Book Review: "The Bad Guys Won"

Has it been nearly 20 years already? Reading <u>The Bad Guys Won: A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo Chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, the Kid and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever To Put On a New York Uniform-and Maybe The Best</u>, <i>(hands down one the longest subtitles in the history of literature)</i> by Jeff Pearlman, certainly reminds those who can remember the events of around midnight October 26th 1986 like it was yesterday.

Certainly in the 18 years since many things have changed, in the world and of course in baseball, considered by the author, and many who remember those days, the last of generation of legendary baseball teams, who were just as famous for their exploits off the field as they were on it. Perhaps it could also be because of how quickly a team on the rise fell, was dismantled and how a team that looked poised to rule the baseball world could come off the era with just one worlds championship and two postseason appearances to show for itself, but that is a whole other book that has yet to be written. Instead Pearlman, former writer for Sports Illustrated and the author of the infamous John Rocker piece that caused the former Braves closer to be "public enemy #1" in New York, focuses on the year that was 1986, leaving the future to a short epilogue and a "Where are They Now" section.

The journey beings with Frank Cashen's hiring in 1980, takes you through his starting to build a dynasty with the accusations of George Foster, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Bob Ojeda. The drafting of Len Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, the trades that turned Lee Mazzilli into Ron Darling and Howard Johnson, and the hiring of Davey Johnson.

Then the stories start picking up as Pearlman, who was a 14 year old Mahopac High School freshman in 1986, spoke with over 180 people associated with the 1986 team. From Carter and Hernandez to Ed Hearn and John Gibbons, from Bob Mandt and Charlie Samuels to Vinny Greco and John Ruffino, there are some major omissions though as Pearlman apparently did not contact Gooden or Strawberry for the book, relying on news clippings and Gooden's autobiography. The latter should have made Pearlman contact Gooden as he relays a story that Gooden tells in his book about Kevin Mitchell severing a head off a cat. Pearlman tells of the first meeting of Gooden and Mitchell and Mitchell comes back to say, "He says he didn't write it." How that didn't make Pearlman want to talk to Gooden in light of numerous "autobiographies" that have stories and passages that get so twisted and turned around that they barely resemble what the person wanted to say. Pearlman even says as much with Len Dykstra's Nails, one of the several "instant-books" that came out following that season, which came off more as Dykstra's co-author's words than Nails' own.

Besides the lack of Gooden and Strawberry first hand accounts, there are a number of factual errors, including a few that are almost inexcusable for a supposed Met fan. For example Pearlman lists 1978 as the year for the Seaver for Flynn/Henderson/Zachry/Norman deal, maybe the final nail in the 1969 team's coffin and the rock bottom that caused the environment that the 1986 Mets crawled from. It is also stated that the 1985 Mets finished just a game out of first, while the Cardinals-Mets race went down to the final week, the final standings show a 3 game difference between the teams. Also in recounting the events of Game 6 of the NLCS, when describing Billy Hatcher's game tying home run, it is listed as being down the right field line, when in fact it went down the left field line. Also, while relaying a story, probably told by Hernandez, Hernandez is listed as being both the 1986 Mets Player's Union Representative and the Captain of the team. The former was correct, but the latter would not be officially true for another year. Do errors take away from the book? Probably the factual errors can be explained away with faulty editing and relying more on stories than factual evidence. However, when telling an oral history of the 1986 team, and not including first hand accounts from the two biggest symbols of both that team's greatness and that teams downfall, when both are readily available, is quite inexcusable.

The stories told throughout the book range from the fun recanting of "The Plane Ride From Hell" following the clinching of the National League Championship, to the four on-feild fights, Cooter's-Gate, and the making of the two music records "Get Metsmerized" and "Lets Go Mets Go" and the birth of Roger McDowell's "Hot-Foots" to the disturbing with the telling of how the progression of Dwight Gooden's problems led to a high ranking baseball official telling Ray Knight to intervene before things got out of hand. Pearlman's point is more to contrast the cocky and brashness of the team, and the book is peppered with brash quotes from the year where the Mets acted as if they owned the baseball world, to the robotic way athletes handle the media these days. That is no more evident in the current Yankee Captain, Derek Jeter, who always seems to give interviewers just what the need and no more. Pearlman waxes nostalgic when mentioning how athletes today are "Game-Boy obsessed, laptop carrying corporate solders." Certainly Pearlman doesn't wish athletes are more constantly found in compromising situations as they were in the past, but it does read more of a "fan-boy" wanting things they way they used to be.

Don't read this book though if you are expecting new revelations, as many of the stories and descriptions of the major players have been known for many years. That Darryl Strawberry was a mean drunk, that Gary Carter is a goody-two-shoes spotlight hog, that Keith Hernandez has an acerbic, cocky way about himself, that George Foster pretty much wrote his ticket out of town by both his bad play and attitude and on his way out accused the organization of being racial motivated, ect, all have been told in one form or another. Possibly more of a sign of the information age we live in, its harder to let stories that would just be told at reunions and such stay within the confines of the group that they happen to. You will see stories expanded upon though, if you want to know the truth about the Cooter's incident that saw Tim Teufel, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda and Rick Aguleria get into an early morning scuffle with Houston cops outside the famous night club one July night. Also the behind the scenes story of how George Foster was approached to record a "Super Bowl Shuffle" esque rap song in April and how the Mets stonewalled the release of said record called "Get Metsmerized" and the behind the scenes of the production of the "official" record that the Mets would be involved with that summer, "Lets Go Mets Go!"

By then end of the book, it does seem that rather than "Celebration" the song that runs in my head is "Layla," or more appropriately, the instrumental bridge at the end of the original version of the song as Pearlman starts telling the dismantling of the team, starting with not resigning Ray Knight and trading the "dangerous clubhouse cancer" Kevin Mitchell for Kevin McReynolds, while safer would become a clubhouse cancer in his own right, and promoting a man who lacked the maturity to live up to his potential in Gregg Jefferies. Pearlman does not list the two on-field events that helped sink the dynasty that never was though, Terry Pendelton's homer in the 9th off Roger McDowell to tie the game on 9/11/87, the Mets, down a game heading into the ninth would never recover, and of course Mike Scioscia's Game 4 homer of Dwight Gooden in the 1988 NLCS, neither Gooden nor the Mets were ever the same.

In all the book is a good, quick paced read, but here is hoping more books come out about the team as the 20th anniversary draws near.

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