Home Book Reviews The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman

The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman

by Matt Smith

(HarperCollins, 2004).

The rich history of Major League Baseball is full of colourful teams and great games.  It’s impossible to pick out one team or game that tops the rest, but the 1986 New York Mets and game six of that year’s World Series would be strong candidates worthy of consideration.  Jeff Pearlman’s book brings them to life, making you laugh and making you shake your head in bewilderment in equal measure. 

The Bad Guys Won! documents the Mets’ championship year in ‘86, charting how the team was put together, how they won it all and what became of them when the group was abruptly split up.  Many good books are character driven and with this cast your attention keeps being grabbed from one direction to another as the next oddball is introduced.  Bad guys?  You better believe it. 

The 1986 New York Mets walked with a swagger, performed with supreme confidence and spoke with unconfined arrogance.  Loveable they were not, but that’s what made them a great team on the field and what makes them such a great source of hilarious stories.  Pitcher Bobby Ojeda sums them up: “We were just a nasty bunch of guys … we’d go into a town and we’d say, ‘We’re gonna drink their beer, we’re gonna beat their team, we’re gonna kick their asses, and then we’re gonna leave and do it to someone else‘”.  As Pearlman states: “they usually succeeded”.

They were an unholy rabble of undesirables, a group of people from varied backgrounds with different characters and levels of ability.  Together, they were unstoppable.  Pearlman plunges us headfirst into the carnage by opening with the Mets on a victory flight having beaten the Astros to book their place in the World Series.  Their boozing, drug taking, food throwing and general hell-raising caused thousands of dollars worth of damage.  Upon landing, the Mets’ travel secretary read the riot act to a sheepish clubhouse.  Manager Davey Johnson promptly took the bill for the damage and ripped it up, much to the delight of his players. 

Pitcher Doug Sisk, part of the so-called ‘Scum Bunch’ clique, reasoned that “you don’t win a World Series drinking milk”, which on the evidence of the ‘86 Mets appears true enough (the Mets in fact did sometimes drink milk, but only to recover from over-doing it on the amphetamines).   They drank (and drank, then drank some more) and they won.  It must have been a living nightmare for everyone else and indeed there are more than a few comments from rival players as evidence that the Mets were hardly a popular winner.  Not that they could care less about that, mind you.

The fact that they did win sometimes seems to get overlooked (perhaps no coincidence?).  History is normally written by the victors; nobody remembers who finishes second.  These things are true in most cases, but not with the 1986 World Series.  Partly thanks to the Red Sox’s recent World Series triumphs and the ending of the ’curse of the Bambino’, the story of the ’86 series has often been told as the story of the Red Sox losing rather than the Mets winning.  More specifically, it’s the story of Bill Buckner losing it for Boston.  An impressive and well-respected Major Leaguer throughout his distinguished career, Buckner has had to live with his many accomplishments being put in the shade by Mookie Wilson’s hit that somehow went past his glove in game six of the Fall Classic.

What made the ‘Buckner moment’ so dramatic is that it had seemed inevitable that the Red Sox would win.  Leading 5-3 in the bottom of the tenth, all hope for the Mets looked lost.  Like a scene from a slap-stick comedy, the building blocks are slowly built up one-by-one, waiting to come crashing down .  The champagne, the Mets’ champagne no less, was wheeled into Boston’s club house, while the ‘World Champion Boston Red Sox’ T-shirts and caps were being hastily arranged in the players’ lockers.  The Video Scoreboard at Shea even briefly flashed out a ‘Congratulations’ message for their rivals.  If it was tempting fate then the Mets’ employees responsible for the above may have initiated the greatest jinxing in living memory.

In the prologue, Pearlman states that when friend and fellow writer Michael Lewis read an early draft of The Bad Guys Won!, he complained that “except for Ed Hearn, all these guys are assholes”.  So why is it that by the time you reach this turning point, the reader is somehow rooting for this gang of ‘assholes‘? 

Bobby Ojeda helps.  Having been ousted from the Red Sox in a manner that left him admitting he would “have rather eaten shit than lose to the Red Sox”, it‘s natural to want to see him getting his own back on them. More than anything, it’s the fact that we now live in a world of bland, inoffensive sporting brands.  In the face of such ‘nice’ corporate images, what’s better than reading of a gang that broke all the rules, flipped the finger to the authorities and walked off as champions?  Maybe they turn out to be loveable after all?

Maybe not, but they are certainly entertaining and The Bad Guys Won! captures that brilliantly.  Any baseball fan, regardless of their allegiance, will love this book even if they don‘t grow to love the ‘86 Mets. 

Have you read “The Bad Guys Won!”?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Can you recommend any other similar books? If so, let us know.

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Joe Cooter July 9, 2008 - 4:56 pm

I rememberthose days, and I can tell you as a Yankee fan I did not like the Mets at All. The reason why no one really remembers the mets is because they underachieved.The carreers of both Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden were derailed by drugs.Neither one really achieved their full potential in the Big Leagues. Having said that, the my memories of both Doc and Darryl occured when the played for the Yankees. I still remember the excitement of seeing Doc, who was coming off a suspension through a No Hitter against the Seatle Marineers. EVen though Most of New York Never got to see it because Madison Square Garden TV chose to show Rangers and Knicks playoff games. Never the less I was fortunate to have ESPN switch over to the last inning of the game. That was exciting. As for Straw, he hit a homerun in game five of the League Championship Series that virtually gaurenteed and end to 15 years of frustration for Yankee fans who hadn’t seen their team in the World Series since 1981. I also remember how Darrly was diagnosed with cancer during the opening round of the Playoffs in 1998. Darrly had been a key member of that team which would set a modern day record of 125 wins. And yet, after game two of the Series against Texas, it got out that he was suffering from Colon Cancer. Any other team might have given up and called it a season. But that team continued to play hard and won the world Series in a sweep of the Padres.

Matt Smith July 9, 2008 - 9:36 pm

That’s an excellent point. It’s tough to see two guys with so much talent let it go to waste. I started following baseball in 1998 and even though the ‘run for 61’ that year made the headlines, I still remember finding out about Straw suffering from cancer just as vividly as McGwire’s and Sosa’s exploits that season.

Joe Cooter July 9, 2008 - 11:17 pm

A year after the Mets won it all they Aquired David Cone from the Royals. Cone had a good run with the Mets but later in his career he too made his way to the Bronx. If I would have to pick what Cone’s best game was it would have to be that perfect game he threw agains the Montreal Expos. It was almost as if there was some sort of Magic going on. Early that year Yankee’s owner had ended a 14 year fued with Yogi Berra. As a welcome back present, the Yankees decided to hold a day in his honor. The Yankees also invited Don Larsen to throw out the first pitch to Yogi. Forty-three years earlier Yogi had been behind the plate when Larsen threw his perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Yankee Stadium in the ’56 Series. Larsen and Berra then stuck around to see Cone retire the entire Montreal line-up and throw a perfect game. Nine years later, It still seems like magic.

Matt Smith July 10, 2008 - 6:25 pm

I can remember seeing a few David Cone starts on TV during his time with the Yankees. He was a very good pitcher and now is a very good colour commentator on Yankee games. He’s one of my favourites actually having seen a number of Yankee broadcasts this season so far. He always has something interesting to add to the situation, doesn’t take things too seriously and is more than prepared to give an opposing player credit when deserved (which isn’t always the case with broadcasters on local/organization networks).


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