BY JOE RINI
“There’s not a greater city than New York. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I firmly believe that,” said former manager Davey Johnson, whose 1986 Mets succeeded in New York and everywhere else in capturing a World Championship that season.
Johnson and members of that famed team were honored with an on-the-field ceremony before a sellout crowd prior to Saturday’s game against the Dodgers and The Rockland County Times was able to chat with Johnson as well former standout players Wally Backman and Jesse Orosco.
Looking back, Johnson said, “The team had something for everybody. Personalities from one end of the spectrum to the other…they were a group of guys that got along well together. They loved being at the ballpark. They loved performing in front of the fans. When the game was ready to start, they were all in.” While Johnson noted that the team also had guys who enjoyed themselves off the field, “They had more fun beating other clubs.”
Johnson recalled that he had the ideal situation in New York because he had managed winning teams for the Mets in the minor leagues for two years prior to taking charge in 1984. “I knew the system. I knew that guys performed well for me.” Then displaying the characteristic confidence that made him a successful manager for five major league teams, Johnson said of his hiring by the Mets, “I like to work for smart people. Frank Cashen was a smart person to hire me…there was no other choice as far as I was concerned…I had been successful…and I liked the challenge.”
When looking back at what made the 1986 team successful, former second baseman Wally Backman cited team chemistry. “We had solid pitching…a solid line-up all the way through…team speed and power,” in noting that Davey Johnson had the type of team that could bash home runs or play small ball and manufacture runs.
Backman also cited the role played by the late Gary Carter. Besides being a tremendous hitter, Backman cited Carter’s role in handling the young pitching staff. “A team needs a veteran to run a program behind the plate.” The addition of Carter to work with the young staff, “was second to none.”
The pitcher on the mound who clinched the NLCS in Game 6 and the World Series in Game 7 was lefty reliever Jesse Orosco and recalling that pressure-packed Game 6 at the Astrodome, Orosco said, “Houston had a great team. They battled everything out. We had clutch hitting to stay ahead going into Game 6.” But he knew the team needed to win Game 6 because “It wouldn’t look good for us” to face Mike Scott in Game 7 because he had already beaten the Mets twice.
With a chance to save the game, Orosco gave up a tying home run to Billy Hatcher. “Nothing you could do about it. I’ve given up other home runs in the past…I wanted to go back in the next inning.” As the game wore on deep into extra innings and he began to tire, Orosco recalled the respect and confidence Davey Johnson had in him when Johnson said, “You’re going to get the loss or the win. I’m leaving you in.”
The on-field ceremony was well done as each 1986 honoree literally walked a red carpet from the outfield as they encircled the infield. The ceremony was capped by Jesse Orosco throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Gary Carter’s son DJ which then turned into a re-enactment of the final pitch of the World Series as Orosco tossed his glove and raised his arms in triumph.