The New York Mets made their way back to the top last season, only to fall to the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. The last time the team felt the glory of a World Series win was in 1986 — and Mookie Wilson was one of the men who led that team to victory.
Best-selling author Erik Sherman released his newest book, “Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with the ’86 Mets,” in late March. He and the former Mets centerfielder stopped by the Yogi Berra Museum on Thursday, April 7, to sign copies for a group of very enthusiastic fans.
Sherman, a lifelong baseball fan, was eager to tell the story of the 1986 championship-winning team. In his eyes, the team had attracted so much negative press — often being regarded as partiers and rascals — and he wanted to see a story like this told.
“Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with the ’86 Mets” tells the story of 14 players on that controversial team: “key and riveting players,” as Sherman says, “or bench players with great stories.” Sherman’s goal was to tell the untold stories of how the men “overcame challenges and put their lives back together.”
The book is divided up into 14 separate chapters, with each one focusing on a different player’s story. Sherman wrote the book in a first-person narrative, putting himself as part of the story. He conducted his interviews in people’s homes, at their jobs, even at their favorite bars, asking for only 30 minutes of everyone’s time and inevitably talking for an average of four hours with each former ballplayer. Sherman uncovered new details about these players that most readers will be hearing for the first time.
One of these untold stories that particularly resonated for Sherman was that of catcher Gary Carter. Carter, who was suffering from brain cancer, had been there for his teammates up until only weeks before he passed away in 2012.
One of those teammates was pitcher Dwight Gooden, who had been suffering from drug addiction. Gooden told Sherman about how Carter had helped him through some of his toughest times, specifically highlighting one thing that Carter had told Gooden about their own personal battles — “Let’s fight our diseases together, and that way, no one will be able to say that we didn’t do everything that we could.”
Skimming through his book, you’ll find the story of another man — the man who stole the show that night: Wilson. Wilson, who had co-authored his own autobiography with Sherman two years earlier, was very happy to have the opportunity to be in this book. He wanted everyone to know that his team was so much more than just a winner in ’86.
Wilson answered an array of questions from a full crowd of lifelong Mets’ fans. Many asked about the team’s behavior back in 1986, when they were often remembered as a group of rowdy bad-boys known for their antics on and off the field, such as trashing planes, causing havoc and often overindulging at the bar. Wilson described the rambunctious group of guys as entertainers. “It’s no fun to play if the fans don’t enjoy it,” Wilson said.
The South Carolina native highlighted his baseball beginnings, saying that however clichéd it may sound, he has played baseball ever since he could walk. Growing up, there were three things his father taught his family, and they were simple — go to work, go to church and play baseball.
This three-step process brought Wilson to a major league career that began back in 1980 and made him a World Series champion in 1986. This championship team had something that Wilson believed to be very vital: chemistry, which is something he believes is hard to understand fully. Chemistry, in Wilson’s eyes, is when you respect someone and trust your teammate to do their job.
“I can’t help you catch a ball. I can’t help you throw. I can’t help you hit it. I cant help you run,” Wilson said, highlighting that all he could do was respect his teammates to get the job done. In his eyes, that chemistry is what made the ’86 Mets so great.
However, there is not a single person who can think of the 1986 World Series or Wilson and not think of one infamous play. That became a topic of many questions that night. Wilson hit a soft ground ball and it went between the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in game six of the World Series.
Whether it is from the sheer exhaustion of hearing the question for 30 years or if he truly doesn’t have much to say anymore, Wilson answered very calmly. “ I don’t blame Buckner. I blame the two pitchers who couldn’t get one out,” he said. “He could’ve made the play, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point.”
Wilson could say many things about the ’86 Mets, but basically he believes that they were a team that was both very good and very lucky, showcasing what baseball truly is. “It’s not what we could do. It’s what Boston couldn’t do,” Wilson said. “It’s when preparation meets opportunity.”
Wilson, now 60, and living in his native South Carolina, returned to the tri-state area and connected with fans on a very personal level, laughing with them and sharing his insight, leaving no question unanswered. Sitting in the middle of a room dedicated to the New York Yankees, he couldn’t help but poke fun at the rival across the way a few times either.
“First off, there is no great love for the Yankees,” Wilson said. However, he did have a little love for one great Yankee. “But I have never met a man I respect more than Yogi Berra,” he said with his chair perched upon the pinstriped number 8 engraved into the floor.
However, for every cap-wearing Mets fan sitting in those Yankee Stadium seats in the Yogi Berra Museum, there was only one thing on their mind. Steve Shiermeyer, a lifelong Mets fan from Mahwah, New Jersey, is hoping to see his team do what the famous team from ’86 did and what the Mets came so close to accomplishing last season. “We’re hoping for a championship now, 30 years later,” Shiermeyer said.