Monday, February 15, 2010

Canon Book Review: The Bad Guys Won!

Recently, I re-read Jeff Pearlman's book, "The Bad Guys Won". It is the story of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets. The Mets of 1986 were not only a great team, they were a team that partied hard, got into more than a few scuffles, and generally pissed off everyone else in the league. Pearlman, a former writer for Sports Illustrated who has written three books since "The Bad Guys Won", conducted over 175 interviews with Mets players, coaches, front office executives, bat boys, clubhouse attendants, and other people involved with the 1986 Mets, as well as some of the Mets opponents from that year. The resulting tale is of a baseball team known as much for their arrogance and post-game parties than for their top-notch performances on the baseball diamond. It is a team that, many Mets admit, was full of jerks, fueled by alcohol, amphetamines, and winning baseball games.

The manager of the Mets that year was Davey Johnson, an intelligent field general who let his players do whatever they wanted as long as they showed up on time.Even if they destroyed airplanes and hotel rooms, had a few beers and had a couple of run-ins with the law, Johnson just wasn't interested in the discipline side of things. Johnson was sure that his team was the best in baseball, predicting not only victory, but domination over the Mets' hopeless foes. Like the Jordan-era Bulls, or the Dallas Cowboys of the 90s, the Mets carried themselves with a certain swagger, with a belief that no matter what you did, it wasn't going to be enough to win.

Pearlman chronicles the season from the beginning to the end, He also includes a section on the building of the team by Mets GM Frank Cashen, an old-school baseball man who couldn't understand why his Mets had to be such jerks. Pearlman also writes in great detail about the Mets' epic playoff battles against the Houston Astros in the NLCS and the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Pearlman wraps the book up with a chapter about how the Mets quickly self-destructed from a sure dynasty to a flash-in-the-pan champion.

The guy that comes off the worst in this book is star right fielder Darryl Strawberry. There were times where Strawberry was a kind person, but most of the times he was an obnoxious drunk who felt everyone around him should bow down to the great Strawberry. There's one story in the book where a teammate is showing off a pair of shoes he recently got, and Strawberry walks up to him and demands that he gives the shoes to him. For the next three minutes, Strawberry berates his teammate, saying he isn't "fly enough" for those shoes and other crap, before eventually giving up. Strawberry talked crap about a number of teammates, did coke and drank alcohol at all hours off the day, and got into a domestic dispute with his wife before a playoff game. This is not the behavior you would want out of your superstar. A few more notes from the book:

Dwight Gooden, the Mets' other superstar, comes across as a nice enough person. Unfortunately, he, like Strawberry, fell in love with cocaine, and his career would never reach the heights of 1985, a season in which he won the Cy Young award and posted a 1.53 ERA. Dwight, as well as Strawberry, would be suspended multiple times in their career for drug use. I'm guessing that's a major reason why the Mets only won one World Series.

Sid Fernandez, a pretty good starting pitcher for the Mets, is portrayed as the clubhouse idiot, a man convinced that wrestling is real. Fernandez, who made 200,000 dollars in 1986, did not buy a $150,000 house because, according to Davey Johnson, Fernandez couldn't bring himself to live on only $50,000 for the year. Apparently Fernandez was unfamiliar with the concept of a mortgage.

My two favorite players from this book is Lenny Dykstra and Kevin Mitchell. Dykstra would try to hit a home run every time up, say whatever was on his mind, stay out all night long, and gamble large amounts of money in poker games against shady characters in backroom clubs. Mitchell, meanwhile, was a former street gang member who would play anywhere (even shortstop, which, if you've seen Mitchell play before, does not seem like a good decision). He also beat the crap out of Darryl Strawberry during their minor league days, which is good enough for me.

George Foster, the Mets left fielder, was an interesting character. He helped produce a rap song (Get Metsmerized, which is just awful), and would sell knockoff polo shirts to opposing players, even though he made 2 million dollars a season. He was released in August after accusing Johnson of racism after Johnson had the audacity of benching the .227 hitting Foster. Ironically, the Mets proved Foster somewhat correct by trading Mitchell after the 1986 season because he was a "bad influence" on Strawberry and Gooden, even though the only white powder Mitchell used was on his doughnuts.

Overall, this was a very good book. It's easy to read, the stories are plentiful, are Pearlman does a great job of making the reader feel as if they are in the clubhouse. Or getting arrested by overzealous Houston police officers or getting berated by that jackass Strawberry.  It's obvious that Pearlman did a lot of research on this book, providing very specific details about events such as Game 6 of the World Series, the 16 inning classic in the NLCS against the Astros, and the filming of the Mets' very own music video. Overall, if you're a baseball fan, I would recommend this book highly, even if you're like me and can't stand the Mets.

Let's finish this review with a music video. Specifically, the 86 Mets' in the "hit" video "Let's Go Mets". According to the book, the producers had a ton of difficulty getting the Mets players to cooperate with anything. Also, the video went $100,000 over budget, and the group Cameo made a cameo in the video. The video is very eighties. Judge for yourself:

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