Ron Darling started three games in the 1986 World Series and wrote a book whose title referenced one of them. But until this week he never had re-watched any of the seven games in their entirety.
“I used to always think it was [expletive] when people would go on Johnny Carson, big-name actors, and Johnny would ask them, ‘Do you enjoy watching [your] movies?’ and they’d always say, ‘Once I am done with it, I can’t watch it,’” the SNY and Turner analyst said.
“Now I totally understand what they’re talking about, because just like broadcasting now, when you watch things like that all you do is see the mistakes and it’s, ‘Oh, what did I do that for? That was silly.’”
But 34 years was long enough to wait. On Thursday, Darling planned to binge-watch the Series in preparation for an SNY event this weekend.
The network for the first time has been re-airing the entire ‘86 Series – even the three Mets losses! – starting on Monday.
But for Game 6 at 6 p.m. Saturday, the televised game will be enhanced by a live Facebook watch-along with 11 members of that team, including Darling, SNY colleague Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
“I think it’s going to be interesting to hear everyone’s input, other than the obvious – that none of us believed we were going to come back,” Darling said of Game 6, in which the Mets overcame a two-run deficit to the Red Sox in the bottom of the 10th inning to force a Game 7.
Game 6 was the most memorable for most of us, but Darling did not pitch in it. He started Games 1, 4 and 7.
The night of Game 6 he was sent home after nine innings to get extra rest in case he would be needed for Game 7; but as he left Shea Stadium he thought better of it, turned around and watched the grand finale on a television in the locker room.
“I thought, ‘Boy, this might be a little embarrassing if I don’t get back in time,’” he said. “The game ended up in a victory. It worked out perfectly.”
Game 7 also did – sort of.
Darling had allowed no earned runs in 14 innings in his first two World Series starts but lost Game 1, 1-0, because of a seventh-inning error by second baseman Tim Teufel that allowed Jim Rice to score from second base.
“Teufel gets all the criticism because he made the error, but it was a wild pitch that got Jim Rice to second base; that was on me,” Darling said. “The game of baseball is so interwoven; so many things are what-ifs.”
Then there was Game 7, which has become a historical footnote because of what happened two nights earlier. Darling was pulled two outs into the fourth inning, having handed the Red Sox a 3-0 lead.
The Mets rallied to win, 8-5, which was better than the alternative but still left Darling with ambivalent feelings, which he wrote about in his 2016 book, “Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life.”
Darling did not watch Game 7 to prepare for the book. Rather, he recreated every at-bat for co-author Daniel Paisner simply by looking at the box score, and largely recalled it all exactly as it happened.
“I wanted to do it that way as opposed to watch it, because I was trying to remember where I was in that place as opposed to someone else talking about it,” he said.
Did writing and talking about the game allow him to stop dwelling on it?
“I haven’t thought about it once since the book was done and that’s what I was hoping for when I wrote it - that it would be cathartic in some way, and it was that and then some for me,” he said.
Again, it all worked out in the end, in a way it has not worked out again for the Mets since.
It remains to be seen whether the 2020 Mets will be good enough – or whether they even will get the chance.
Darling, 59, has spent the COVID-19 lockdown at his Florida home with his family, including until recently with his parents.
“How many people at 60 years old get a chance to really spend time and get to know their parents as older folks? It was just a joy,” he said.
Like his parents, Darling is at added risk because last season he was treated for thyroid cancer and missed the first two months of the season. That has made the delay in the start of this season harder to take.
“Professionally, it’s been difficult, because remember, I missed a good portion of the beginning of last year also, so this is two years in a row,” he said.
Darling has spent the downtime thinking about how to enhance SNY’s coverage in its 15th season.
That includes everything from putting analytics into proper perspective to talking about how young athletes are taught to play – and especially pitch.
“I think some of the things are putting people in danger, especially some young people, all of that stuff that I agonize over as I read it,” he said.
“So I think it’s important at some point that I’m able to intellectually talk about it without being snarky, in an intellectual say, ‘Hey, this is what a lot of kids are learning. Maybe this would be a better way at a certain age.’”
As for the major leaguers, Darling figures Hernandez can talk about how players came back from the 1981 strike and he can discuss how he got back in shape to play in 1995 after the ’94 season was cut short by another labor dispute.
“I think the ability to analyze the physical well-being of your players when they come back is going to be the most important thing for every team,” Darling said. “What guy worked out? What guy told you he worked out? What guy is chubby? What guy is in danger of getting injured?
“Those things are going to have to be answered, and very quickly, because you don’t have an opportunity to go 5-20 in July (and recover).”
Does Darling believe there will be a season?
“I do, I do,” he said. “Now, do I think there should be a season? Boy, I oscillate back and forth about that. But I do think there’s going to be a season, and there’s going to be a season for all the reasons there always is a season.”