Let's Go to the Videotape: Cardinals-Mets Rivalry, 1988

As part of my continuing attempt to get us all through a long winter, I present another nostalgia-tastic clip from the Mets of yesteryear. This comes from the same VHS tape as my first Let's Go to the Videotape post, but is from the same NBC special that brought us vintage footage of Sandy Alderson.

To refresh your memory, this is from an NBC Sports baseball preview special from 1988. It begins with Marv Albert waxing philosophically about the allure of spring, the promise of a new year. There is also a lecture from Vin Scully about the value of perspective. In between, there is a title sequence. Can you spot the thing that does not belong in this title sequence?

 

If you guessed 'the use of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" as theme music,' you are correct. An upbeat sounding song, yes, but like most Cure songs, intensely depressing. Though this was a moderate hit in the US the year before, I still wonder what possessed NBC to use it for a baseball show (and how they went about licensing it).

With that weirdness out of the way, let's proceed to today's clip.

Unlike the This Week in Baseball-produced video I highlighted recently, this special didn't give all teams roughly equal time. NBC picked some notable franchises to highlight and left the others to fend for themselves. They had no time to spare for the Indians and Expos when they had to devote that space to, among other things, two parodic folk songs by Dick McCormick. (I may post one or both of these at a future date, in the interests of completion, although one of them was accidentally partially taped over by a bizarre dance routine on my local Christian station. Do not ask how that happened, because I have no idea.)

Two of the teams NBC covered were the Cardinals and Mets, now in the waning years of a fierce rivalry. Before the 1988, most pundits picked the Mets to prevail (wisely, as it turned out). This was due to an equal mix of the Mets' strengths and the Cardinals' emerging weaknesses.

In the off season, the Yankees signed Jack Clark to a big free agent contract, thus depriving St. Louis of one of their few power threats. Manager Whitey Herzog seems quietly peeved about this state of affairs, as do many of his players. They graciously concede that the Mets are more talented and rightly favored, but think there's no reason they can't challenge for the division. Most curiously, Keith Hernandez is interviewed and calls Herzog "the best manager in baseball." That must have made the next meeting with Davey Johnson awkward.

The talk then switches over to the Mets, and the "turmoil off the field" is covered a bit more extensively here than it was in the TWIB preview (i.e., comments Darryl Strawberry made that were critical of the team in general and Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez specifically). Carter says he's over it, though the length with which he addresses the incident indicates otherwise, while Hernandez thinks Strawberry's apology was sufficient. Strawberry says he was speaking hypothetically, an odd defense.

The rest of the clip addresses the team's aging core (again, Carter and Hernandez), rookie Kevin Elster, and the demanding nature of playing/managing in New York. Ironically, much of the rhetoric used here about New York fans "demand a winner" is now used more often in reference to the Yankees.

More than anything, I was struck by how exhausted Davey Johnson looks in this clip. Despite it only being spring training, he looks like he's in the middle of a 15-game west coast swing in August. In retrospect, it astounds me how little respect Johnson receives, even from Mets fans. Under him, the team never finished a season lower than second place and never won fewer than 87 games in a full season. And yet, thanks to the bristling of his players and conflicts with GM Frank Cashen, he was ousted just 42 games into the 1990 season. Sometimes life ain't fair.

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