The Mets, 1986 and the best party in town

We partied hard. Our team partied harder — way harder. Which said something.
Mementos, photos and memories faded and forever from 1986 remain with Mets fans of a certain age, including Mark McGuire.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Mementos, photos and memories faded and forever from 1986 remain with Mets fans of a certain age, including Mark McGuire.

We partied hard.

Our team partied harder — way harder. Which said something.

It was the 1980s, and we were Mets fans.

We were young and stupid and having fun that would carry us into our sedate middle-age years. But we were also scarred, the little brothers and sisters who endured the New York Yankees going to playoffs year after year (until they hit a dry spell of their own), making the World Series four times in the previous decade, winning two.

Meanwhile, we had to root for the likes of Dave Kingman, Willie Montanez and Pat Zachry.

And Mettle, the mascot mule. That’s right, a bleepin’ mule. Even to a kid, that was humiliating.

We had enough. We needed that title. We needed 1986.

The New York Mets will be honoring the 1986 World Champion team this weekend at Citi Field. The 30-year anniversary (that hurts; more in a moment) festivities will include honoring the ’86 team on the field prior to Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That Mets team was comprised of several severely flawed individuals who wanted to win, but also loved to have a good time — some of them to debilitating excess.

In other words, a team made for me and my Long Island friends, all in our early 20s and looking toward the next great party. And on more days than not, Shea Stadium hosted that soiree.

Every fan has “their” particular team, an edition of their favorite that stands out above all. Yankee fans, depending on age, can take their pick among the decades. New York Giants fans can go with either the Parcells/LT teams or the Coughlin/Eli Giants. (Real old-timers can even dip into the 1950s and ’60s.)

Although I go back to the Amazin’ Mets of 1973, just a shade too young to recall anything about 1969 (although, like every other kid that year, I did dress as an astronaut for Halloween), the 1980s Mets, and 1986 in particular, was my team, our team, shared with my Long Island friends.

“Sporting memory is selective and unreliable, with a house tilt toward hyperbole,” the incomparable baseball writer Roger Angell wrote in the New Yorker after the 1986 postseason. Not true when talking about those years, that year. You can’t overstate the significance of that oddball collection to my life.

I’m talking about my friends — although it certainly applies to Dykstra, Darryl, Doc, Kevin Mitchell and a good number of Mets who earned their bad-boy rep.

Money for games wasn’t an issue: $10 bought you an upper-deck general admission ticket and a beer. (And the sheer act of typing that sentence caused my aging back to give out.) We could go to 10, 20, 30 games a year because you could always scrounge up a few bucks for a GA ticket in the last rows, a mere dozen feet or so below planes landing at LaGuardia.

We mocked the rich folks sitting in the mezzanine.

Fans of that era earned that world title. After ’73, nothing but disappointment if not misery would come. They traded Seaver. They traded everybody. Did I mention the (expletive deleted) mule? In those lost years — 1974 to 1983 — the Mets had exactly two winning seasons and no division titles. (There was no wild card). In eight of those 10 seasons, they won fewer than 72 games.

Mookie Wilson’s full-time arrival in 1981 brought some excitement. Then, in 1983, the final pieces started to fit together, with Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry and Ron Darling coming to Queens, followed by Doc Gooden, Sid Fernandez and Rafael Santana the next year. In 1985, Gary Carter came from Montreal, Howard Johnson, Ray Knight, Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell joined the team, and what had slowly been built into a good team became great.

The Long Island group, some of us friends since elementary school, started going to games in 1980 or so. By the mid-’80s, our tailgating was a traveling road show — especially for Opening Days — groups of a dozen, two dozen or more. The party began six hours before first pitch and would often end hours after the final out.

Some of the best memories of my life come not from the 16-inning Game 6 of the NLCS against the Houston Astros (pure torture to watch), or the World Series that followed, or being at the games in Shea Stadium. They come from I-2 of Shea’s parking lot — think roughly of where Yoenis Cespedes roams in center today — tailgating with friends, playing football or Wiffle Ball, firing up a barbecue and knocking down appropriate beverages as early as 6:30 a.m. for Opening Day.

On the first day of the 1985 season, we christened that area of the lot “Free Sigi.” It’s a long story that has to do with a friend (Sigi), some spray paint and a misunderstanding that led to a scalping arrest. There’s more, but let’s stop there.

Those Mets teams should have won more. From 1984-90, the Mets won at least 87 games each season, and 90 or more six out of the seven years. They only won two division titles, though. (In 1985 — a classic pennant race with the St. Louis Cardinals that went down to the final week — they missed the postseason with 98 wins.) Had the modern playoff format been in play, it’s a good bet New York perhaps could have snagged another world title.

And if so many of them weren’t self-destructive party animals, who knows?

Obviously, no Mets team has won the title since. Two World Series trips is as far as they’ve gotten. A Mets fan under the age of, say, 36, has no recollection of their team celebrating a Fall Classic win.

Eight-six is ancient history.

Eighty-six was yesterday.

I caught up with some of those close Long Island friends earlier this week. The chat via Facebook started in the Capital Region, snaked its way to Long Island and Pennsylvania and down to North Carolina and Florida. We have scattered. Some of us haven’t seen each other in years.

The stories from that era flew in bursts of shorthand, one-line exclamations that would make no sense without paragraphs of explanation. Some of the stories I’m just not going to share here, or with my kids. Ever.

It took Sue, the mature one, to sum up those years:

“We were such [blanking] idiots!!!”

“You say it like it was a bad thing,” I replied.

“But,” Joann added, “we had fun.”

That we did. Those were our years. And the 1986 Mets? That was our team.

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