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1993: The 25th Anniversary
of the End of the Mets’ Golden Era

Bob Klapisch deconstructs the New York Mets’ epic slide from grace that followed the glory years of the mid-to-late ’80s. After winning the 1986 World Series, the glow lasted several summers for the Mets, who were MLB’s best franchise in 1988—with a 100-win season. But 1989 marked the beginning of a downward spiral that reached a disastrous low point in 1993—with bad playing and even allegations of criminal behavior.

By Bob Klapisch, April 16, 2018

Dwight Gooden was named Rookie of the Year by the National League in 1984 playing for the New York Mets. In 1985 he was a Cy Young Award winner as well.
Source: slqckgc on Flickr
https://creativecommons.org/license/by/2.0/

Any Mets fan knows the hangover from the ’86 World Series lasted well beyond the ground ball that whispered through Bill Buckner’s legs. No, that golden era, if any one-off championship can be memorialized as such, lived on for several summers, all the way to 1989.

By then it was clear the magic brew cooked up by Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez would never be re-created. Both Mex and Kid were gone after ’89 and so too were the feel-good times when New York was on a first-name basis with the starting lineup.

That’s when the decline began. But when exactly did the Mets hit rock bottom? My vote goes to the black hole of 1993, and not just because of the 103 losses and last-place finish in the East. The Mets were so much worse than their numbers.

The 25th anniversary of that disaster brings back memories of Manager Jeff Torborg’s mid-season firing and, soon after, of Vince Coleman injuring three fans after flipping a firecracker in their direction. Bret Saberhagen squirted bleach at a group of reporters who were interviewing Gooden. Dallas Green, who replaced Torborg, called Saberhagen’s behavior “childish,” “unprofessional,” and “mind-boggling.”

How did the Mets turn into such thugs? The downward spiral was years in the making, but ’93 stood alone for its ill-conceived roster and ownership’s failure to acknowledge that clubhouse chemistry is more than just a creation of the media.

Yet no examination of the summer of ’93 would be complete without retracing the steps of the ’92 team, which built its nucleus around Coleman, Eddie Murray, and Bobby Bonilla. This was a $45 million experiment that filled the roster with talented players, albeit with out-of-towners, who were supposed to roll to the World Series and make everyone stop yearning for the late ’80s.

But the miscalculation couldn’t have been any more egregious. Spring training was only in its third week when the camp was rocked by a rape allegation against Gooden, Coleman, and Daryl Boston. The players viewed the press as the enemy and called for a media boycott in the final days of March. With Opening Day just around the corner, General Manager Al Harazin, a lawyer, appealed for a truce. He sought out reliever John Franco, who was among the most militant of the boycotters. To no avail.

The union got involved, as well, asking the players to compromise. Still, the hostility ratcheted up until the two sides were at war. The New York Times retaliated by withholding coverage; there was no Mets story in the paper of record for two full days, which sounded an alarm in the commissioner’s office. The pressure to call off the boycott was industry wide, and the players reluctantly backed off. But even with a negotiated peace, nothing was ever the same for this group.

Torborg quickly lost control of the clubhouse; the veterans had no use for the daily busywork meetings. They openly rebelled against the new edict that banned alcohol on the team charter. Murray, a future Hall of Famer and the most influential player in the room, doomed Torborg with his indifference. The corporate manager, who was supposed to clean house after Davey Johnson’s cowboy tenure, was himself fired by May of ’93.

Jeff Torborg had a short tenure with the New York Mets, however, he was named Manager of the Year in 1990 by the American League for his work with the young Chicago White Sox. 
Courtesy: The Trading Card Database, 
www.tradingcarddb.com

It turned out Torborg was so obsessed with his press clippings that Franco recalled, “We had more meetings than the Watergate hearings.” The manager didn’t have the clout to stand up to Murray and Bonilla, neither of whom loved New York or the Mets themselves. There was no one to restore order as the summer turned darker—not even the media-friendly David Cone, who would be traded to the Blue Jays before the July 31 deadline. There was no one among the 1992–’93 Mets to match Strawberry’s swagger or Gooden’s fearlessness. No one could teach Hernandez’s late-inning resolve.

The Mets, who were baseball’s best franchise in 1988 after a 100-win season, were now the worst. The crash spurred me to cowrite The Worst Team Money Could Buy while I was at the Daily News. My partner, John Harper, was at the New York Post, and together we pulled back the curtain on the life of a baseball writer in the pre-Twitter, pre-Internet, pre-everything days while chronicling a diary of the ’92 season.

But the 90 losses that ensued made for a sharply critical book when it was released the following April and set the stage for an infamous confrontation with Bonilla at Shea Stadium. But it didn’t start there. A week earlier, as spring training was coming to an end, I told Torborg to brace himself for Worst Team.

“It’s tough, but fair,” I said. “So don’t take it personally.”

Days later in New York when I walked into the Mets clubhouse, Bonilla shouted from across the room, “Oh, look who’s here, you (bleep). Why don’t you (bleep) my (bleep)? Yeah, you heard me. But, hey, don’t take it personally.

Bonilla was speaking for the whole organization, using the exact words I’d uttered to Torborg. Did Bobby Bo read the book? He later said no, but that wasn’t the point. At the front office’s urging Bonilla taunted me, provoked me, looking for a reason to throw a punch.

I was at Gooden’s locker, part of a postgame scrum after Doc had lost to the Astros. I’d spent the afternoon in the press box assuming Bonilla would resume the attack the moment I stepped foot in the clubhouse. I was right. Bonilla was only a few feet away as I interviewed Doc, egging me on.

“Go ahead, Bobby, make your move,” he said menacingly. “I know you’re feeling the itch. Make your move, Bobby. ’Cause I’ll hurt you.”

“Are you threatening me?” I asked.

“Whatever,” Bonilla said. “It’s like the home boys say back home, ‘We just chillin.’ Make your move.”

What Bonilla didn’t realize was that a local cameraman had caught the whole exchange; a crew had already been in the room, interviewing outfielder Ryan Thompson. Bonilla’s ugly episode would soon be on national TV.

But not before he uttered one more unspeakable slur, at which point I left the pack at Gooden’s locker. I went nose to nose with Bonilla and asked, “You want to fight me?”

It was half question, half challenge, although I didn’t like my chances. Bonilla was 6 feet, 4 inches and 240 pounds. He had me by four inches and 50 pounds. Still, Bobby Bo had a window—a full 10 seconds before anyone stepped in between us—during which he did nothing.

Not a thing. Not until equipment manager Charlie Samuels interceded. He pushed Bonilla away as the enraged slugger fired off one last threat: “I’ll show you the Bronx right here.”

Bonilla was eventually traded as the failed Mets were broken up in 1994–95. That exchange in the clubhouse was our last until spring training in 1999 when he’d returned to the Mets. Bonilla was older, quieter, maybe a little wiser. Bobby Valentine was now managing the Mets and assured me Bonilla was eager to make peace.

Bobby Bo was alone at his locker. The Mets had already taken the field; there was no one to intercede had he changed his mind and went on the attack again.

But he didn’t.

Bonilla was tying his shoes. Without looking up he said, “There are some things you wish you could do over, but you can’t. So you move on the best you can.”

That was as close as Bobby Bo ever came to saying he was sorry. But that was good enough for me. He stood up and offered his hand. We shook. The sorriest chapter in Mets history was finally over.                                        

Bobby Bonilla might be most remembered for his contract with the Mets that pays him $1.19 million every July 1st from 2011 through 2035.  This contract still has fans shaking their heads when he is paid more than the players playing now.
Courtesy: The Trading Card Database, www.tradingcarddb.com

 

 

 

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