Well, yes, but how then to account for the trouble July 19 at Cooter's bar in Houston, where Darling, Ojeda, Aguilera and second baseman Tim Teufel were celebrating the birth two days earlier of Teufel's son and somehow got into a beef with off-duty police officers? Teufel and Darling were charged with aggravated assault on a police officer and Ojeda and Aguilera with interfering with an arrest. Insiders say that of all the players on the team these four were the least likely to get into a barroom brawl. But there it is.
There is also the adversarial relationship between Darling and manager Johnson—reminiscent of the one Palmer had with Earl Weaver. Johnson bristled over remarks Darling made in an interview in the August issue of GQ magazine. Darling was quoted as saying that Johnson does not communicate with his pitchers, preferring to deal directly only with position players, because that's what he was. Darling now pleads that his comments were taken out of context. It is, he says, "a reality" that managers communicate with pitchers primarily through the pitching coach, and Johnson agrees. "I have nothing but respect for Davey," Darling says. "He's really a pitcher's manager. In '84, when both Dwight and I were breaking in, he brought us along slowly, limited our innings, giving us confidence."
Johnson himself is inclined to laugh off the supposed disagreement. Pitchers, he says, are a breed apart. "I know when I was playing in Baltimore I would say to McNally and Palmer, 'How come I can lose or win a game for you, but you can't do a thing for me?' That went over like a lead balloon. But think about it. The game is perceived—and rightly so—to have pitching as its most important ingredient. But pitchers don't play every day. I always figure [and Johnson has a degree in mathematics] that a pitcher has to be four times better than I am to be paid the same because I'm playing four times more often. Palmer and McNally did not agree."
Palmer and McNally. Ah, those names again. Now that he has brought it up, can Johnson compare his current staff with the Orioles' 20-game quartet of 15 years ago? "I think comparisons are complex," he says. "You have to consider a lot more than just statistics. You have to take into account such things as run production, defense, ballparks, the bullpen, AstroTurf, the DH, all of that. On that Baltimore club we had four Gold Gloves—[Mark] Belanger and Brooks [ Robinson] and myself and [Paul] Blair. We had three guys, Brooks, Frank Robinson, Boog [Powell], who could drive in a hundred runs. On defense I'd have to say that club was a little better than this one. And we could score runs. What we didn't have then was a Gary Carter. But mostly, all of this is just apples and oranges."
Johnson's pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre, a Yankee in the '60s and early '70s, is less cautious in his appraisal. "This is the best staff I've been around, and that includes the staffs I've been on. I think it has the prospect of being one people will be talking about for some time. I say this because of their ages and the fact that all of them are fundamentally and mechanically sound."
Johnson and Cashen are right. It's foolish to compare this staff with the '71 Orioles or, say, the '54 Indians or the '34 Tigers. The young Mets have a ways to go. Still, as the eloquent Darling put it, "We have an opportunity here. A pitcher is supposed to reach his peak at 27 or 28. That's the age when head, heart and stomach are all under one roof with the arm. We're getting there. We've got a chance to put some fantastic seasons together."
Give them this: They're off to a pretty fair start.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]