I could never stand Ron Darling. Although he was a fine pitcher for 13 major league seasons and I have never met the man, he’s no friend of mine. Of course that’s because he was a prominent member of the 1986 New York Mets, who beat my Boston Red Sox to win the World Series, and thus broke the heart of an eight-year-old yours truly. He, along with Daniel Paisner, has detailed the Series-deciding final game (in which Darling pitched) in Game 7, 1986- Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life (St. Martin’s Press; on sale April 5, 2016), giving me an opportunity to relive my childhood anguish all over again. Fortunately, it was much easier the second time around.
Growing up in Massachusetts and hoping to one day play for the hometown team, Darling was actually told as a high schooler by a Boston scout that he did not have what it took to fulfill his dream. 136 major league victories and that big World Series win later proved those to be less than prophetic words.
All personal bad memories aside, Game 7, 1986 is as easy a read as I can recall. Darling, who was knocked out after just three and two thirds innings of the eventual Series-clinching win, reminisces about that contest, what led up to it and the immediate aftermath.
Rain delayed Game 7 by a day, building up even more suspense for Darling, as he contemplated the biggest game of his career. He takes the reader through the emotional ups and downs; his personal disappointment in not submitting a strong performance (after having an otherwise outstanding Series); and touches base on a number of issues that will be of great interest to baseball and Mets fans. These include:
His professional, yet less than perfect, relationship with manager Davey Johnson.
His altercation with police outside of a nightclub while defending teammates who were out on the town celebrating.
The time New York Yankees legends Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin suckered him into paying a huge restaurant and bar tab after he had approached them as a young player while out for dinner.
The use of drugs and alcohol in the clubhouse during his playing days. He doesn’t point any fingers at specific players but does offer an interesting look at the culture that encouraged such behavior.
Insight into his relationships with some of his Mets teammates. In particular, he has very direct and honest thoughts about Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, who both had their incredible talents directly impacted by persistent off-field issues.
The 1986 Mets were a supremely confident team. Darling discusses how the blend of battle-tested veterans and brash youngsters melded into a unit that ultimately won the biggest baseball game of that year. In many ways it’s a surprise that they only won the one Championship, but ultimately any hopes for a dynasty were derailed in part by big personalities and bad behavior by some.
As a Red Sox fan, it was also interesting to see Darling’s take on some of his Red Sox opponents from that Series. Among others, he talks glowingly about scrappers like catcher Rich Gedman (who he grew up playing against) and second baseman Marty Barrett, admiring their professionalism and skill. On the other hand, pitcher Roger Clemens (who had one of the most dominating seasons in history in 1986) rates only a one-sentence mention, and that coming in the discussion about Strawberry and Gooden.
Yes, it can be tough to relive the 1986 World Series through the lens of Ron Darling, but, to the victors go the spoils. He and his teammates will go down as one of the memorable teams in history and this well-written book chronicling their journey should captivate the attention of baseball fans and literary enthusiasts alike.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free advanced copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.
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