The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Mediocrity, and a Mets Fans Life: Part 3

Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, if you need catching up.

1983:  Is a hard year to write about.  Not because anything truly awful happened back then, but because it was such a waste of year.  For the past couple of decades, my best friend, James and I have always maintained that 1983 was the worst year ever.  Neither of us could provide you with specific reasons or examples of this awfulness, yet we definitely felt this in an almost visceral way as ’83 unfolded around us.  In other words, we’d hit bottom.  Tired of ourselves.  Tired of our aimlessness.  Tired of wasting time.  It was fun once, but now we simply hated where it was all headed, which is to say, precisely nowhere.

But, as they say (“they” have a lot of wisdom, and, apparently, a lot of freakin’ time on their hands), you have to hit bottom before you can bounce back up.  So, in keeping with that old adage, I started to do something I’d never done before.  I started to think about going to college.  Frankly, I’d had enough of the Working Class Hero bullshit.  Since Reagan, it was clear there was no money in it anymore.  Now, as the song said, “All you need are looks and a whole lot of money.”  Several people I’d known in high school were now halfway through college, and these folks were not what anyone would call the Kolbe High School Brain-Trust.  So, for the first time in my life, I started to save up money for college.

Apparently, the Mets had also finally had enough of their losing ways.  Sure, they finished the year 68-94, another last place season.  But more importantly, they’d begun to set the foundation for future success.  Rookie Darryl Strawberry, the first excellent position player the Mets had ever developed, enjoyed a fine season, slugging 26 home runs in just 420 at bats.  Perhaps even more importantly, the Mets traded pitcher Neil Allen to the Cardinals for first baseman Keith Hernandez.  Keith instantly gave the Mets a credibility they’d lacked since they’d traded away Tom Seaver several years before.

1984:  Nothing much happened.  It took a year like this to make 1985 possible.  I guess I must have saved up some money.  I worked for most of the year at a light-industrial shop making some sort of things that were sold to the Department of Defense.  All the big money was in defense in those days.  But I was sticking to my plan.

As for the Mets, a shooting star named Dwight Gooden exploded onto the scene.  In his rookie year, he led the N.L. in strikeouts with 276 in just 218 innings.  He just made it all look so easy.  And the Mets, astonishingly, won 90 games for the first time since their improbable 100 win season back in ’69.  Clearly, happy days were here again.

1985:  In the mid-80’s, not a lot of culturally very important moments were taking place, though blues guitarists Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan were shining bright for anyone who cared to notice.  As for me, well, I’d landed a new job at a local bank through a friend of mine.  It was perhaps the coolest, easiest job I’ve ever had.  Automatic Teller Machines were just becoming nearly universal at that time, and the banks decided that they needed a stable of on-call drivers to attend to the simpler tasks of refilling the machines with cash, clearing jammed bills, changing the receipt tape, etc.

The beauty of the job was that we could camp out in a local bar and wait for our beepers to go off before we hit the road.  I worked the late shift from 5:30-midnight with a friend of mine.  We’d drive from Fairfield down the Connecticut coast all the way as far as Greenwich, or as far west as Danbury.  Some of the girls who rode with us were very cute, and, strictly against the rules, sometimes we’d even occasionally pick up a friend and bring him with us.  I was 22-years old, the money was easy, the summer was a lot of fun, and I was still sticking to the plan.

Dwight Gooden at Candlestick Park in San Franc...

Dwight Gooden at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Shea Stadium, the Mets were having a fantastic season, ultimately winning 98 games, but couldn’t quite catch the damned Cardinals.  New addition Gary Carter, along with Keith Hernandez, Gooden, Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, and pitchers Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez as well as a brash young rookie named Lenny Dykstra, were playing with a swagger never quite seen before in Queens.

Gooden finished the season with 1.53 ERA and lost just four of 35 starts.  In my mind, it was the greatest pitching season I’ve still ever seen in my life.  The Mets were now New York’s team, and it felt great to be a Mets fan.

1986:  An odd and fantastic year.  My gig at the bank continued through the summer, and I now even had a radio show on a college radio station with my friend Dave, WVOF-Fairfield.  It was a college radio station, and we got to play anything and everything we desired, from bits of Monty Python albums, to Classic Rock, Prog Rock, Alternative Rock, and the Blues.  “Take the Skinheads bowling, take them bowling!”  I was also going to make a break for it, escaping southern Connecticut for the comparative wilds of Maine.  But that wouldn’t come until the day after Thanksgiving.  Until then, I got to enjoy the Mets epic adventure of a season.

