On Opening Day in 1987, Ray Knight was wearing a Baltimore Orioles jersey. But he says his mind was with the Mets.
That was the day the reigning ’86 World Series champions received their rings. And even though nearly three decades have passed, their World Series MVP still wonders what it was like to have been there.
“I certainly have thought about not being there in ’87 many, many, many, many, many times,” Knight said. “Especially in the early years.”
Later this month, Knight and the Mets will come as close as possible at correcting history about 30 years after the fact.
Knight, 63, said he will be among the more than two dozen 1986 Mets players and staff who will take part in a pregame ceremony before the May 28 game against the Dodgers at Citi Field.
It will mark the first time that he takes part in a Mets on-field ceremony since leaving the team amid a bitter contract dispute.
Knight said he missed the Mets’ events commemorating the 20-year reunion of the ’86 team and the 2008 Shea Stadium closing ceremony because of other commitments, not because of lingering ill will.
But Knight also acknowledged that it was convenient to stay away.
“I was hurt when I didn’t go back there, but I know I didn’t make any effort” to repair the relationship, he said. “I wanted to mend it, but I also didn’t know what I was mending.”
Now an analyst for Washington National games on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, Knight has never hid the fact that he was hurt by the Mets’ decision to let him go. He said Tuesday that he wants to focus on that team’s dominance, not the circumstances of his departure. But then he spent about 20 minutes recalling the negotiation details as if it were yesterday.
“It’s funny how time dulls your memory and your recall,” Knight said, “but when there are things that are so important, they never dull.”
The short story: The Mets opened negotiations on the day of the championship parade by essentially offering Knight a one-year deal at roughly the same salary as ’86. Feeling slighted, Knight said he countered by asking for a two-year deal with a raise.
They never managed to find common ground, and Knight wound up signing a one-year deal with the Orioles for less money than the Mets’ original offer.
“The way the negotiations went really hurt me because there really were no negotiations,” Knight said. “It hurt me badly.”
Al Harazin, then the Mets’ assistant general manager and the man who handled contract negotiations in those years, said Wednesday by phone from his home in Amherst, Massachusetts, that the team felt comfortable sticking to a one-year offer because it had young third basemen in Dave Magadan, Howard Johnson and Kevin Mitchell.
“Ray had just had the great World Series and that made for a very difficult circumstance because he felt — and I understood it — that he should get more than a one-year commitment from the club,” said Harazin, 73. “But as always, the general manager has to look not only at the immediate future but the long-distance future, and it seemed to us we had to at some point in the relatively near future make room for these young, talented guys.”
Newspaper reports from that time say the Mets’ final offer was for one year at $800,000, which was about $150,000 more than Knight made in 1986.
Knight said he had decided a few hours before the midnight Dec. 7 deadline to take the Mets’ offer. That’s how desperately he wanted to stay with the Mets.
But in the pre-cellphone era, Knight said neither he nor his agent could get anyone from the Mets on the phone. Finally, when the clock passed midnight and reality set in, Knight said “there were tears in my eyes.”
“I couldn’t believe they didn’t call back,” Knight said.
Knight’s last-minute change of heart to accept the Mets’ one-year offer came as news to Harazin, now retired.
“I don’t have any recollection of any of that,” Harazin said. “He may have felt that way, but I don’t remember that ever being communicated. Not saying it didn’t happen. I sure don’t remember it.”
Days before spring training, Knight wound up signing a one-year contract with the Orioles for $500,000 with a vesting option for a second year.
One day early in the 1987 season, he said he received a call to go to the general manager’s office. There, GM Hank Peters gave him a box and told him to open it. Inside was his ’86 championship ring, shipped to Baltimore by the Mets. Knight’s face glowed.
“I remember that day,” Knight said, “like it was yesterday.”
Knight said he wears it every day. And he said a day doesn’t go by without him bumping into a Mets fan who mentions 1986 to him.
Sometimes Mets fans even ask to see his ring, which he’s happy to oblige.
“I love the fans, I loved playing in New York,” Knight said. “I really did not want to leave there.”
1986 Mets’ reunion facts
Here are the events the Mets have planned later this month during a weekend series against the Los Angeles Dodgers to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the 1986 Mets World Series title.
Friday, May 27: All fans receive a 1986 World Series t-shirt.
Saturday, May 28: On-field ceremony before the game honoring former players and coaches from the 1986 team. The Mets say all of the big-name players from that team are expected on hand.
Sunday, May 29: First 15,000 fans receive a replica championship ring.
The Mets say tickets for each game are still available at 718-507-TIXX or at www.mets.com/1986.