The New York Mets have always been overshadowed by their crosstown rival, the New York Yankees. But in the 1980s, after decades of playing second fiddle, the Mets became the city’s team.
The Mets iconic run was capped off with their wild World Series victory in 1986, chronicled in the new ESPN 30 for 30, Once Upon a Time in Queens. Nick Davis, the director of the new four-part series, joined hosts Peter Appel and Aram Leighton on the latest episode of The Just Baseball Show to break down one of the most famous teams in MLB history.
Besides their miraculous 1969 World Series title, Mets fans didn’t have much to root for until the team drafted Darryl Strawberry with the fifth overall pick in 1980.
A series of key draft picks and acquisitions in the early 1980s led to a new era in New York baseball. The Mets became an essential part of New York City’s identity when they needed something to root for.
“It’s really bizarre to me how fused that team and the city became,” said Davis. “When you think of great sports teams you don’t ordinarily associate them with where they were…as the team got better in the 80s, the city got better.”
New York City was in chaos in the mid-1970s after a crippling financial crisis. Then matters were only made worse when there was the blackout in 1977. Things didn’t improve until the early 1980s, around the same time the Mets drafted future Cy Young winner Doc Gooden (first overall in 1982).
Over the next few seasons, the Met acquired former NL MVP Keith Hernandez and future Hall of Famer Gary Carter via trade. This loaded Mets squad peaked in 1986, winning 108 games at a time when New York City was alive and well.
“Wall Street was on the rise again in the 80s, and the Mets were bringing on one great player after another,” said Davis. “So you have this incredibly charismatic juggernaut of a team by the mid-80s, and the city is back. The city has gotten its swagger back, and no team had more swagger than the 1986 Mets.”
Once Upon a Time in Queens
The Mets finished that season as the top dog in the NL. After an NCLS victory against the Houston Astros, the Mets faced the Boston Red Sox in one of the most memorable World Series’ in playoff history.
For many baseball fans (sorry Boston), this series was marked by the infamous ground ball that went under Bill Buckner‘s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. But real Mets fans will remember that night as the greatest game of all-time.
“Because of the ‘Buckner game,’ I think a lot of people have forgotten…this [was] the greatest game ever,” said Davis. “The tension was unbelievable, and the city ground to a halt as we watched this game.”
The Mets trailed the Red Sox for the entirety of the game, coming back to tie it three times before finally taking their first lead when they walked it off in the bottom of the 10th.
Prior to the final play, the Mets recorded three-consecutive hits after they were down to their last out. On the seventh pitch of Mookie Wilson‘s infamous at-bat, Bob Stanley‘s offering ended up in the backstop, allowing Kevin Mitchell to tie the game on the wild pitch.
Three pitches later, Wilson hit the groundball to Buckner, bringing home Ray Knight when it went through the legs of the Red Sox first baseman. Yet the Mets still had to win a Game 7.
In the final game, the Red Sox actually jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but the Mets scored eight runs in the final four innings, coming away with an 8-5 victory to cap off their remarkable season. Winning their second World Series title was a dream come true for Mets fans, but this championship was also a moment of pride for the entire city.
While the Mets did win their division again in 1988, they would never reach the mountaintop again. Their time as the pride of New York had slowly faded away. But the 1980s Mets will always be remembered for their incredible run, no matter how short-lived their reign was.
Watch the full documentary, now streaming on ESPN+ and WatchESPN.