I don’t read half as much as I’d like to or as much as I think I should. Books anyway. I mean, as a population, we probably do more reading now than ever before because of the internet, but we’ve also become uninterested with anything that can’t be done within a few minutes.
So, recently, I’ve kind of made more of an effort to read more actual books and started with “Game 7, 1986: Failure And Triumph In The Biggest Game Of My Life” by Ron Darling (with Daniel Paisner).
It took me longer to get to this book than it really should have because the book’s target audience is essentially me, but once I finally made the decision to read this, I was able to fly through it in just a few sessions. I had read Darling’s earlier book, “The Complete Game” a few years before after winning a copy in a contest on MetsMerized and came into this book with a built-in appreciation for Darling’s thoughtfulness as he tends to dig a little deeper than normal sports cliches and give the reader (as he does his listeners on SNY and TBS during the season) a deeper and better understanding of what is happening and why.
Darling was the starting pitcher for the Mets on Monday, October 27, 1986 when the Mets last clinched a World Series title in a game that has become mostly forgotten about due to the extraordinary circumstances that surrounded the classic Game 6 of the series just two days before.
He acknowledges that fact early-on and proceeds to take you on a roller coaster ride inside the head of a young athlete getting ready to have the seminal moment of his career. From late in Game 6 where pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre tells him to head home to get a good night’s rest for the next day’s deciding game (which was subsequently postponed because of rain) you have a front row seat for the whirlwind of thoughts, preperation, worries and dreams that fill a man’s head when the success of a team and a city are all put on his right arm.
But, whereas you normally get the Disney ending with these types of stories, Darling wasn’t up to the challenge on this night and was pulled from the game early while putting his team at a three-run disadvantage.
You never get the feeling that moment was too big for him, but just that the Red Sox were well-prepared and had made adjustments as this was Darling’s third start in the series. It’s the setting every kid has dreamed about. He’s front and center during the deciding game of the World Series, but there would be no walk-off homer or 9th inning strikeout as the dream collapses around him.
I found this to be new and fresh and – to a point – almost awkward in that you’re eavesdropping on Darling’s private moment as he admits his failing and what he was going through on the mound as he realizes that things are caving in around him. It’s a game that even in victory has haunted him for 30 years as he (and everybody else back then) just assumed he would get another chance; that the Mets would be returning to the World Series every year, but that never came to pass. A combination of trades, drugs and injuries clipped the mid-80s Mets dynasty after just one glorious season and while the team that night in 1986 did come back to win, Darling was left with a giant “what if” that he was never able to properly vanquish throughout the remainder of his career.
I loved this book as it provided some incredible detail into one of the most significant games in Mets history along with a ribbon of hindsight after 30 years that will make you want to re-watch Game 7 almost immediately after completing the book. Yes, I did re-watch the game and yes, putting the context of the book with the body language and facial expressions given off by Darling until he was pulled in the 4th inning.
Recommended highly for Mets and baseball fans, but also for all sports fans who want to get a feel of what it’s like to be on the biggest stage in a profession and how one of the athletes at the center of the focus dealt with the pressures and expectations.