Friday, November 1, 2013

What If the Red Sox Had Won the 1986 World Series?

Seriously, it would have been better for everybody if they had.

Well, almost everybody, as you'll see.

*

October 26, 1986, a few minutes after midnight. Bob Stanley strikes out Mookie Wilson, and it's Boston Red Sox 5, New York Mets 4, in Game 6 of the World Series.  The Red Sox win it all for the first time in 68 years.

Celebrations ring out from from the New Haven Green to Provincetown Playhouse, from Quoddy Head to Nantucket, from Lake Champlain to Newport Beach, from Downtown Crossing to Tanglewood.

Bruce Hurst is named the Series Most Valuable Player.  But the biggest hero is Dave Henderson, whose home run saved the Sox in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the California Angels, and gave the Sox the lead in this Game 6.   He becomes a god in New England, in a way that even Carl Yastrzemski never did.  Nor Larry Bird.  Nor even Bobby Orr.  That's what happens when you're the man who won the World Series for the Boston Red Sox.

No longer do Sox fans have to hear about Harry Frazee selling off his stars to the Yankees, Johnny Pesky holding the ball, Joe McCarthy starting Denny Galehouse one October and relieving Ellis Kinder the next, Bob Gibson ending the Impossible Dream, Ed Armbrister and Larry Barnett and Jim Burton, or Bucky Dent.

Needless to say, Yankee Fans don't like it, but what can they do? Besides, it's not like the Mets won the World Series.

*

The Red Sox win the AL Eastern Division again in 1988 and 1990.  After the 1992 season, they let Wade Boggs go.  Not desperate to play on a winner, he decides to go where the money is... to the Mets, who have their "juvenile delinquent" season in 1993, where veterans like Eddie Murray can't help, and even esteemed guys like Bret Saberhagen and Vince Coleman make disgusting spectacles of themselves, and Bobby Bonilla ruins his reputation forever.  After 2 years, Boggs can't wait to get out of Flushing, is traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, plays 1995, '96 and '97 for them, and closes his career with his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998 and '99.

The Yankees don't have Boggs in their 1993-96 rise to power, but Charlie Hayes fills in nicely at 3rd base, and the 1996 World Series is still theirs.

On June 16, 1997, the first Yankees-Mets regular season game is played.  (In real life, I was there.  What a miserable night.) The Mets beat the Yankees 6-0, with Dave Mlicki pitching a shutout to defeat Andy Pettitte.  In 2012, a 50th Anniversary poll rates this moment as the 3rd-greatest in Met history, behind the 1969 World Championship and the 1986 Pennant.  That's how much Met fans hate the Yankees.

Roger Clemens stays with the Toronto Blue Jays through the 2003 season, and then goes home to pitch for the Houston Astros until 2006.  George Steinbrenner wanted him for the Yankees in 1999, but he didn't want to go.  He had his ring.

The Yankees keep David Wells, and their record through 2003 is roughly the same.

*

Donnie Moore is despondent, but he comes to the realization that he did, after all, lose to the team that went all the way.  He decides not to kill his wife (unsuccessfully, in real life) and himself (successfully).  He works out his emotional issues, remains in the majors until the Strike of '94, age 40, and goes into coaching.  In 1997, he is named the head coach at his alma mater, Ranger College in Ranger, Texas, and in 2009, also in his hometown of Lubbock, he is named head coach at Texas Tech.

After the 1997 season, the Red Sox are enjoying the success of rookie shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.  But, not so desperate for another title -- it has been only 11 years, after all -- they don't make much of an effort to get Pedro Martinez, victim of one of the Montreal Expos' periodic fire sales.  Instead, the Mets send Mlicki, Bernard Gilkey and Carlos Baerga to the Montreal for Pedro.

The Red Sox still win the AL Wild Card in 1998, but lose the AL Division Series to the Cleveland Indians.  They beat the Indians in 1999, but get swept by the Yankees in 4 straight in the AL Championship Series.  (Remember, Pedro's not there in Game 3.) This results in the Yankees becoming the first team to ever go 11-0 in a postseason.

The Sox just miss the Wild Card in 2003, and it's Arthur Rhodes, who'd already been a Yankee punching bag for the Texas Rangers in 3 ALDS, who gives up the Pennant-winning home run to Aaron Boone.  For the 3rd time in 5 seasons, the Yankees beat the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS, making the 1995 ALDS a distant memory.

What doesn't happen in that 2003 ALCS is any brawl between the Yankees and their opponents, because the Mariners aren't a bunch of thugs.

The Red Sox sign Curt Schilling for 2004, and beat the Yankees in the ALCS in 6 games (not 7, as the Yanks lose Game 2 to whoever took Pedro's place in the rotation), before beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.  As the Yankees did in 1996, the Sox end a Series drought after 18 years.  No big deal, right? Certainly not after having waited 68 years.

The Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is heated, but not nearly as nasty as we remember it.  With a recent title under their belts from 1987 to 2004, the "1918!" chant is never heard again, and the respect between shortstops Garciaparra and Derek Jeter helps things, a lot.  Nomar remains with the Sox, and gets his ring in 2004, and another in 2007.

But after the 2007 season, former Red Sox World Series hero Bruce Hurst, now Commissioner Bud Selig's "discipline czar," releases his Hurst Report, showing the extent of performance-enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball.  Most teams have players exposed, and the Yankees and Red Sox get hit harder than most.  For the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte are the biggest names mentioned, although all Hurst can prove against Pettitte is a brief usage to recover from a 2002 injury.

For the 2004 and '07 Red Sox, it's another story: Schilling (whose famous bloody sock provides the evidence against him), David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller and Bronson Arroyo all get called out.

Since Hurst is a 1986 Red Sox World Championship hero, his own team's fans can't really call him a traitor; after all, it's not like he said the 2004 and '07 titles should be vacated.  But, with no bitterness from 1986, 1999 and 2003, Sox fans know not to chant, "Ster-oids!" when another guilty player comes to the plate.

Red Sox fans pretty much have the reputation they had prior to 1999, when they were seen as deeply passionate, and very knowledgeable about the game.  Only a tiny minority get thought of as drunken townies.

By the time the Red Sox win the 2013 World Series, the Number 5 of Garciaparra, the Number 21 of Clemens, the Number 26 of Boggs, the Number 40 of Henderson, and the Number 47 of Hurst have all been retired.

*

But what about the Mets? Granted, not having won a World Series since 1969 isn't as bad as 1954 (the New York/San Francisco Giants), 1948 (the Indians), 1917 (the Chicago White Sox) or 1908 (the Chicago Cubs) -- or, with the Expos having become the Nationals in 2005, 1924 (the only title won by a Washington team, the Senators).

But it's bad enough.  Met fans thought their 1986 title was inevitable.  And it wasn't.  They didn't see the warning signs when they had to struggle to get past the Houston Astros in the National League Championship Series.

The recriminations start almost immediately.  Kevin Mitchell is traded to the San Diego Padres for Kevin McReynolds, and while he isn't booed much, many of the other current Mets are.  Rick Aguilera, who gave up the Series-losing homer to Henderson, gets booed out of town: On July 31, 1987, the trading deadline, Aguilera goes to the Cubs for a major league pitcher and a minor league pitcher whose names you no longer need to know.  He redeems himself somewhat by becoming a 3-time All-Star and a 1991 World Champion with the Minnesota Twins, but his name remains mud in the New York Tri-State Area, the most hated player in Met history.  When Shea Stadium was closed in 2008, he was not invited to the closing ceremony.  He is now a real estate investor in the San Diego suburbs.  (That last part is true in real life as well.  At the actual Shea closing, I don't think he was there, but I'm sure he was invited.)

When Dwight Gooden comes back from drug rehab in May 1987, for the first time, he is booed by the Flushing Faithful.  They now see him not as the greatest pitcher in the world, the natural successor to Tom Seaver, but as a pitcher whose drug use may have cost the Mets the World Series.  Darryl Strawberry, also rumored to have used drugs, gets booed more often as well.

When the Mets lose the NLCS to the Dodgers in 1988, that's the last straw.  By Opening Day 1989, Gooden, Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman, Bob Ojeda, Sid Fernandez, Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell were all gone; within another year, the cornerstones of the '86 team, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter were as well.

Gooden and Strawberry eventually get second chances, and rings, with the Yankees, and Dykstra helped the Philadelphia Phillies win a Pennant in 1993.  But neither Hernandez nor Carter has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Who can forget that classic episode of Seinfeld from 1992:

"Who does this guy think he is?"
"I'm Phil McConkey!"

Elaine ends up dumping the former New York Giants receiver, a hero of Super Bowl XXI, because of his anti-abortion stance.

After the 1992 season, Bob Klapisch, then with the New York Daily News, published his book on the history of the Mets, The Curse of Joe Foy, named for the player the Mets traded Amos Otis for after the 1969 title.  He titled the last chapter of the book "The Worst Team Money Could Buy." Early in the 1993 season, he was confronted in the locker room by Bonilla, who cold-cocked him.  Klapisch required several surgeries to restore the sight in his eye.  (In real life, Bonilla only threatened him, but in 2008, Klapisch was pitching in a semipro game when he took a comebacker in the eye.  In this version, that doesn't happen, and his eye surgeries occur 15 years earlier.)

It takes a long time for Klapisch to recover, but Commissioner Bud Selig suspends Bonilla for the remainder of the season -- the longest suspension a player has ever received, short of actually being banned from the sport.  The Mets release him, and he never appears in the majors again.

