This wasn’t on the original “Reading With the Roost” list, but it should have been. What it was on: the clearance rack at Barnes and Noble, and at $4.98 I couldn’t pass it up. So while on vacation I cracked it open, and it was read by the next morning.
Needless to say, I was pretty blown away by Jeff Pearlman’s book. I had seen his name shot through the blogosphere a few times here and there (mostly for his Cowboys book, which apparently is now out in paperback…) but I had never really given any thought to his work. What makes Pearlman’s work so excellent is the basis for his book.
The ’86 Mets were his team when he was growing up, and so they clearly meant a lot to him. The basic premise of this book, however, is to expose just what that Mets team was all about. As we know now, what made up the Gooden/Strawberry/Hernandez Mets back then could make a ten-year-old’s little head explode. For as much as the book is about the team that won the World Series, I think it’s about a loss of innocence in a way. It’s only talked about briefly, but Pearlman often alludes to the concept of a baseball fan losing the illusion that baseball teams are all play and no trouble.
When you write about the “real” story of anything, what is often revealed isn’t too flattering. What Pearlman seems to reveal is that our childhood illusions of what baseball “is” don’t match up to what makes a winner, or any team for that matter. The 86′ Mets, were the team for millions of little boys, but two decades removed the reality that the rest of baseball knew is clear.
The reality is that the Mets were a world of trouble back then, and also that in many ways they were perfect because of it. It’s an interesting concept to consider, as is the question that many Mets fans are left with: why wasn’t that team a dynasty? Here’s the team’s assembly and disassembly as a visual aide, thanks to Flop Flop Fly Ball.
I’m not going to get too far into it, but it’s a pretty interesting chart to say the least. For a team that absolutely dominated in 1986, things fell apart pretty quickly and have stayed mostly in ruin for some time. There have been some moments of success, but the Mets have never come close to having a team like they did in 1986. Pearlman only focuses on this at the book’s conclusion, but the reason is pretty obvious: fear. Mets ownership and management was afraid of potential (no, real) problems on the roster and didn’t know what would happen next season. So they made changes and things were never the same.
It’s something that I lack proper prospective on because of my age, but in some ways that is what makes the book so interesting to me. As a Red Sox fan what I know about the 1986 season (especially the World Series) is entirely based on a Red Sox point of view. I know about Bucky Dent and the Boston managerial mistakes from books and documentaries and word of mouth, but none of that has ever been presented from the Shea Stadium perspective. It certainly doesn’t help me feel any better about the result, but Pearlman does a great job to offer a different, more rational take on an event so many baseball fans already have preconceived notions of.
When you really think about it, that’s what great sports books are supposed to do. Pearlman has a very engaging writing style that keeps you interested, all while retelling the story of one of baseball’s great teams. There are also plenty of tidbits that most people will forget about a team like that: the role players and mathematical nuances of manager Davey Johnson, the assembly and destruction of a potential dynasty by Frank Cashen, and the truth about a crazy rumor involvingKevin Mitchell, a cat, and Jim Rome.
For being a fairly large book, “The Bad Guys Won” was a very quick, rewarding read that surprised me in a lot of ways. It’s not as groundbreaking philophocally as some other books we have talked about, but it’s a great story worth knowing, and told by a superb writer. If you can still get it cheap, I’d give it a try before the summer officially turns to fall.