I admit that I am fascinated with the New York Mets post 1986 World Series. It has nothing to do with the Red Sox loss to the Mets in the World Series and jealousy.
OK, maybe at one point it did, but not anymore. I’ve seen my team win 3 World Series since then.
But the post 1986 years, especially the disastrous decisions in 1989, was the derailing of what could have been and should have been one of the greatest and most beloved teams in New York history.
And players like Mackey Sasser, for better or for worse, rightfully or unfairly, personified that transition.
The 1986 Mets had swagger, acted like bad boys, partied hard, won big and did so with a flair for the dramatic. In otherwords they personified the 1980’s. And with the Yankees on a downturn and unable to get back into the post season and no one team dominating the game, they had all the ear marks of a dynasty.
Contending in 1984 and 1985, the team came together with Strawberry and Gooden, Carter and Hernandez, Mookie and Lenny, Darling and Ojeda… the names were memorable and so were their personalities.
It is tough to quantify personalities and of course had Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight or Mookie Wilson had popped up, the Mets would have been labeled underachievers and their personalities would have been called the reason why they LOST.
But the swagger of the team started to go away when some of the personalities were taken out of the club, like a combination of Rotisserie Baseball and Jenga. And it seemed there was always a kind of boring, nondescript white guy who was getting at bats.
Granted, David Cone, who was not on the 1986 squad, seemed to fit right in. Gregg Jefferies did at first before he had the persona of a whiner.
But there were other players who were statistically fine and did a good job, but just seemed boring as hell. Dave Magadan and Kevin McReynolds were quality additions but hardly had the quality of being a New York Met a la 1986.
Of course there were practicalities that went along with some of these changes. Gary Carter was not a spring chicken anymore and needed someone who could fill in for him.
After the 1987 season, the Mets zeroed in on Mackey Sasser. A product of a Alabama community college made his debut with the 1987 Giants. The left handed hitting catcher was coveted by Pittsburgh and was picked up in the deal for Don Robinson.
Sasser became expendable in Pittsburgh when Mike LaVailiere developed and he went to the Mets during Spring Training, 1988. The Mets would be his third team in 2 years.
He hit well in 1988, batting .285 and an OPS of .719 while starting 30 games. The Mets made it back to the post season in 1988 and Sasser played in 4 games of the NLCS loss to Los Angeles.
Then 1989 happened. That year the Mets basically stripped down many of the most popular players, shipping out Wally Backman, Rick Aguilera, Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson. The players they got back were mainly nondescript who did not capture the Mets fans fascination or they were stars like Frank Viola or Juan Samuel who initially underperformed.
Super sensation Gregg Jefferies disappointed in 1989 and the Met fans saw that Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez were winding down.
And Mackey Sasser, who would supplant Gary Carter, couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher. It was bizarre. Some called it the “yips.” But he just couldn’t do it. He would triple pump and float it back.
Base runners would take advantage of the pumps and delay steal off of him. There was nothing he could do.
And you will can imagine that Met fans were not thrilled that the person replacing their beloved Hall of Fame catcher couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher. He unfairly became a symbol of a lack of toughness on the new team. Fans would mock him by counting out loud all the times he pumped the ball. He could throw the ball back in the bullpen, just not at the plate.
He hit well, batting over .300 in 1990, but was a defensive liability for the team. By 1992 his career with the Mets was over and after a few attempts with the Padres and Mariners, he hung up his spikes.
Doctors have since diagnosed he had some sort of trauma that subconsiously was preventing him from making the throws. It has nothing to do with mental toughness or weakness. But that was not the sort of thing that people talked about or thought about in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Sasser was a butt of jokes throughout his career even though he was a major league player and a capable hitter. Sadly, because many of those jokes were about his perceived weakness, it has been the reputation that follows him.
He was a good player who needed help. Those 1986 Mets didn’t strike me as the type of people to turn to for help.