This October marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most unlikely World Series stories that has ever been told. The New York Mets, down two games to none, and later three games to two to the Boston Red Sox, should have lost that Fall Classic.
Down to their last strike in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6, the Mets found a way — call it a curse, or just bad luck for Boston — to win, evening the series in one at-bat.
By now, you’ve seen “The Buckner Play” more than you can count — we all have. It is the epitome of infamous. But what is often forgotten is the comeback — again — in Game 7 and just how good that Mets team was, winning 108 games and clinching the NL East title by an astounding 21.5 games.
This Memorial Day weekend, the Mets are honoring their last World Series championship team, with “1986 Weekend,” a three-day celebration of one the most beloved and notorious teams in baseball history.
In honor of the ’86 championship team, we take a look back at perhaps baseball’s most eclectic cast of characters ever, with an update on their whereabouts today.
— Written by Jake Rose, an avid baseball fan who also is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
Davey Johnson, Manager
Much like a player would, Davey Johnson worked his way up the Mets’ farm system as a manager, coaching both the Mets’ AA and AAA teams before being named the big league club’s manager in 1984 — inheriting a club that hadn’t won a National League Pennant since ‘73. Johnson is the Mets’ all-time leader in wins, leading the team to a 595-417 mark in seven seasons. In his first five seasons, he led the Mets to five consecutive 90-win campaigns, becoming the first manager in NL history to do so.
In 1986, Johnson led the Mets to their best record (108-54), winning the NL East by an astounding 21.5 games over Philadelphia. The ’86 season would ultimately culminate in the Mets’ most recent World Series title.
In 1990, after a 20-22 start, Johnson was relieved of his managerial duties by the Mets’ brass, who felt Johnson’s laid-back style had lost its effect on players.
Johnson would sit out the next two seasons before signing on to manage the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of the 1993 season. Johnson’s stint was a short one, as he was not brought back by the Reds after the ’95 season — even though the Reds finished first in consecutive seasons.
From 1996-2000, Johnson managed the Orioles and Dodgers for two seasons each before being named the Washington Nationals’ manager in 2011. Johnson would last three seasons in D.C., winning 224 games and leading the franchise to its first divisional title in 31 seasons. Johnson won NL Manager of the Year in 2012 after the Nats won 98 games. Johnson retired after the 2013 season.
Johnson was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 2010.
Dwight Gooden, Starting Pitcher
Dwight “Doc” Gooden, or “Dr. K” to some, burst on to the major league scene as a 19-year-old in 1984, winning the NL Rookie of the Year and finishing second in Cy Young voting. Gooden followed up his rookie campaign with arguably the greatest season ever for a pitcher in the Live Ball Era. In 1985 Gooden led the NL in wins (24), ERA (1.53), complete games (16), innings pitched (276.2), strikeouts (268), ERA+ (229), and FIP (2.13) en route to his only Cy Young Award — at only 20 years of age.
In ’86, Gooden was the ace of one of the best pitching staffs during the decade alongside Ron Darling and Bob Ojeda. Gooden would start the All-Star game opposing the Red Sox’ Roger Clemens, becoming the youngest pitcher ever to start in the Mid-Summer Classic at age 21. That season, Gooden would win 17 games at the top of the Mets’ rotation, striking out 200 and posting an ERA of 2.84.
Gooden struggled in the ’86 postseason with an ERA of 8.00 and never notching a win in four starts. Shortly after the ’86 World Series, Gooden was arrested for fighting with police and soon thereafter tested positive for cocaine — a sign of troubles to come.
After the initial legal issues, Gooden was still effective on the mound throughout the late ‘80s, but he never touched the greatness he had achieved earlier in his career. In the strike-shortened season of 1994, Gooden tested positive for cocaine twice, once during the season and again during his suspension, resulting in banishment for the ’95 season.
In ’96 Gooden signed with the rival Yankees as a free agent and threw a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on May 14. After brief stints with Indians, Astros, and Devil Rays (now just Tampa Bay Rays), Gooden returned to the Yankees in 2001 but retired after being cut in spring training. Gooden finished his career with a record of 194-112 and an ERA of 3.51 over the course of 16 seasons.
After retiring, Gooden’s addiction and legal troubles continued as the former All-Star was arrested several times for driving under the influence, possession of narcotics, probation violation, and even domestic violence. Gooden has even served a short prison sentence and appeared on VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.”
Gooden, now 51, is sober and has been for several years. In 2013, he published his autobiography Doc: A Memoir to outstanding reviews. On May 22, it was announced that Judd Apatow was set to co-direct an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about Gooden and teammate Daryl Strawberry set to debut on July 19.
Darryl Strawberry, Right Field
Darryl Strawberry’s story is one of fantastic acclaim and success on the diamond and addiction and redemption off of it. It’s emblematic of the 1986 Mets and, really, a sizable portion of baseball players in the ‘80s.
“Straw” was only in his second full season in ’86. The reigning Rookie of the Year would hit 26 home runs, 27 doubles, and drive in 94 runs, his first year as a perennial All-Star. Straw would ultimately win four World Series titles (one with the Mets, three with the Yankees in the ‘90s) and make the All-Star game eight times in his 17-year career.
