People started cheering from the very first scene of that old “Let’s Go Mets Go” video, which was shown at the start of a lovely ceremony 30 years in the making. Everyone at Citi Field felt younger and lighter in spirit at the sight of the 1986 Mets. For a certain generation, those guys were, are and always will be the Boys of Summer.
To say that there is just something about the ’86 Mets that will last forever would be right, and understating it. Truth is, everything about that team is enduring. Nineteen eighty-six was only one season, not the extended run that the Mets thought they were going to have, but it captured a time, a place and a lot of hearts.
Thirty years represents an eon in modern culture. A decade usually is the shelf life for even the best of memories. As current Mets manager Terry Collins said of his 2016 Mets on Saturday afternoon, “We can parade the ’86 Mets through our clubhouse and they wouldn’t know 10 of them.”
Yet the fans have not forgotten, nor will they.
Mets fans remember the way their team had one of its rare holds on the city. That’s part of why that team remains so beloved. Regardless of the bromide that New York really is a National League town, the reality is that the Yankees have mostly owned the joint since Babe Ruth’s time. In 1986, the Mets held the keys — so much that the video included cameos from Howard Stern, Tony Bennett and Ed Koch mouthing the words, “Let’s Go Mets!”
“I think the town was better,” said Dwight Gooden, who saw success in Queens and the Bronx. “Nothing against the Yankees — well, Mr. Steinbrenner isn’t here, so he doesn’t mind — but for me, it’s a Mets town. I’m thankful for my time with the Yankees, but I’m always a Met.”
Last night was a time to recall how the ’86 team majored in brinksmanship, how the group played with an abandon and swagger that others found obnoxious. “When we got on the field, between the lines, you didn’t want to mess with us,” Darryl Strawberry said. “We weren’t taking any crap.”
So the cheers poured down on every player as he made the long walk on the red carpet that stretched from the centerfield fence to second base. The sound reached crescendos with the introduction of Ray Knight — dispatched that offseason after having been World Series Most Valuable Player — finally coming back to make a curtain call. It got loud for Strawberry and Gooden and especially respectful for Sandy and D.J. Carter, widow and son of the late catcher Gary.
“It doesn’t feel right that he’s not here,” former batterymate Ron Darling said. “But at the same time, he would have had the biggest smile. I know he would have loved us to enjoy it.”
Yes, last night was bittersweet. The 1986 Mets have learned the lesson of the beloved 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, the original Boys of Summer, which says that a world championship does not evoke a long trail of happily-ever-afters. Those Dodgers encountered hardships and tragedies, which inspired author Roger Kahn to title his book after the Dylan Thomas poem that begins, “I see the boys of summer in their ruin.”
These 1986 Mets lost Carter to brain cancer. Three of the players (Lenny Dykstra, Gooden and Strawberry) have been in prison. Kevin Mitchell is rehabbing from a spinal injury, having once been given probation after a public dispute. There have been well-circulated stories about addiction problems among this group.
Still, the ’86 Mets are not in ruins. They are just very human, which made last night’s get-together all the more poignant. How many more times will they have reunions like this one? Last night had a “once more, with feeling” feeling. Fans embraced all of the players, missteps and all.
Also, there were no hard feelings about not having built on that heart-stopping World Series win over the Red Sox. “It was upsetting because I felt that with the team we had, we could have won for a long time. I think I was probably the first to go,” said Mitchell, who went on to become the National League Most Valuable Player with the Giants after having been dealt to the Padres that offseason in the Kevin McReynolds deal.
Maybe the 1986 Mets were too volatile to keep intact. Maybe the franchise used up three decades of karma when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs. In any case, the 1986 Mets never have gone out of style. It was cool that Glenn Close sang the anthem last night, as she did back then. It was neat that Jesse Orosco, who threw the last pitch in ’86, threw the ceremonial first pitch to Carter’s son — then tossed his glove in the air again.
It was classy that Collins’ Mets, wearing throwback uniforms, came out of the dugout to shake hands with the ’86 Mets, that Davey Johnson and crew applauded the current Mets, and that fans chanted “Let’s Go Mets,” still a youthful chorus.