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THE METS : This Bragging, Brawling--and Winning--Team Has Lost Its Lovable Image Outside of New York

September 21, 1986|THOMAS BOSWELL | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Won't somebody outside New York say something nice about the Mets, please?

Wednesday night in Shea Stadium, the New York Mets clinched the National League East flag after five frustrating days of keeping the champagne on ice.

New York cheered.

Much of the rest of baseball snickered.

Gee, sorry about that little losing streak. What happened to all those landmarks you guys were going to reach, like 112 victories (most since 1906) or four 20-game winners on one pitching staff?

Now, after their recent sputtering, it's doubtful that the Mets, despite their 96-50 record, will reach any of the gaudier regular-season marks they've been pushing toward for months.

Will the Mets join the '75 Reds, the '69-70 Orioles and the '61 Yankees as the only teams of the last 30 years to win twice as many games as they lost? (Very dubious.) Will even one Met win 20 games? (Unlikely.) Will any Met be MVP? (Tossup.) Will a single individual title go to any Met? (Not at the moment.) And can New York even beat the hot Houston Astros in the playoffs?

Or will the Mets join such teams as the '80 Yankees, the '77 Royals and the '76-77 Phillies, who won more than 100 games but never reached the World Series and then were forgotten?

Isn't this whole picture somehow wrong? Why aren't reasonable fans rooting for the Mets to win nearly every game left on their schedule? Shouldn't we want history to be made?

The brawlin', braggin', brainy, butt-kickin' Metropolitans may be one of the best ball clubs in a generation. But plenty of people in the game hope they aren't able to prove it.

Four teams have had bench-clearing fights with the Mets this year. Two Mets will have to stand trial after the season on charges of having a barroom fracas with Houston cops.

The Mets lead the majors in self-congratulatory high-fives, curtain calls after homers, autobiographies, magazine cover stories and general swagger. Their stars strut and their leaders don't mind a rumble. They will charge the mound if you dust them and talk a little trash in the papers, too. The Mets could probably win a Super Bowl if Davey Johnson knew the 46 defense.

"I wish we had another series with them," said Cincinnati's Dave Parker. "Maybe we could get into another fight ... I think they ought to be shown there are tough guys everywhere."

In a long summer of Mets-bashing, everybody has a different nag. Gary Carter, who has campaigned for MVP, is nicknamed "Camera," because he always plays to it. Darryl Strawberry gets the raspberry from some foes who say a strawberry (minor abrasion) is about all it takes to get him out of the lineup.

Keith Hernandez is greeted bitterly in St. Louis after his cocaine trial testimony last summer. Folks in Montreal and Los Angeles think Ray Knight should enter pro wrestling after the way he started throwing punches just because he was bumped on a slide and hit (but hurt) by a pitch.

Tim Teufel and Ron Darling are Houston's favorites after their tussle with Texas' finest; Bob Ojeda and Rick Aguilera also spent a night in jail and were fined for "embarrassing" the team.

Darling of Yale, man about Manhattan with his fashion-model wife, is just too elegant for some tastes -- including his manager's. Johnson nags him constantly, just as Earl Weaver once pestered the almost-perfect Jim Palmer.

Of course, not everybody loves Johnson. Darling zinged him in GQ and says, "I don't pay much attention to him." After only two years of managerial experience, he wrote an autobiography (Bats). Johnson's the Bill Walsh of baseball -- the genius of the hour who's often resented.

Even Dwight Gooden isn't perfect. He's stayed healthy, yet won only 15. The formula for mortality: a little lost velocity and less control of curves, plus wised-up hitters who lay off high fastballs, then slap instead of slug.

Matters won't get better. The Mets, already in double jeopardy for wearing "New York" on their shirts and killing a good pennant race in April, would make perfect October scrooges in the Series. Who'd await them? The beloved Boston Red Sox, without a world title since '18, or the California Angels with old Reggie Jackson and Gene Mauch, the manager who has gone more seasons without winning anything (25 years) than anybody else.

Are the Mets getting a bum rap?

Better believe it.

Carter has put his knees through 13 years of brutal catching service. It's sure terrible that he signs autographs, gives quotes, slaps hands and leads the league in gung-ho. Get off the guy's back.

Let's be sure to give Johnson a hard time for earning a master's degree in math, which enables him to read texts that would intimidate other managers. For once, rep is reality; Johnson probably is the best tactician today.

It's a crime to be as handsome and fashionable as Darling or as gifted and stylish as Strawberry and Gooden. Let's decide that, if they don't win 25 games or hit 50 homers every year, then the defects must be in their characters. Raise 'em too high, then knock 'em low.

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