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.
and '86," he said while watching waves of barley lap at the mug's edges.
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
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."
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
"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?