Interview: Jeff Pearlman On 1986, 2009, K-Rod, Strawberry

An article by posted on December 16, 2008

 I spoke with author and Sports Illustrated journalist Jeff Pearlman, who wrote the New York Times best selling book on the New York Mets, “The Bad Guys Won”. 

The book is a must read, a great gift for any Mets fan, and is available at Amazon.com.

In the title of your book, “The Bad Guys Won”, who was the baddest and why?

I’d say Lenny Dykstra. He had a certain I-don’t-give-a-f**k approach to life and baseball, and it served him well. He didn’t mind farting in your face; pissing off Nolan Ryan and risking a 95 mph fastball at the head; drinking all night, then coming to work three hours later. He just did whatever his gut told him, and it worked.

Can you draw any comparisons between that 1986 team and the current Mets?

None. Zero. Those Mets had heart and soul and character. They were built piece by piece, not by signing a bunch of high-priced free agents and hoping it works. They constructed the Carter and Hernandez trades very carefully, carefully nurtured and developed prospects like Darling, Gooden, Straw, etc; made small, seemingly insignificant trades for guys like Rafael Santana and Hojo. They really were a step-by-step masterpiece. Also, fans really related with that team. There was a very strong bond. These Mets clearly don’t have that.

Do you think that the Mets cocky reputation in 1986, worked against them in the following years?

No, I think aging and drug abuse worked against them. Cockiness is great when you can back it up. But when you’re snorting coke and when you’re 37-years-old, it doesn’t matter the attitude–it can’t work. 

It’s been 23 years since the Mets last won, they’ve cleaned up  their image focusing only on acquiring model citizens and clean cut guys. When a player (or his wife) draws any negative attention, they are quickly done away with. A winning strategy?

No. I’ve written two team books—one on the ’86 Mets, the other on the ’90s Cowboys. Both teams had the right approach: Do what you’ve gotta do (within reason), just play your ass off. Chemistry isn’t 25 guys reading a bible together; it’s 25 guys with a determination and focus and need to be the best. Do you think Tim Teufel and Keith Hernandez (for example) were best friends? Or Straw and Gary? Of course not. But it didn’t matter, because when they hit the field together, they had the same goal.

Could the Mets have prevented what ultimately led to the downfall of both Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden? Were there early warning signs that went largely ignored?

No. As the son of a substance abuse counselor, I’ve had myriad talks with my mother about this over the years. Drug abuse is a disease. A very, very real disease. What were the Mets gonna do to stop it? Send Doc to a 60-day program instead of a 30? New York clearly wasn’t the best place, health-wise, for either guy, but the blame cannot be placed on the Mets organization. It’s illogical.

Will the recent additions of J. J. Putz and K-Rod be enough for the Mets to win the division in 2009?

I don’t think so. I actually agree with Cole Hammel’s very rough take: The Mets are choke artists. Something in this squad’s DNA is way off, and I just don’t think two excellent relievers can change that.

About the Author ()

I'm a lifelong Mets fan who loves writing and talking about the Amazins' 24/7. From the Miracle in 1969 to the magic of 1986, and even the near misses in '73 and '00, I've experienced it all - the highs and the lows. I started Mets Merized Online in 2005 to feed my addiction and interact with other passionate Met fans like you. Follow me on Twitter @metsmerized.

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