While the 2004 New York Mets were inside Shea Stadium getting pounded by the St. Louis Cardinals, Jeff Pearlman was in the parking lot spreading the word about the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.
Pearlman, author of The Bad Guys Won which chronicles the ’86 Mets wild ride both on and off the field, spent his Thursday afternoon slapping promotional flyers for his book on the windshields of Met fans cars with the help of a couple friends.
This was not Harper Collins’ idea, it was writer’s brainchild.
For Pearlman, a lifelong Mets fan, the grass roots public relations efforts have already paid dividends. Released on April 27, The Bad Guys Won broke the New York Times Top 30 bestsellers list. Impressive? It’s Pearlman’s first book.
The Bad Guys Won reads like a modern day Ball Four filled with behind-the-scenes tales of one of baseball’s wildest teams. In a phone interview from his home in upstate New York, Pearlman said he started the project without an agenda.
“I didn’t go into this book with an idea that it could be about a wholesome baseball team,” said Pearlman.
“I knew they were a wild bunch. But I certainly didn’t have any pre-conceived notion … I didn’t know what the stories would be, I didn’t know how the book would play out, it was mostly a blank page for me.”
It may have started as a blank page but the final product will surprise even the most diehard Met fans. From the opening chapter titled “Food Flight,” a 10-page tale of the post game mayhem on the trip from Houston to New York after the Mets won the 1986 National League Championship Series 7-6 in 16 innings, the offbeat stories, breathe life into Mets history.
“If you look at ‘Ball Four’ (by Jim Bouton) and ‘The Bronx Zoo’ (by Sparky Lyle), those books have done extremely well,” Pearlman said. “I am sure Yankee fans were cringing when they read those books. I think people, more than anything, are just fascinated by what goes on behind-the-scenes.”
The Bad Guys Won is not a “tell-all” book. It offers no scandal, no accusations, no smoking gun. It’s a 287-page collection of entertaining tales – true tales – from inside a chasmpionship team. It’s a healthy departure from today’s bombshell offerings in print.
Pearlman, who spent six years covering baseball for Sports Illustrated including his controversial story in 1999 on former Braves pitcher John Rocker, spent 2 ½ years researching and writing The Bad Guys Won. He interviewed 29 of the 33 members of the 1986 New York Mets including Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, Len Dykstra, Ray Knight, Howard Johnson, Wally Backman, Kevin Mitchell, Jesse Orosco and Ron Darling.
In The Bad Guys Won the real stories from 1986 Mets are narrated by a lesser known core of Mets players and team employees. “To me, the best reporting comes when you talk to the people who haven’t been asked about these things a million times … the clubhouse guys, the equipment guys, the Doug Sisk’s and Randy Niemann’s and the Terry Leaches, guys like that. That’s where you get the real stories that haven’t been told.
“I was ripped in a column up here in a column in the Bergen Record, asking, how could you not talk to Dwight Gooden!?,” said Pearlman.
“My answer is two-fold: one, I made every effort to talk to him but more importantly, when I set out to do this book, I knew that the key to writing a good book like this, is not about talking to the superstars. That includes Hernandez and Carter, Gooden, Strawberry, because those guys have told these stories 8,000 times.”
Despite repeated efforts, Strawberry and Gooden, frankly the most-recognized members of the 1986 Mets team, were not on the record, but they are in the book. “Strawberry was in jail and refused to talk,” said Pearlman.” … and Gooden refused to talk.
“It’s an interesting thing because I called his agent and he came back and said, Dwight’s not interested. Then I called Gooden at his Tampa office number two or three times and never got a call back,” Pearlman recalls. “Then I saw Gooden in person and mentioned it to him and he told me he was interested and that I should call him in Tampa. I called him a bunch more times and he didn’t return any of my calls.”
“Number two, to be totally honest, I didn’t consider Gooden or Strawberry to be totally reliable sources. There track track records don’t speak real well for their truthfulness in these areas. I always think it sounds bad, and I always need to explain it, but the truth of the matter, in some ways the book may be better for it, because I feel it’s a more honest book.”
The fact that Pearlman never talked to Gooden or Strawberry doesn’t seem to matter. In the first 30 days of the books release, fans are consuming The Bad Guys Won fast and furious.
Pearlman has been on a promotional parade since the book was released. His appearance on the FOX sports/talk television show “The Best Damn Sports Show,” set the stage for his first face-to-face appearance with a member of the 1986 New York Mets in the wake of the release.
“I showed up and Ron Darling was doing it with me,” said Pearlman. “The first thing he said to me when he saw me was, ‘That book was eerily accurate.’ It was my greatest moment since this book came out.” Darling told Pearlman he read the book twice.
No one from the 1986 New York Mets has denied any of the stories reported in the book but some of the characterizations apparently ruffled feathers. “Lenny Dykstra was supposed to be on the show (FOX’s “The Best Damn Sports Show”) too and he refused to do it because he was angry about the book,” said Pearlman. “I guess he didn’t like how he was portrayed.”
And why would he? The same applies for Hernandez, Strawberry, Gooden, Sisk, Heep, even Mets manager Davey Johnson, who turned his head when the Mets off-field antics surfaced. He would shrug it off and say, “boys will be boys.”
The Mets behavior in 1986 is no secret. They were great on the field – and they are proud of it. They were bad off-the-field – and they don’t apologize for it.
Now, 18 years after the Mets dream season, Pearlman’s book reminds us the Mets were the bad guys. “The Bad Guys Won is a quote from Davey Johnson,” said Pearlman. “When the Mets won the World Series he was asked by someone whether the country would appreciate the Mets and he said, ‘I don’t think so because the bad guys won.”