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Braggin Rights

Former Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman has new book about the 1986 Mets titled “The Bad Guys Won” due out this spring. I was 15 years old in 1986 and remember absolutely hating that Mets team. After all, they were arrogant, volatile and exciting, and I was a loyal Yankee fan. The Bombers had good players, but they weren’t necessarily a compelling team. The Mets were the story in New York during the mid-eighties and were far more popular than the Yanks; remember, all of the current fair-weather Yankee fans were fair-weather Mets fans back then. Truth is, I lost many a school yard chop session defending the Bombers.

I recall rooting for the Cardinals a lot (Willie McGee was one of my favorite players), and I even committed the ultimate Yankee sin and pulled for the Red Sox in the World Serious. (Lot of good that did me, but hey, I didn’t have to go to school with any Red Sox fans.)
Jeremy Heit ran a fine interview with Pearlman earlier this week (and here is another good one–conducted by Joe McDonald).

Here is one bit that struck me:

Pearlman: I’ve been saying for several years now that the ’86 Mets were a much more complete team that the current Yankee dynasty. Their starting pitching was so deep, and they were very well balanced all the way around. I think they’d really give a lot of teams trouble at the top of the lineup. With the exception of the Marlins, who today has three guys like Dykstra, Backman and Mookie-guys who can get on and really mess with a pitcher’s head.

What hurts the Mets, dynasty-wise, is that they only really lasted one year. So it’s a poor comparison to, say, the Big Red Machine or the A’s of the 70s. But for one season, one game, you’ve gotta like that ’86 team.

Pearlman doesn’t specify any one year of the current Yankee dynasty, but it got me to thinking: Were the 1986 Mets better than the 1998 Yankees? I asked Rob Neyer, who wrote “Baseball Dynasties,” an extremely entertaining book, with Eddie Epstein. Neyer responded:

We (mostly) ranked teams based on what they did over three-year periods, which hurts the Mets because they didnít even win their division in í87 (though they did play well). But if we just look at one year, the Mets do have a case. Not a great case, maybe, but a case. If you look on page 377 of “Baseball Dynasties,” youíll see the Mets are No. 7 on the one-year SD Score list. And they should actually be No. 6, because we got the Giants wrong. Only two post-1927 teams are ahead of the Mets: the í84 Tigers and the í98 Yankees.

The Tigers are just *barely* ahead of the Mets, and in retrospect (look at what they did in í83 and í85) itís pretty clear the Tigers were playing well over their heads in í84.

The Yankees are No. 1, but do we have to discount them just a bit because it was an expansion? Iím not saying Pearlmanís right. But his claim is not absurd.

I’ve got to spend some time mulling this one over. On the one hand, the ’86 Mets were a powerhouse. They sure weren’t dull. But they almost didn’t make the World Serious and then of course, they came one out–no, one strike–from losing it all, before Boston let it slip away. Aside from trailing the Indians in the ALCS 2-1, the ’98 Bombers were never really in a tight spot.

Hmmmm. What do you think? I’m curious to get some reactions to this debate. Food for thought on a rainy spring day in New York.

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