The night of July 27, 1993 began with a bang for the Mets, what with an outfielder undergoing criminal investigation for having injured a two-year-old girl with a cherry bomb and a pitcher admitting that he had set off firecrackers in the clubhouse. What happened next was so startling that it outdid even those massive stains.
Everything else gave way to the Bleach Episode, one of the most unsettling and bizarre moments in Mets history, which is really saying something.
For those who have forgotten, or never have heard the story, it was the occasion on which an unseen Mets prankster, later identified as Bret Saberhagen, wielded a water gun unfathomably filled with bleach. He spattered three reporters, one of whom was me.
No one was injured, thank goodness, and the memory approaching the 25th anniversary is as clear as if it happened yesterday. Too bad the Mets, amid their current reeling and dealing, did not consider a retrospective promotion.
They could have held Vince Coleman Fireworks Night, in honor of the cherry-bomb thrower. They might have distributed tiny foam rubber baseball gloves, commemorating the time Saberhagen flung the contents of his locker when he acted as if he had been falsely accused. How about small sample bottles of Clorox adorned with the Mets logo?
Bottom line, with the 2018 season having careened off the rails in dysfunction, the specter of 1993 steps up and says, “Hold my beer.”
That was a crazy clubhouse all season. Bobby Bonilla challenged sportswriter Bob Klapisch (“I’ll show you the Bronx right here”). Dwight Gooden was a last-minute scratch for a start because Coleman accidentally hit him while swinging a golf club. Saberhagen lit firecrackers near reporters as we talked to Anthony Young about one of his major-league record 27 consecutive losses (Trust me, firecrackers at close range in an enclosed space do not send off a pleasant sound).
Antics reached a nadir late on July 27, three days after Coleman tossed a cherry bomb out of a Jeep leaving the Dodger Stadium parking lot and hours after Saberhagen confessed to the firecrackers stunt.
Dave D’Alessandro, then of the Bergen Record, Allen St. John, then of the Village Voice, and I were among those interviewing Dwight Gooden about a victory over the Marlins. When all of a sudden we felt drops hit our backs. By the time we turned around to see where they had come from, no one was there. One of the other fellows thought it was water but I immediately called it Clorox.
Hot water was what I encountered after that. Following what was then a strict dictum that a reporter should never, ever become part of a story, I wrote only one sentence about the bleach in the notes tacked on to the end of a short piece about the game. The larger article in the next day’s paper was about Coleman’s impending legal problems. In any case, the deputy sports editor more or less asked me about having missed the story. I answered that it sure didn’t miss me.
It all quickly took on a life of its own. Donald Fehr, the head of the Players Association, was in the clubhouse the next day. Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon was there, too. The Baseball Writers Association of America got in touch with the Mets, citing concern about players’ behavior.
I hated being in the eye of the storm. Mistakenly or not, I clammed up. When Newsday colleague Marty Noble did a follow-up on the situation a few days later, I politely declined to say anything — possibly becoming the only sportswriter ever to give a “No comment” to his or her own newspaper.
To their credit, the Mets organization, especially general counsel David Howard, was apologetic and respectful in asking me what I had witnessed. After a couple weeks of in-house investigation, Saberhagen came clean (as they say in the bleach business). It came out that he had been engaging in a battle of pranks with a clubhouse attendant and was priming the water gun near reporters.
He apologized through a press release and agreed to pay a day’s salary to a charity chosen by the BBWAA. He offered to reimburse us for clothing damage. I instead asked that a carton of Mets shirts be sent to Camp Paquatuck, the Rotary’s East Moriches-based summer facility for handicapped children.
That was a vastly different world — imagine how the Bleach Episode would have played on Twitter — but 1993 is a little relevant now. First of all, the 2018 Mets can consider themselves fortunate to have merely a bad ballclub, not a bunch of bad apples. When Yoenis Cespedes drops bombshells, as he did Friday night, they are the verbal variety.
More pertinent, the Mets of 25 years ago and the Mets of today took the same route. Both times, the organization endured a horrendous previous season but decided that with just a little tweaking, they could right the ship. Wrong and wrong.
The history of those Mets tells these Mets that patience is needed. It took four years to field a respectable team again.
In the meantime, Young, a kind soul, finally saw his losing streak snapped amid the continuing craziness on July 28. When he was asked if he felt like he had shaken a proverbial monkey off his back, he said, “It was the whole zoo.” I never will forget that good man, who died last year at 51.
Nor will I ever forget the words of Jay Horwitz, Mets public relations director then and now, at a news conference during the chaotic week to promote Bonilla’s upcoming charity bowling tournament. Reporters who knew that Bonilla had been in the vehicle with Coleman peppered him about the cherry bomb and Horwitz unsuccessfully tried to stem the tide, saying, “Bowling questions only!”
Coleman was charged with a felony by Los Angeles authorities, who determined that the explosive had been the equivalent of one-fourth of a stick of dynamite. He eventually pleaded to a misdemeanor and received a suspended sentence and was required to do 200 hours of public service.
I never will forget the amiable chat after calling the private line of Coleman’s L.A.-based attorney, Robert Shapiro, who would become internationally famous a year later for defending O.J. Simpson.
Man, those were the days.