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Steve Rushin
July 09, 1990
Behind their new manager, Bud Harrelson, the New York Mets have gone from famine to feast
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July 09, 1990

A Cool Bud And Some Red-hots

Behind their new manager, Bud Harrelson, the New York Mets have gone from famine to feast

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Bud Harrelson was poised at the rim of a mug of beer roughly the size of an industrial-waste drum. He was behind his desk in the manager's office at Shea Stadium in New York last Friday night, but so large was his postgame brew that it looked as if he were sitting poolside. Harrelson's Mets had just beaten the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 for their 11th straight victory, a winning streak that tied a team record also matched by the 1969 and 1986 world champions, and suddenly Harrelson paused before attempting to clean-and-jerk the cold one before him.

"Sixty-nine and '86," he said while watching waves of barley lap at the mug's edges. "Vintage years."

If the Mets of '69 and '86 were celebratory bottles of bubbly, then the '90 team is embodied by a very cool Bud. Since Harrelson replaced the fired Davey Johnson on May 29—when New York was 20-22, in fourth place in the National League East—the Mets, through Sunday, have been on a 22-8 binge. Their 21 victories in Harrelson's first full month on the job was the Mets' best June ever and their winningest month since they won 23 games in September '69. With the victory on Friday night and Pittsburgh's loss hours later in San Francisco, the Mets assumed for one night—by three percentage points—what they believe is their rightful position atop the division.

Alcoholic-beverage analogies aside, though, the biggest difference between the 1990 team managed by Harrelson and one from his days as a Mets shortstop are the teams' respective slogans. In '73 it was You Gotta Believe; this season, You Don't Gotta Believe. You certainly don't gotta believe everything you read, least of all "that rip job," as Mets vice-president of baseball operations Joe McIlvaine termed SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S last story on the Mets (Amazin' Mess, June 11), which buried the team beneath the rubble of alleged front-office failings.

You don't gotta believe the man in the street's lust to hear the rumble of front-office heads rolling down the ramps at Shea. "What's important," says pitcher Bob Ojeda, "is how the man in the uniform feels."

And lastly, you don't gotta believe everything the Mets might tell you, because they might not believe it themselves. Early in the season, pitcher Dwight Gooden spoke for several Mets when he said that the front office had dealt every player-spark plugs like Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman—"who used to snap."

"I still think it's good to have [those players]," Gooden said Saturday, when the Mets' 7-4 loss to the Reds ended the 11-game winning streak as well as a run of 10 straight victories at home. "But sometimes that can be overrated. Everyone who has made it here should know by now what they have to do to win."

"There are a lot of teams that win without the big spark plug," says first baseman Dave Magadan. "Oakland didn't have one two years ago, before they got Rickey Henderson, and they made it to the World Series."

Which, it must now be conceded, is a distinct possibility for the Mets come autumn. Their weekend series with Cincinnati, runaway leaders of the National League West, had the look of early October. With a 3-2 victory on Sunday, the Mets took the four-game series three games to one and were just a game behind Pittsburgh, which had regained first place Saturday night. Even earlier last week, with the Mets still No. 3 with a bullet behind Pittsburgh and Montreal, Expo pitcher Dennis Martinez acknowledged, "We're all still looking at the Mets as the team to beat."

Of course, some rather significant questions remain. For instance: Has the amazin' mess really been mopped clean or merely swept under a throw rug? And if the heap has been hauled away for good, how did the Mets make the cleanup so quickly? Finally, can the people at Exxon learn anything from all of this?

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