Not having Bonilla, the Florida Marlins do not win the NL Wild Card in 1997.  Instead, the Dodgers do, led by powerful slugger Mike Piazza -- who, 10 years later, also ends up getting named in the Hurst Report.  But the Dodgers lose the World Series to the Indians, who take their first title in 49 years.

In 2003, the Marlins do win the Wild Card, but lose the NLCS to the Cubs in 5 games.  The Cubs go on to shock the Yankees in the World Series, thanks to Alex Gonzalez' walkoff homer off Jeff Weaver in the 11th inning of Game 4.  (In real life, that Alex Gonzalez' error was a big part of the 8-run Marlin inning in "the Steve Bartman Game," and it was the other Alex Gonzalez, the Marlins', who teed off on Jeff F. Weaver.)

When Sammy Sosa is outed as a steroid user by the Hurst Report 4 years later, Yankee Fans pretty much let the Cubs off the hook, partly due to the exposure of some of their own players, in their 1996-2003 run, and partly because the Cubs deserved to win after 95 years.

Finally, having gotten Pedro from the Expos and Piazza from the Dodgers, in 2000, the Mets won another Pennant.  And who did they face in the World Series? The Yankees.  The Yankees won a thrilling Game 1.  And then, in Game 2...

Let me backtrack to July.  In an Interleague game at Yankee Stadium, Pedro hit Jeter on the wrist, putting him on the 15-Day Disabled List.  In the very next at-bat, he hit Paul O'Neill in the head.

Game 2, top of the 1st.  Piazza breaks his bat and fouls off a pitch.  The barrel of the bat comes back to Wells.  He tries to hand the piece back to Piazza, and in the process nearly cuts Piazza in the face.  Piazza punches Wells, Wells punches Piazza back, and both benches empty.  Pedro and Jorge Posada start yelling at each other in Spanish, and Pedro points to his head, as if to tell Jorge, "You're gonna get it in retaliation for this."

Bottom of the 1st.  The first Yankee batter is Chuck Knoblauch.  Pedro drills him, right in the head, knocking him unconscious.  Home plate umpire Charlie Reliford throws Pedro out of the game.  Met manager Bobby Valentine jumps out of the dugout, furious that his starter has been thrown out of a World Series game after throwing exactly one pitch.  Reliford tosses him, too.  O'Neill starts jawing at Pedro.  Yankee coach Don Zimmer, himself the victim of a nearly fatal beaning in the minor leagues in 1953, runs out onto the field, trying to get between Paulie and Pedro.  Instead, Pedro grabs the 69-year-old Zim by the head, and throws him to the ground.

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Yankee Fan, orders policemen to arrest Pedro for 2 counts of aggravated assault (on Knoblauch and Zimmer), 1 count of assault with a deadly weapon (on Knoblauch), and 1 count of making a terroristic threat (on Posada).  Commissioner Selig suspends Pedro and Piazza for the remainder of the Series, Pedro for April of 2001, and Wells for 4 games, meaning he would miss at least 1 Series start should the Series go at least 6 games.  He also insists that Wells be thrown out of this game.

The Yankees win Game 2, and go on to win the Series in 5 games.  Now, the Mets have suffered the ultimate indignity: They have lost the World Series to the Yankees, who have clinched at Shea Stadium.  Sportswriters around the country write that the Curse of Joe Foy has struck again.

One such sportswriter is Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.  He has written a few books about the Red Sox, but none is titled The Curse of the Bambino.

Pedro's lawyer, famed trial attorney (and Red Sox fan) Alan Dershowitz, insists that Giuliani and the NYPD had no jurisdiction within the game, that the Commissioner of Baseball is the law in such matters.  The judge disagrees, and says that the case of State of New York vs. Pedro Jaime Martinez must go forward.  Pedro listens to The Dersh, and pleads down to aggravated assault on Zimmer -- the State letting the beaning of Knoblauch go since hit batsmen have been part of the game forever.  Pedro spends 21 days in jail, and is released in time to begin his suspension from baseball.  But he is never the same pitcher, and by the end of the 2003 regular season has thrown his last major league pitch.  He continues to pitch in independent leagues and Caribbean leagues until 2009.

The White Sox win the World Series in 2005.  The Mets have epic collapses in 2007 and '08, including blowing the NL's Wild Card berth by losing the last game at Shea.  Since Citi Field opened in 2009, the Mets have not had a winning season.

The Giants win the World Series in 2010 and 2012.  Unless you count Washington, which didn't even have a team from 1972 to 2004, the Mets have the longest drought of any team that's actually won a Series -- the "new" Washington Senators/Texas Rangers franchise has been playing since 1961, and the Astros since 1962, and neither has ever won.

The Mets' average attendance in 2013 was listed as 13,542.  There are people who think even that figure was a stretch.

The Curse of Joe Foy lives.

The Curse of the Bambino? Never heard of it.

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox, World Champions 1903, 1904, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, 1986, 2004, 2007, 2013.

No comments: