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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Lennon: '86 Mets tend to keep their distance from today's players

Players from the 1986 Mets, like SNY broadcasters

Players from the 1986 Mets, like SNY broadcasters Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, tend to keep their interactions with the current team to a minimum. Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek, 2009

So what roles, if any, do the Mets of yesteryear play in the fortunes of the current team? That subject became open to debate after last week's controversial clubhouse visit in Washington by Darryl Strawberry, who pointedly told a handful of Mets that they were better than a below-.500 team.

Although some of the Mets, most specifically Jeff Francoeur and Jason Bay, denied they were upset by Strawberry's visit - which included some personalized advice - they definitely were surprised by the tone of it. Players are not accustomed to getting lectures from anyone outside of the coaching staff or front office, regardless of whether they have a World Series ring.

In the case of the Mets, every team since 1986 has carried the burden of living up to that beloved championship club. And Strawberry, being one of the larger-than-life figures from that group, is perhaps its biggest lightning rod. That probably contributed to last week's uneasiness, and for other members of that '86 team, being forever linked with those glory days is why they tend to keep their distance unless asked to take on a more personal role.

"I think at times they're probably so sick of hearing about the 1986 team, and I don't blame them," said Ron Darling, now a broadcaster for SNY. "I would be sick of it, too. But it's not a bad team to aspire to.

"I know what it's like to have success here and how many great things can come their way. I want them to experience that - '86 was an amazing year. People talk about it all the time. We held the mantle long enough. I have no problem giving it up and letting them be the team that people talk about down the road."

Darling often is a member of the traveling party on road trips, so unlike Strawberry, he's around the players and staff on a daily basis. Because of that convenience, Darling's conversations with these Mets tend to be more discreet and rarely at the ballpark.

Keith Hernandez, the most visible member of that '86 team and also an SNY analyst, tends to be a little more involved with this group than Darling, but he avoids giving his opinion until asked. The Mets asked Hernandez, an 11-time Gold Glove winner, to work with Daniel Murphy during the offseason on his defensive skills, but his involvement is rarely that public.

Before Tuesday's game against the Phillies, Hernandez chatted with Ike Davis in the dugout about his batting stance. Taking an interest in the development of the 23-year-old first baseman would be expected for Hernandez. Plus, he admits to having something other than an objective viewpoint when it comes to his former team.

"I'm a Met and I'd like to see this team win," Hernandez said. "I don't like to bother the players because I know there's so much more media now than when I played. I don't like to be as much of a presence in the clubhouse. I know they need their peace, but if someone asks me for help, I'm always available."

The Mets, as well as the Yankees, seem to have more former players around the current team on a daily basis than other clubs do. When that happens, the line between past and present can get a little blurred and occasionally messy.

This generation of players often is just passing through a city. It doesn't necessarily share a link to a franchise's history or see the value of any regular interaction with those players, other than someone like Howard Johnson, who is on the coaching staff.

"I will say that it's a little different here in that New York is more connected to the older players - way more than Atlanta," Francoeur said. "In Atlanta, maybe [Dale Murphy] would show up for a week of spring training, and that was about it. Heck, most of the guys that were part of their history still played there - Glavine, Smoltz.

"There has to be respect, and there has to be a balance. I don't think Darryl ever crossed it. If he was coming in every five days blasting us, would it get old? Probably. But he had never done it before."

And based on the events of the past week, neither Strawberry nor anyone else connected with that '86 team will be trying that kind of tough love again anytime soon.

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