In an appearance on Michael Kay's radio show yesterday, Darryl Strawberry said that the 1986 Mets would beat the 1998 Yankees in a head-to-head matchup. As Alex Belth pointed out over at Bronx Banter this morning, this is the stuff of fun barroom debates. But as nice as it's been, 25 years later, to reflect on that '86 Mets team in recent days, we think Strawberry (who of course was a member of both teams) is getting a little carried away here.
To be sure, that was a damn good Mets team: It won 108 regular-season games, and won the National League East by 21.5 games. But the '98 Yankees are generally considered one of the best of all time. Earlier this year, a Sporting News panel picked the '98 Yanks as the fourth best team ever; the '86 Mets didn't crack the top ten. Tom Verducci once picked that Yankees team as the third best of all-time; the '86 Mets weren't in the top ten on his list, either. Forbes once took a mathematical approach to things, ranking teams based on how well they stacked up to other teams in a given season. The '86 Mets finished fourth. The '98 Yankees finished third.
The '98 Yankees had a better team OPS+, as well as a better ERA+ (barely). There's also this: Last year, WhatIfSports ran a simulation of a seven-game series between the teams. Subway Squawkers chronicled each game in the series, right on through the Yankees' clinching victory in Game Six.
Here's Strawberry on why he thinks the '86 Mets would win. From ESPN New York:
"There's no question. You cannot beat the '86 Mets," Strawberry said Tuesday while appearing on ESPN New York 1050's "The Michael Kay Show." "The Yankees teams I played on were great teams with great personalities, but they were good guys. The '86 Mets would've been drilling those guys; I just know how our pitching staff was: hit this guy, hit that guy. And those were the kind of guys we were. We were mad, we wanted them to get outside themselves. That's the kind of group we had that year, so the '86 Mets were a very difficult team to play against."
For what it's worth, the '98 Yankees pitching staff hit more than twice as many batters as the '86 Mets staff did during the regular season, though we suppose that doesn't necessarily mean they were drilling batters on purpose (or that it means anything anyway). But we're not sure that the personality of the '86 Mets would make much of a difference against one of the most dominant baseball teams ever assembled. Let's not forget, after winning 114 games during the regular season, that Yankees team went an incredible 11-2 during the postseason, with their only real scare coming in the ALCS, when they fell behind two games to one against Cleveland. They never faced an elimination game. The Mets, meanwhile, faced two of them, and were a half-inning away from losing the World Series in six. The '86 Mets might have been the more colorful group, and they may have won the more exciting World Series, but that doesn't mean they were the better team.