But for all of the outstanding things that Strawberry did on the field, it was his troubles with addiction off of it that have established his legacy. Straw was suspended from baseball on three separate occasions for substance abuse.
In 1998, while playing with the Yankees, Strawberry was diagnosed with colon cancer — twice, ultimately forcing him to retire in 2000. What followed his playing career was a series of arrests for substance abuse, domestic violence, and probation violations all stemming from Strawberry’s long battle with addiction.
Finally, in 2006, amid a stint in prison and cancer treatments, Strawberry had finally decided to get his life back on track — with the help of former teammate Gary Carter.
In 2010, Strawberry wrote his memoirs, Straw: Finding My Way.
Today, Strawberry is an evangelical Christian minister and the leader of Strawberry Ministries with his wife Tracy as well as The Darryl Strawberry Foundation, which supports children with autism. Most recently, Strawberry and his wife have co-authored a book, The Imperfect Marriage: For Those Who Think It’s Over.
Gary Carter, Catcher
Simply known as “Kid,” Gary Carter is one of the most beloved and well-respected baseball players in recent memory and has cemented a legacy as one of the best offensive catchers in the history of the game.
Carter was an 11-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, and three-time Gold Glove winner and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.
In ’86, Carter was one of the oldest players on the roster (32), but that didn’t prevent him from serving as one of the Mets’ top hitters. Carter led the team in RBIs (105) and was second in home runs (24) behind a fresh-faced Darryl Strawberry. Carter was outstanding in the World Series, driving in nine runs, hitting two home runs in Game 4, and starting the infamous two-out rally in the 10th inning of Game 6.
Carter did most of his offensive damage during his 12-year run in Montreal, but put together a nice stretch in Flushing — hitting 73 doubles and 89 home runs with 349 RBIs in five seasons. After brief stays with the Giants and Dodgers, Carter returned home to Montreal for one final season in 1992.
After baseball, Carter worked as a TV analyst for Marlins broadcasts in the mid-90s before managing in the Mets’ farm system for several seasons starting in 2005. He later managed in the Golden Baseball League and Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, before taking the head coaching job at Division II Palm Beach Atlantic University.
In May 2011, Carter was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of brain cancer that was deemed to be inoperable. Carter would undergo extensive rounds of treatment, but ultimately passed in Feb. 2012 at the age of 57.
Carter is the first player to don an Expos logo on his Hall of Fame cap. Carter also was inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame in 2001.
Keith Hernandez, First Base
Hernandez spent seven seasons of his 17-year, near-Hall of Fame career in Mets’ pinstripes. In ’86, Hernandez was the Mets’ most consistent man at the plate, hitting .310/.413/.446 with 171 hits, 34 doubles, 85 RBIs, and leading the NL in walks (94).
In ’87, Hernandez was named the Mets’ first team captain in franchise history by manager Davey Johnson. The Captain finally finished his career with the Mets in 1989 and as a player a year later.
Since leaving the game as a player, Hernandez has become renown in the New York area for his work as a Mets TV analyst (alongside former teammate Ron Darling), assuming his role in the booth in 2006 for SNY. Hernandez has also made several, now legendary appearances on “Seinfeld” and can most recently be seen alongside fellow New York sports legend Walt Frazier in Just For Men commercials.
Hernandez, now 62, just signed a new contract with SNY to remain in the Mets’ booth through the 2018 season.
Ray Knight, Third Base
“A little roller, up along first — behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight! And the Mets win it!”
Arguably the most infamous run scored in baseball history belongs to that of Ray Knight. Knight only played for the Mets for three seasons, and ’86 was his only season as an everyday player when he hit .298/.351/.424 with 24 doubles and 74 RBIs.
While Knight is most remembered for scoring the winning run in Game 6, perhaps his greatest contribution came in Game 7 when he hit a go-ahead, solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, giving the Mets a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.
Knight only played two more seasons in The Show, one with Baltimore and another with Detroit before retiring in 1988.
After baseball, Knight worked for ESPN before replacing his former manager, Davey Johnson, as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1996. Knight would leave managing shortly after to return to the broadcast booth. He now works as a game analyst for the Washington Nationals on the MASN Network.
Ron Darling, Starting Pitcher
Ron Darling was a brilliant counter punch to Doc Gooden as the Mets’ No. 2 starter in 1986. That season would prove to the best in Darling’s career as he posted a 15-6 record with a 2.81 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 237 innings of work, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young voting.
Darling stayed with the Mets until being traded to Montreal in 1991 and then again to the A’s just two weeks later. Darling would re-sign with the A’s as a free agent and ultimately finished his career in Oakland in 1995.
Since retiring, Darling has been one of the more noticeable and prominent broadcast analysts in baseball. He has been part of TBS’ national broadcast team during the network’s regular and postseason coverage since 2007. He has also been the Mets’ color analyst, alongside former teammate Keith Hernandez, since 2006. Darling has also done TV work for the Washington Nationals and MLB Network.
Darling, now 55, has authored two books, The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball and the Art of Pitching in 2010 and Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life, which was published this April.