In the National League, there really was no competition against the Mets in 1986.  The Mets led the league in most offensive and pitching statistics.  They won 108 games.  Gooden became the first pitcher in MLB history to post three consecutive 200-K seasons to begin a career (and he had just turned 21.)  Their clubhouse was a mess, and Davy Johnson, though he did his best and was a very intelligent manager, was probably in a bit over his head with this group.  Game Six of the N.L.C.S vs. Houston is still the greatest game I’ve ever seen played in my life.  It was a roller-coaster ride, an epic 16-inning classic.

For the benefit of any Red Sox fan who might still be reading, I won’t recount the history of the ’86 World Series.  I will say, though, that when Dykstra hit a lead-off home run at Fenway Park in Game Three, my friend Gregor dunked his beeper in a pitcher of beer, and there it remained until the game was over.  Just a few weeks later, I landed in a distant corner of snowy, York County, Maine.

Luther Bonney, Masterton Hall, and the Science...

Luther Bonney, Masterton Hall, and the Science building at USM’s Portland Campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1987-89:  I combine these years because they were all a bit of a blur.  It seemed like, except for a few short, warm days every year, it was always winter.  Also, I’d never seen so many white people in one place in my entire life.  Being a white guy myself who’d moved from a place where white was just one color in the social fabric, it quickly became apparent that the denizens of York County (and later, Cumberland County, just up the road where they had roads) were of a species I’d never encountered before.

Meanwhile, I had finally enrolled at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham / Portland, Maine.  I was to major in Political Science, though I wasn’t really sure what the hell I was going to do with a Poli-Sci degree.  All I knew was that it felt right to finally be going back to school, long after many of my high school classmates had already graduated.  I had also begun working at L.L. Bean in Freeport.  But we’ll save that story for later.

Next up, a wild ride through the ’90s!

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23 thoughts on “Mediocrity, and a Mets Fans Life: Part 3

  1. Funny, I’ve worked in Financial Services 34 years (as of today in fact) and have joked the last ten that I would have done better in the industry with a Political Science Degree. Just trying to help, maybe that is the move.

    • I could see how that could be helpful, Michael. My next move, though, is more likely to be a small one rather than a brand new career. Congrats on your 34-years in that field. The only thing I’ve done for that long is follow the Mets!
      Cheers,
      Bill

  2. No need to apologize, Bill! I didn’t mean it like that! If what I wrote came off as being arrogant, I certainly didn’t mean it that way.

    If I’m bitter at anything, it’s the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which effectively killed the radio industry that I had always dreamed of being a part of. (And I was a part of it; I fulfilled my dream. I just was expecting radio to be there and be my career until my death.) Who would have ever thought that the greedy Republicans, plus President Clinton, the Republican in Democratic clothing, would have ended radio, and my radio career is over.

    I will always be bitter at Bill Clinton about this.

    Glen

  3. This was really enjoyable, Bill.
    You know, I’ve had a political science degree for about eighteen years now, and I still don’t know what the damn thing’s good for. However, clever guy that I am, I got a DOUBLE major, so that if one of my majors turned out to be completely useless, I could fall back on the other one. That’s why I chose history. After all, a history degree must help you find a job, otherwise, why would so many job-seekers have them?

    In my personal history, 1983 is a stand-out year–better than anything until 1988. I can see why 86 was such an awesome year for you–my 88 was definitely made better by the Dodgers’ championship among other things.

    I admire people who put themselves through college, whether it’s on a GI Bill or through saving, like yourself. I partially put myself through college. That is, I took out all the loans and grants they’d give me, and then my mom paid the rest. So I didn’t pay for my college until AFTER college, and then I paid for a long time. I think the way you did it both teaches discipline and more importantly speaks to a certain discipline already inherent within you. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t have done that. At that point in my life, I was simply not goal focused or correctly prioritized to man up like that. And I NEEDED college in a big way. I don’t mean for the education (although certainly for that), but rather the life experience and five years of growth (would’ve been four but I got kicked out). So if I’d been disciplined enough to save up for college to go a little bit later, I wouldn’t have needed much of what college gave me.

    Your former ATM job sounds super kick-back. I enjoy driving places if I have a book and music to listen to, but again, I don’t think I was responsible enough at that age. I would have done the job well enough, I think, but I would have used the downtime irresponsibly.

    It’s funny, but during the years 84-88 (except for the post-season) baseball was kind of “dark” to me in that I never got to see it. We moved to Washington State in 1983, and the only game in town was the Mariners, who were just horrible at that time. We’d go to games, and the Kingdome was a mausoleum. I did get TBS, though, so I’d get to see the occasional Dodgers-Braves matchup.

