Book Reviews

Book Review: The Bad Guys Won! by Jeff Pearlman – Dishing on One of Baseball’s Notorious Teams

Ah, my Mets. I do love my baseball and my loyalty has never wavered. I was rewarded for all the blind faith of my youth with a World Championship team in 1986. They didn’t just win, they won in spectacular fashion. A friend who knows me all too well suggested I pick up The Bad Guys Won! With a picture of the World Series celebration on the cover and the subtitle A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo Chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, the Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform – and Maybe the best, it promised an interesting read and I dove right in.

Author Jeff Pearlman, who has been a writer at Sports Illustrated as well as penning several other novels, was only eleven in 1986 but has memories of watching these events at the home of a neighbor, who was a die-hard fan like myself. To write this, he went back and interviewed many of the players from the 1986 club. Many were honest and gave details never heard before. Some of what is included in The Bad Guys Won! is a revelation, while some are old news.

What’s interesting in The Bad Guys Won! are the different personalities of the players. I never knew how naive Sid Fernandez and Kevin Mitchell were. Especially in Mitchell’s case, as he was the product of the streets of San Diego and had a brother killed in gang-related violence, this is surprising. However, there is a very funny anecdote about him in The Bad Guys Won! that actually had me laugh out loud.

Learning that all was not copasetic between the players on a team that seemed to have everything go right for them was also a revelation. The resentment of Gary Carter particularly surprised me, as did the occasional tension between him and co-captain Keith Hernandez.

What’s old news is the drinking. I don’t think there were too many fans over the age of fifteen who weren’t aware of the stories of the Mets drinking. It was pretty well-known where on Long Island you could find them after a home game. Strawberry and Gooden’s drug use? Also old news. The insights into some of the more notorious events of the season are interesting. He also does a good job contrasting some of the stories that have circulated about events and how different players remember (or choose to remember) the same incident.

After reading Ball Four, the use of amphetamines is also not surprising. Jim Bouton basically outs the entire major league roster as users in that book, and I’d have no reason to believe anything changed until drug testing was enacted as part of the player agreement.

I’ve read more than a few books about the 1986 post-season, so Pearlman’s detailing of that is just the same that I’ve read before. There are no particular insights there, either. Gooden didn’t show up for the parade because of cocaine? Gee, who’d a thunk it? (That was sarcasm.)

Where The Bad Guys Won! really excels is in how Pearlman details the coming together of the team as well as the regular season. The author gives tons of credit to Frank Cashen for how he assembled the team, as well as for many of the trades Cashen made for quality players that were practically giveaways. He also brings back things I forgot about. George Foster was the one big mistake Cashen made, and for some reason, I thought he was gone by the 1986 season. To realize how little he contributed and how much he benefited over this season is one of those baseball inequities that leave me scratching my head.

Do I think, after reading The Bad Guys Won!, that the Mets were any better or worse in terms of off-field antics than any other team at the time? I doubt it. They just got the attention due to their on-field domination. I am sure many of the problems that were present on the Mets were present on other teams as well. That other teams never got the chance to destroy the interior of an airplane after their playoff win is their own misfortune. Pearlman doesn’t go into it extensively, but reading between the lines, it’s quite obvious that baseball owners and league executives turned their heads to a lot of what was happening until it made headlines. As long as the players were performing, the behavior was ignored and troubling signs were written off. Perhaps if Gooden had been confronted about some of the troubling signs early on, his career (and life) would be much different.

The Bad Guys Won! is an easy read. Pearlman does a good job intertwining the progression of the season with the background and stories of the various players. I found that it flowed quite nicely and was easy to read. He uses humor extensively, both in the incidents he cites and in his writing style. Overall, I enjoyed The Bad Guys Won! quite a bit, and not just because it was about a season I had dreamed of since I was nine.