Esposito: Learning From the ‘86ers

It felt like they were here just yesterday, and it felt like a million years ago, but it also felt just right as the ’86 Mets came back for a weekend of festivities at Citi Field this past weekend. It was good to see them, good to hear them, and good to revive those memories when this town was “Mets-Merized.”

So what did we learn having the ‘86ers back for a weekend, boys and girls?

We learned that amongst their plethora of accomplishments, those 108 wins during the regular season in ’86 was a particular source of pride.

Ron Darling admitted that at the end of most current seasons, when the SNY broadcast team will be praising a division winner for racking up, say, 96 wins, he’ll turn to Keith Hernandez with a wink and a nod and go, “Hmm, just 12 more to go.”

We learned that Ray Knight really was the glue that held that team together. Everyone pointed to Hernandez, Gary Carter, Doc Gooden, and Darryl Strawberry as team leaders, and they were, to a great extent, but when the eventual World Series MVP entered the clubhouse, everyone intensified their readiness just a little bit more.

His memorable brawl with Cincinnati’s Eric Davis at third base during the season was a true turning stone to their dominating run and symbolic of their intimidation factor throughout the year.

It was good to have Knight back in the “house,” as he is now an in-studio analyst for the Washington Nationals on MASN, their version of Nelson Figueroa, more or less. Knight proudly admits he wears his 1986 World Series ring every day, and will never forget the love Mets fans have bestowed upon over the years.

“Since I left, never has any fan said anything but sweet positive things. They were really good to me.”

Knight left after ’86 as a free agent, and was hurt by the divorce. He got over it, but the Mets didn’t, and several players pointed to his absence as one of the reasons the team didn’t repeat.

Would you believe it has taken 30 years for Knight to return as a guest of the Mets? He couldn’t make it to the 20th Anniversary of the ’86 Mets a decade ago, and scheduling also precluded him from attending the closing of Shea Stadium in 2008. He also never received a call asking him to throw out a first pitch or for some other occasion, so it really was a welcomed reunion.

We learned that this team really is a family, still deeply care for each other, still keep in touch, and obviously several of them are still here or nearby on a regular basis.

Mookie Wilson proclaimed, “It doesn’t feel like 30 years.” The beautiful thing is the relationships have really lasted and grown over the years. It’s always nice to get together.”

We learned that winning relieved the apprehensions that they had failed a golden opportunity. They were the favorites going into the postseason, and they almost blew it against the Astros in that thrilling six-game NLCS, and they came so close to losing the Fall Classic the scoreboard operator inadvertently popped up an announcement congratulating the Boston Red Sox for winning.

Whew! Almost lost it by that much!

Bobby Ojeda has pondered, “Had we lost, and guys were not able to fall back on that ring, could that not have forced some guys to not live in the past? Some of our high-profile guys, it’s almost like they’re in a time-warp. Had we coughed it up, none of us are doing a parade, or card shows, or this reunion.”

Ironically, we learned that the Red Sox held an ’86 reunion at Fenway Park just days before the Mets’ reunion (with Roger Clemens in attendance, and Wade Boggs showing off his ’96 Yankees ring), so there is something to be said for winning a league pennant. But there must have been a lot of “those darn Mets” comments uttered.

We learned that Lenny Dykstra is still making stupid decisions. He kept refusing formal interviews over the weekend because he has a book coming out and supposedly the publisher didn’t want him revealing some of the “juicy” stories.

Has he never heard of the word, publicity? Has he never watched a talk show where the author with a book on the way offers some content as an inducement to buy the book? Nice going, Lenny.

We learned the Mets still make some questionable decisions from time to time, too. They couldn’t figure out how to offer this momentous occasion to their television fan base, forever ticking off the multitudes that wanted to relive the memories. Yes, it was a FOX-TV game, and contractually, Fox demands exclusivity, but the Mets couldn’t make a deal for a wrap-around pre and post-game show where they showed the ’86 ceremony?

Maybe they asked, and maybe Fox said no, but there were a lot of angry Mets fans in the comfort of their TV rooms fuming. Yes, the Mets did stream the ceremony on, but the fans who remember ’86 best are not the generation that prefers watching events on their cell phones, or IPads, or Apple watches, and the like.

We learned that it still cost a lot of moola to get the ‘86ers’ autographs. An ad in a local paper was offering “limited edition authentic hand-signed” 30th Anniversary memorabilia. A team-signed baseball was only $2499.00. (Yes, the decimal point is in the right place.) A Shea Stadium seat-back was $2999.00. And a vintage litho picturing and signed by 16 Mets (including Carter) and skipper Davey Johnson was $1986.00. How appropriate!

And we learned that the franchise still has a bad habit of losing on momentous occasions, such as the day they soured the closing of Shea by dropping a 4-2 decision to the Marlins, or even the day when Tom Seaver’s number was retired in 1988, and they sent the once-smiling fans home with a loss on their minds.

After the exultation of the ’86 ceremony took place on Saturday, the Mets lost to the Dodgers, 9-1. It was ugly, with Noah Syndergaard being tossed by a rookie ump for throwing behind Chase Utley’s back (You call that payback?). And then Utley taunted them with a pair of home runs to rub in the salt.

We learned the Mets should have left well enough alone. Terry Collins should have said, “Let it go.”

We learned that if the 2016 Mets can learn anything from the ’86 Mets, it’s that winning is forever.

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