Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Bad Guys Won! by Jeff Pearlman

Why I read it: I was fifteen and a Red Sox fan when the ball went through Buckner's legs. This book is the other side of the story for me.

Summary: "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" (also the subtitle).

My Thoughts: It wasn't as hard to read as I thought it would be.

There are people out there who claim that they're not fans of any team in particular, that they're fans of "the game." It's so hard to imagine that any love affair with baseball didn't start on a local level. I find it hard to believe that any 4-year-old, when asked by his dad if he wanted to attend his first Major League Baseball game, has ever said, "OK, I'll do it, but I'm not rooting for either side to win; I'm a fan of 'the game.'"

For me, the only game in town was the Red Sox, so for 27 years now, I've had memories of the loss of the 1986 World Series. Strangely, I never really hated the Mets. Disliked, sure. They were from New York, land of the Yankees. Even at 15 I knew that made them bad people. Funny how our world view can get so twisted through the goggles of the sports fan.

Sadly, Pearlman confirms that even at 15, I was in some ways right.

Rather than just a simple, on-the-field-focused recap of the season - a standard avenue for books about World Series-winning teams - this book dives off the deep end. Everything is in play: the drugs, the womanizing, the f-bombs, the violence. In the end I felt like I learned way too much about specific players to ever want to root for them again, and by that I mean in life, their sports careers now well in the past.

There's a wall that's put up by athletes and their agents, a facade they attempt to maintain that presents wholesomeness, but we all know that every fifth person we meet in life has an issue (heck, probably every other): drug addicts, closet drinkers, spouse abusers. Baseball as a sport does not generate an entire army of all-American clean cut boys. Some of these guys are flat-out jerks. We just don't know because it's hidden in the haze they present in the name of potential endorsements and post career broadcasting jobs. I've heard the tale before from sports writers I know. Yes, we start out with idolization of pro athletes and dreams of eventually being near the sport somehow. We have to be careful what we wish for.

Not every Met in '86 was a bad guy, of course, but a lot of them were. And books like these, written about the athletes playing during our childhoods, bring back floods of memories, not only of specific moments in time, but of names we had long forgotten, like Al Nipper. I once lived and died as a fan by whether or not Nipper was on the mound as compared to Roger Clemens, but I can honestly say it's been twenty years since I've thought of him. Such memory joggers, no matter the content they conjure, are priceless. For me, this book was loaded with them.

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