    • Funny that double-major on your part in that I almost double-majored in Poli-Sci / History as well. I ended up with a minor in history. I guess five years of college was enough (I went part-time for about three of those years.) Not sure I was being super-responsible back then (though thanks for saying so.) I just liked to work at jobs I could easily walk away from for a few years. Meanwhile, with few responsibilities of my own, I just saved up some dough. I should add that L.L. Bean did later pay for some of it through their employee school-reimbursement program. Once I started at USM, I pretty much worked at L.L. Bean the entire time as well. It wasn’t a bad gig. I got to meet a couple of great friends that I’m still in touch with.
      The ATM job was the best. Not sure I can say I was always responsible, but at least I never got caught. I could tell you a couple of stories…but I’ll save them for another time. (Well, at least we never stole any money.)
      For me, I was less focused on baseball once I moved up to Maine, which is Red Sox country, though I did enjoy listening to the games on the radio on a summer’s night. As for the T.V. guys, I can’t stand Jerry Remy, and I freakin’ despised Sean McDonough. Those were the Mike Greenwell / Ellis Burks / Phil Plantier years. Didn’t interest me much, and the Mets were very hard to follow up in Maine. But more of that in my next post.
      Thanks a lot, man.
      Bill

      • I truly think that IS responsible. It probably doesn’t seem that way because it’s just how you were raised. I was raised by a widowed mother who was sort of a surfer girl/semi-hippie (by which I don’t mean to denigrate my mom; she was a remarkable woman), so not a lot was demanded of me as a child (again, that sounds like I had a lazy, hands-off mom, and I don’t mean it that way–she was just a laid back gal is all). It’s probably characteristic of most hard-working, self-made individuals that they don’t think of themselves as particularly industrious, but are amazed at how many incredibly lazy people there are in the world. If we had been college roommates, particularly in my earlier years of college, I think it would have been a week tops before you smothered me to death one night with my own pillow.

        Regarding going somewhere else and watching your team, I think that’s fun to do every now and then. Expanding on that, when I go to an English-speaking place that’s outside of my local TV radius (so that’s anywhere from San Jose to Brisbane–or it would be if I’d ever been to Australia), I love to watch their local news. Particularly the smaller places. It’s interesting to see how THEY feel about things, and what their issues are, and what little nicknames they call their region (“the Tri-Cities, The Valley, etc.). Watching your team in another area is kind of similar, because you get to see them through a stranger’s eyes, and hear a different take on it.

      • If you and I had been college roommates, you would have noticed that on many nights, I would’ve been far too drunk to smother anyone but myself. Although I maintained an “A” average through most of college, and worked at the same time, I did break the occasional afternoon study session with, “Christ! What are we doing to ourselves? There’s an effing lot of ale to drink tonight, boys!” Then down to the Old Port we’d go.

        As for getting a kick out of how locals sometimes refer to themselves, there were (are) these two old, decrepit mill-towns in central Maine called Lewiston and Auburn. They went by Lewiston-Auburn, or more specifically, The Twin Cities. You know, like Minneapolis-St. Paul, minus the jobs, the education, and the hope, but with just about the same amount of snow.

        Good stuff, man.
        Bill

  4. What is it with baseball bloggers and college radio stations? I too did one semester at my university radio station (I had the classical hour–Beethoven, Mozart, etc). Don’t remember the call sign but because it was a small station with little wattage and few listeners, we lovingly refered to it as WEAK.
    Good job, Bill, and as Bob Hope used to say, Thanks for the Memories.
    BTW are you going to talk about the Mets in 1988 (this from a Dodgers fan–wink, wink)?
    v

    • There does seem to be a thread there, blogging baseball and college radio. Maybe we’re all just frustrated D.J.’s.
      You know, after I pressed the Publish button, I realized I’d never mentioned Mets baseball from 1987-89. Perhaps I subconsciously decided to avoid the subject. Too painful, but I’ll probably lead off with that next time.
      Thanks, man.
      Bill

    • I did almost a semester for my college radio station, but I was fired toward the end of it. It wasn’t for my voice, but rather what I did with it.

  5. The mention of Neal Allen reminds me of one of my favorite Met stories. As you probably remember, Allen confessed to having a drinking problem, though when he later entered rehab, they sent him back, saying that he wasn’t an alcoholic, he’d just lost the strike zone. Anyway, Ralph Kiner never bought the notion that Neal was an alcoholic–he said “My friend Phil Harris (who was the voice of Baloo the Bear in The Jungle Book ) spills more than Neal Allen drinks.”

