NEW YORK — It is Thursday, April 13, 1978, the day of the New York Yankees' home opener. After Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris raise the 1977 championship flag in pre-game ceremonies, Ron Guidry holds the White Sox to two runs and Reggie Jackson hits a three-run homer.
The Yankees went on to win the World Series that year, but not before losing their manager, arguing among themselves, rallying from a 14-game deficit and in general monopolizing the sports pages, not only in New York but nationally as well.
No team has repeated as World Series winner since then, but the Mets are hoping to do it this year. Even if they win the National League East, the playoffs and the Fall Classic, the Mets may never match the '78 Yankees in terms of color or--depending on your rooting interest--obnoxiousness.
Judging by their performance last season and over the winter, however, the Mets may give it a try. They appear poised for another season of success and loathing. Last year they brawled in Cincinnati, sassed police officers in Houston, and whined in the playoffs. They high-fived and made enemies everywhere.
Over the winter, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry endured the public eye on their personal problems. Gary Carter's name surfaced in a vitamin pyramiding scheme.
So far this spring, Strawberry has already paid a $1,500 fine to manager Davey Johnson and Gooden has been sidelined indefinitely to undergo evaluation for a drug problem.
But can they rival the Yankees? Let's look back.
These were days of fussing and feuding, days that made third baseman Graig Nettles remark: "When I was a little boy I wanted to either play baseball or be in a circus. Here I've been able to do both."
Most of the conflict revolved around an unholy trinity of team owner George Steinbrenner, Manager Billy Martin, and Jackson. On any given day, however, no visitor to the Yankee clubhouse could ever be sure who was mad at whom. When the Yankees finally rallied to catch the Red Sox, some of the credit went to a seemingly unrelated development: the New York newspapers went on strike and removed some of the microscope from the clubhouse.
By then, much controversy had already taken place. One day in Boston, Manager Billy Martin walked halfway to right field to pull Jackson, humiliating the star on national television. Later in Kansas City, Martin discussed his right fielder and his boss. "One's a born liar and the other's convicted." The remarks forced Martin's tearful resignation, but look what happened five days later. On July 29--Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium--Martin's return for the 1980 season is announced.
In the meantime, new Manager Bob Lemon handled the Yankees perfectly. He recognized their talent, and the need to provide some team stability. He avoided controversy for the rest of the season, and the Yankees finally caught the Red Sox and beat them in a one-game playoff.
Now the Mets have a chance to repeat. They may do it, just as the 1978 Yankees did. But it'll be hard for them to do it in the same style.