Former players Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, manager Davey Johnson and General Manager Frank Cashen will never be honored in Cooperstown. But they were enshrined at Citi Field today because their legacies made Queens a holy ground for baseball in the 1980s.
The Mets honored these four members of the adored ’86 championship team by inducting them into the Mets Hall of Fame today.
“To go into the Mets Hall of Fame with these distinguished gentleman to my right makes it all the more appropriate for me,” Cashen said to begin the press conference. Cashen was the architect behind the 1986 championship team, bringing in Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Gary Carter and Bobby Ojeda in via trade and drafting Strawberry and Gooden.
“It really is an honor,” said Johnson, who had 595 wins as manager – the most in Mets history – and is now a senior advisor for the Washington Nationals. “I’ve been seldom humbled in my life, but I was really humbled when Jeff Wilpon called me up and said that I was going to go in the Mets Hall of Fame. I was shocked. But really Mr. Cashen said it all best. We really enjoyed competing here. It was fun, the fans were great for us.”
Referring to the motley group of ballplayers on the ’86 team, Johnson said with a smile, “These boys, they weren’t choir boys, but they weren’t as bad as everybody said they were. We all loved being in the ballpark. We all loved coming to Shea Stadium.”
Gooden began his career with this group and said he was happy to see his career come full circle with the Mets today. Cashen gave him his first contract, Johnson was his first manager and Strawberry came up with him as a youngster.
“When you accomplished the things we accomplished,” Gooden said referring to his fellow inductees, “it’s not ex-general manager, ex-manager, ex-teammate, he is still my teammate, and my brother, he’s still my manager and he’s still my general manager.”
“Did we all get along all the time? No. Did we care? No. Did we care what the media thought of? No. Do we care what the media thinks of us today? No,” he said, sending chuckles throughout the room.
“When I’d take the mound here at home, it was always like I had an extra player behind me and that extra player was the fans. There’s no better feeling then when you have two strikes on a batter and having the funs stand and clap for the third strike … A lot of games I felt like I didn’t have my best stuff I fed off the fans energy.”
Strawberry extended Gooden’s sentiments about the devotion of Met fans as a wild cheering squad inside the park and a faithful support group when the two of them dealt with various off-field issues.
“Mets fans have treated me and Doc so well,” Strawberry said, “and we are so beloved by Met fans and they have never turned their backs on us, they have never forgotten us. They’ve always adored us and they’ve always given us high praise for what we accomplished through the organization and what we meant to the organization. Fans have always told me that.
"Everyone in the media had written us off in life, but Met fans have never written us off. I will always be grateful for that, I am tremendously blessed because of that because the people cared enough about us to as a person. Met fans were always concerned about us, but they always cared about us as a person and I will always be grateful for that.”
The inductees spent more than half an hour recalling memories from the 80s and expounding on the emotional thrill of playing in front of the Met faithful. Their appreciation and gratitude highlights a dichotomy in baseball glory. Getting honored in Cooperstown is the highest honor an individual can receive in baseball, but at its most basic level, the Hall of Fame is a museum with a cavernous hallway of plaques bestowed with golden grins.
Today’s induction was not just a matter of individually honoring Strawberry, Gooden, Johnson and Cashen, but it was about celebrating a time when millions of people were personally touched by the magic of baseball.
“Of course everybody has their opinions about where we should be,” Strawberry said. “They say, ‘You should be in Cooperstown in the Hall of Fame.’ Well, guess what? We’re going in the Mets Hall of Fame and that’s the most important thing and that’s all I really care about. That’s Cooperstown for me, because when I put on the Mets uniform, I believed in winning. Doc Gooden believed in winning. Davey Johnson believed in winning. Frank Cashen believed in winning. And that’s what we did.”