    • You know, I only vaguely recall anything about Allen’s drinking problem. I guess they decided to trade away a drinker for a snorter. The snorter was better, so it was a great deal for the Mets. Allen bounced around for about a decade, playing for several different teams. He never did quite manage to get his shit together. Kiner could produce some droll wit from time to time.
      Thanks for sharing that uniquely Mets story.
      Bill

  6. Another good post, Bill. I like the way that you are weaving your life and the Met’s timeline.

    Keep’em coming,
    Allan

  7. Glen Russell Slater on said:

    I also worked at L.L. Bean. I worked in the employee cafeteria as dishwasher at some point in either 1988 or 1989. If you ate in the employee cafeteria, you probably ate on one of the plates that I made spotless.

    I never set foot on the campus of the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus, but before I landed my dream job at WPOR, I was a disc jockey at WMPG, which was then on the USM Gorham campus. I rode my ten-speed bike up there from where I lived at that time, which was on Inverness Street, off of Washington Avenue. That was a LONG bike ride in the summer! My “show” was actually classical music at WMPG, of which I knew nothing about! This was in the summer of 1988, right before I applied at WPOR. I lost the gig at WMPG because too many people called and complained that I was making a mockery of classical music, which I was. I used to scrape the needle off the record in the middle of a symphony and say, “Well, enough of THAT! You’re probably driving a car! I don’t want you to fall asleep at the wheel!”

    Actually, I like classical music, but just in small amounts. I don’t particularly like Beethoven, though. I do like a lot of the other composers, though.

    Glen

    • Well, Glen, if you were working at the employee cafeteria of the distribution center a few blocks away from the store, that’s where I worked from the fall of ’88 to the fall of ’94. I only worked in the main store downtown on a couple of occasions. Also, I used to listen to WMPG once in a while, but for some reason never thought to try to land a gig there. In my first two years at USM, I spent most of my time on the Gorham campus. My last years were spent mostly in Portland. My dad, by the way, used to work at the Nissen Bakery on Washington Ave. He was there for about 17 years. Also, I lived on West Kidder St., off of Washington Ave, for around a year.
      Small world, man.
      Bill

      • Glen Russell Slater on said:

        So your whole family moved to West Kidder Street in Portland from Bridgeport? That’s quite a move. I have a friend who worked at J.J. Nissen, but the one down in Biddeford, the one that just went out of business. (Hostess, also known as Interstate Bakeries, bought it out several years ago.)

      • No, my parents moved up a bit later and settled in overrated Gorham. I lived in an apartment house on W. Kidder with a roommate that I met in college. Also, we actually lived in Trumbull, CT for a couple of years before we all moved to the Great White North. I was out of Bpt. by the end of ’84, I think.

  8. I was a DJ for 3 semesters on my college radio station. WYRE….We’re Your Radio’s Edge. Or sometimes…We’re Your Rectal Enema. As a soon to be non-beleiver, I was attending ironically, a Jesuit University. Yeah, I know, What was I thinking? I used to end my radio show with. “Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you in church.” Like that was ever going to happen.

    Another fine post Bill.

    • We’re Your Rectal Enema. I love it. Thing is, I never even attended Fairfield U. I simply pretended I did, and no one asked for proof. I think they were just happy to have someone lined up to fill a time-slot on a summer’s afternoon. Had a girl come down from campus and visit us once. When she called, she said she was 19. But when she showed up, she looked more like 14, so we cooled our heals on that one. No need to go to jail just to play some music.
      Thanks, man.
      Bill

      • The big difference, Bill, is that after college radio, I was a professional disc jockey at a commercial radio station. Several of them. WPOR, at the time I was a disc jockey there, was in the top ten in terms of listeners in the ENTIRE UNITED STATES. This was a country music station, and that’s saying SOMETHING, considering that it was in Portland, Maine. You usually think of country music listeners as being in the South and the Southwest. But we beat most of the country stations in the South and the Southwest—- we were one of the top country stations in the entire COUNTRY! (I recently spoke to a friend of mine who used to be the assistant program director there, and he told me this. I wasn’t even aware of this at the time that I was a disc jockey at WPOR). Plus, I was FAR from anonymous at WPOR. I had a great deal of people (mostly drunk, because it was the all-night show, but still…..) who were loyal listeners of mine, who would call from a bar or an American Legion Hall on our request line, and they really enjoyed the show. It seemed like almost a crime to be accepting a paycheck to be doing what I loved doing the most.

        But I was FAR from “anonymous” at WPOR, and I’m very proud of this.

        Glen

      • Sorry, Glen. I didn’t mean to suggest that your time at WPOR was anonymous. I was referring to the rest of us and our gigs on college radio stations as the high-point of our D.J. careers. I remember WPOR. It was a very popular station.
        Take care,
        Bill

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