coming off a galvanizing rookie season. No surprise to Brooks, or to anyone else who watched the young pitcher, Gooden was even better in 1985. A once-in-a-generation phenom, Gooden was the centerpiece of a revival that suggested the Mets were really headed somewhere.

And that deal with the Expos brought Gary Carter, considered the final piece in the club’s transformation from laughingstock in the late 1970s to world champions in 1986. Gooden’s emergence and Carter’s arrival were two major parts of the 1980-85 era. It could very well be described as the most transformative period in franchise history.

Repercussions from that makeover are still in play to this day. Fred Wilpon signed on as a minority partner when Doubleday & Co. bought the team on Jan. 24, 1980. Frank Cashen was hired as general manager less than a month later. Little more than three years after that, Keith Hernandez was acquired for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey (a deal that left Hernandez dejected and shaken, offering no clue that he still would be around 29 years later).

Darryl Strawberry made his debut on May 6, 1983. Some said he was rushed to the majors, but he became the National League’s Rookie of the Year. Davey Johnson was hired as manager in October of that year, and congratulated the club on its choice.

Johnson brought confidence and swagger, which his team justified. Gooden had a 1.53 earned run average in 1985 and won the Cy Young at 20 (Newsday headline: “Cy Youngest”).

Carter, who would play a key role in October, 1986, offered a portent in 1985 when he hit a home run in his first game as a Met at Shea Stadium.


What if someone asked you to name the most famous play in Mets history? Mookie Wilson's grounder that got past Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series is one of the most memorable plays in all of baseball lore (although many folks mistakenly think it turned a Red Sox win into a Mets victory; the game had actually been tied on a wild pitch earlier in the at-bat).

Anyway, it was the signature moment of a championship for a star-filled, brash, irreverent team that seemed poised to keep winning. It led to another 18 years of "What if?" thinking in Boston. But there might be just as many "What ifs?" in Queens.

What if Dwight Gooden had been able to beat the addiction that caused him to oversleep and miss the parade, then begin his 1987 late? His no-hitter notwithstanding, he never really was the same.

What if Terry Pendleton did not hit that home run for the Cardinals at Shea on Sept. 11, 1987? The Mets could have been a half-game out of first and possibly on their way to another postseason and more glory.

What if Kevin McReynolds had really acclimated to New York and been a true star?

What if David Cone hadn't ruffled the Dodgers with that diary in the Daily News during the 1988 National League Championship Series, poking fun of an opponent the Mets had beaten 10 of 11 times during the reagular season.

What if Mike Scioscia had not hit that tying home run in Game 4 of the NLCS? The Mets would have gone up 3-1 in the series and probably won it, and no one would have seen the Kirk Gibson mythical homer in the World Series.

What if the Mets had truly built on the amazing triumph of 1986? What if they had capitalized on being kings of New York, outdrawing the Yankees for eight straight years and starring in a music video ("We've got the teamwork to make the dream work? Let's Go Mets!")?

What would the New York baseball landscape look like now?

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