Lenny Dykstra, Center Field
Lenny Dykstra relentlessly patrolled the Shea Stadium outfield for five seasons. In 1986 he was only 23 years old and in his second season in New York, when he hit .295/.377/.445 as the primary leadoff hitter. Dykstra would put together an impressive 12-year career, which featured three All-Star seasons in Philadelphia.
Dykstra was never known as a power hitter, and more known for his trademark hustle and gritty play, but his two most iconic moments as a Met came in the ’86 postseason when he hit a walk-off home run in Game 3 of the NLCS against Houston and hit a lead-off home run in Game 3 of the World Series against Boston. Dykstra would prove to be a valuable asset in the playoffs, hitting over .300 against Houston and .296 against the Red Sox in the World Series.
In 1989 Dykstra was traded to the rival Phillies where he finished his career in 1996.
Dkystra has had one of the more infamous post-playing careers in recent memory. In the early 2000s, Dykstra earned major recognition for his successful private business ventures that included car washes, private jet chartering, auto service centers, and real estate. But by the end of the decade, it was reported the Dykstra’s business dealing might not have been on the level. In 2011, Dykstra was arrested for bankruptcy fraud and later grand theft auto, ultimately serving a six-month prison sentence.
Dykstra, now 53, is currently out of prison, but still ruffling feathers. In 2007, Dykstra’s name was part of the Mitchell Report, connecting him to steroid use during his career. In a 2015 interview with FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd, Dykstra claims that he paid half a million dollars to private investigators to dig up dirt on MLB umpires to gain a more favorable strike zone.
Dykstra is currently promoting his new book, House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge.
Mookie Wilson, Left Field
Mookie Wilson had established himself as a star in Queens before the arrival of Lenny Dykstra. Wilson had already set the Mets franchise record for stolen bases in a season and a career.
After an injury-plagued 1985 campaign, Wilson was primarily moved to left field to make room for Dykstra in center, but Wilson respond well, hitting .289 with 25 stolen bases in 416 plate appearances. But it is one play that will forever live in baseball infamy for which Mookie is most responsible — the “Buckner Play.”
After a wild pitch scored Kevin Mitchell from third and tied the game at five — with two outs in the 10th inning, Wilson hit “a little roller, up along first” off Bob Stanley, which mystically squirted through the legs of Boston first basemen Bill Buckner and into right field, allowing Ray Knight to score the winning run of Game 6 — tying the series at three games apiece.
Wilson would continue to play extremely well for the Mets, often platooning with Dykstra, for the next couple of seasons before being traded to Toronto in 1989. Wilson would retire from baseball in 1991.
After retiring, Wilson was served as the Mets’ first base coach from 1996-2002 before moving into a managing role with the Kingsport Mets and Brooklyn Cyclones.
In 2015, Wilson wrote his memoirs, Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the ’86 Mets.
Wilson currently resides in Columbia, S.C.
Wally Backman, Second Baseman
Wally Backman put together an impressive 14-year MLB career, nine of which were spent as a Met. Typically a table-setter at the top of Davey Johnson’s lineup card, Backman put together an impactful ’86 season, hitting .320 with 18 doubles in 440 plate appearances, often platooning at second with fellow middle infielder Tim Teufel. In the ’86 World Series against Boston, Backman hit .333, scoring four runs.
Backman was traded to the Twins in ’88 and also made stops in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Seattle before retiring in 1993.
After his playing days, Backman went into managing. He led teams in the White Sox and Diamondbacks organization, even earning a Minor League Manager of the Year Award for his work with Lancaster Jethawks in 2004.
On Nov. 1 2004, Backman was hired to be the manager of the Diamondbacks, but was fired just days later, before ever managing a game, when stories of financial and legal troubles were brought to light. Backman would again manage in the minors, making the rounds from Joliet, Ill., and Brooklyn before moving to the Mets’ organization in St. Lucie, Fla., and in Binghamton, N.Y. In 2012, he was named the manager for the Buffalo Bisons, the Mets’ AAA affiliate. Since 2013, Backman has been the manager for the Mets’ most recent AAA affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League. He was named PCL Manager of the Year in 2014.
Bob Ojeda, Starting Pitcher
Bob Ojeda, the lefty from Los Angeles, saved the absolute best season of his 15-year career for the ’86 Mets. Ojeda, originally seen as only a complementary rotation piece after six seasons in the Red Sox organization, posted 18 wins and a 2.57 ERA in ’86, while leading the league in win-loss percentage (.783).
Ojeda would be formidable the next several seasons, but never be as good as he was in ’86. After a series of bullpen stints and injuries (including losing a fingertip to a hedge trimmer) Ojeda was traded to the Dodgers in 1990 and then to the Indians in ‘92.
In 1993, Ojeda was involved in a boating accident that killed Indians’ teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews and left Ojeda with major head lacerations. Ojeda would only appear in 11 games after the accident, before retiring in 1994.
Ojeda would go on to be a pitching coach in the minors for several teams, including the Binghamton Mets in 2003. Starting in 2009, he served as a pre- and post-game analyst for Mets’ TV broadcasts on SNY. Ojeda left the network in 2015 after a financial dispute.
Ojeda currently lives in New Jersey.