The story of the 1986 New York Mets has been chronicled in books, interviews and special segments over the past three decades. But, if you ask Nick Davis, producer and director of the forthcoming 1986 Mets documentary from ESPN Films, the full story has never been told cinematically.
“It’s the story of these unbelievable characters who were so humane,” said Davis on the MetsRewind podcast Monday. “So fascinating. So flawed. So wonderful.”
While working on his last film, a PBS documentary about the life of Ted Williams, Davis asked Major League Baseball why the story of the 1986 Mets was never memorialized in film. No one could really give him a sensible answer. Davis filed the idea away for the future.
“It’s all I’ve wanted to do: make this project happen,” he said. “We got Major League Baseball on board. We got the Mets on board. Jimmy Kimmel came on board as the executive producer. Everything has fallen in line.”
His team of producers began the process of scheduling and filming interview with key players in January, then, COVID hit. “The pandemic production has been a huge challenge.”
Prior to COVID, Davis was crisscrossing the country talking to former Mets and Red Sox. “I was going to Florida and filming long interviews with Keith Hernandez and Davey Johnson,” he said. “We interviewed Dwight Gooden and Bobby Ojeda and it was just going terrifically and then COVID just shut us down. We were hoping to find a way to make things happen, which we’ve done. And now we’re back up for the most part.”
In fact, Davis was facing a deadline during the recording of the MetsRewind podcast. In just a couple hours he was scheduled to host a remote interview with Sid Fernandez in Hawaii. “I will Zoom in and they’ll place the laptop with my image on it right next to the camera. I have to say, they’re going really well. We’re getting just really, really terrific stuff.
But it really has felt like the team and the guys wanted to tell the story properly. There’s been a lot of sensationalist stuff. I think that a lot of them feel like that has taken the spotlight away from, from some of the great things that they accomplished.”
Davis said he expects to wrap production next summer and have a final product in the hands of ESPN officials by August.
Here is the transcript of selected questions and answers from the podcast:
Did you grow up a Mets fan?
Nick Davis: Yes, I did. I’m a lifelong Mets fan, a huge Mets fan. My screen memory is of being four years old and watching the 69 World Series. I don’t think I actually remember it, but I have a sort of. Safe memory of my parents and my dining room. And it doesn’t really make sense, but, uh, I like to think I remember that, but no, my earliest real memories are from ‘71 and then ‘70 to go into a Shea.
The real downfall was June 15th, 1977. That was the day that will live in infamy. I remember that night, um, listening to the game from Atlanta and just feeling like this can’t be happening.
I was a huge Tom Seaver fans. He was, he was the first of my favorite players, with an asterisk to Willie Mays. Um, and then, my second favorite player during the lean years was Bruce Boisclair and then I was all about Daryl.
We’ve heard the stories from Strawberry Gooden Hernandez, Darling and Mookie on a regular basis. What was your editorial strategy when it came to putting together questions to pull information out of some of these players that may not just be repetitive from past stories?
ND: Well, it’s different with each guy. So, for instance, last week we did an interview with a member of the ‘84 and ‘85 Mets team. Not someone who you ordinarily associate with the ‘86 Mets … and that’s Calvin Schiraldi.
He was fully prepared to talk about Game 6 and the 10th inning, but he wasn’t prepared to talk about his own career as a Met. So, he was, I think, I don’t want to say flattered, but happy to talk about the aspects of the story that, you know, are less well-known.
As an interviewer, to sort of go to the places in someone’s story that are less well-known and less traversed makes the subjects feel like, well you really want to get to know me. So we spent a couple hours. It was terrific because I really got a sense of who he was. In addition, the guys who are the obvious ones, the Keith’s and Darryl and Doc, getting them to open up in a new way has its own challenge – and also equally fun.
Did it appear that those players were a little fatigued to talk about 1986?
ND: That is a great question. For an interviewer, because you don’t want to feel like you’re getting, not the story, but the story of the story … a couple of them have reached out to me afterwards and said, ’Can I do that again? I’d actually like to come back and do another interview.’ We did a second interview with Bobby Ojeda a few weeks ago. It was interesting because I thought he was reaching out back to say, you know, I think I said too much, I shouldn’t have said about the players … really what he wanted to do was just be more present. I thought his first interview was fantastic, but his second interview was off the charts. So I think that they are all taking it as seriously as I am.
They’re not as protective as they may have been even 10, 15 years ago. They’re all in their fifties and sixties. And it’s like, yeah, we know three of them were orange jumpsuits. A lot of them did a lot of things they regret, but they’re not trying to hide it anymore. So they’re all very open and honest about their flaws. It makes for a fascinating full film.
We’re not limiting ourselves to just that season. As I suggested it, it really is an epic tale. You and I are huge baseball fans — that’s obvious — and I want baseball fans to like the film, right. But it’s not for just baseball fans. It’s for a general audience.
And it’s not just about the ’86 Mets. It’s about a team and a time and a place. And it’s about how that team captured that city at that moment as well as any sporting team could. It’s sort of an epic story and it doesn’t begin on Opening Day. It begins in the summer of ’77 … the darkest days of the summer of ‘77, the city is in the toilet. It’s the Son of Sam. It’s the blackout summer. Our beloved baseball team is also in the toilet because a few weeks earlier, right before the blackouts, the Mets experienced their own blackout by trading Seaver.
We’re in the very early stages of editing. So, it’s a big mess and you think, ‘Oh my God! How is this ever going to come together?’ But, we will get there and it is, it is really exciting to see certain things start to happen.
Mets fans can share their voice, and their story, for the film. How?
ND: Every time I tell someone when I’m working on, they’ll just jump right to Game 6 and they’ll say, ‘I remember I was at the bar with a guy and … they start telling me their stories.’ So, we realized, let’s let the fans have a say … We’re asking people to put themselves on video and send us their stories. Just send a short clip of what you remember or why you remember who you were with. You can use bad language, just have fun the way you would tell a friend the story.
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