“I always thought about writing a book for a long time, but the question was what I wanted my book to be…I didn’t want it to be a baseball play-by-play. I wanted the book to have some meaning, a purpose, a direction for people to be inspired and entertained. I wanted them to leave with some insight. That’s what I wanted my life to be, and I wanted my life to come across through the book.”
I was young, and I do mean very young, when I got to witness the baseball team I cheer for, and more often than not, die hard with, win the 1986 World Series. I know that the 1969 Mets are dubbed the ‘Miracle Mets,’ but that was long before I was born, so to me, I will always consider the ’86 Mets, the team that staged the most improbable of comebacks, the miracle makers. While I have seen the team make it to the World Series one more time, in 2000, I have yet to see them win the whole thing again. Reading books by integral members of the Mets power-house, that dominated the National League by winning 108 games during that epic season, as well as watching old VHS tapes, and newly re-mastered DVD’s, is all I have left, other than my memories.
With that said, I recently sat down to read “Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the ’86 Mets,” the two-hundred and eighty-eight page book, which was released by Berkley Publishing in hardcover on April 29, 2014. Co-written with Eric Sherman (Steve Blass: A Pirate for Life), the book is a candid portrayal, which chronicles Wilson’s life from his humble beginnings in South Carolina, his importance in World Series history, his current role as not only a club ambassador for the Mets organization, but also his strong involvement in his church as a minister, and everything in-between. The book also features a brief forward by another fan favorite, Keith Hernandez, who is currently a member of the Mets television broadcasting team.
Former professional baseball player, Mookie Wilson, will never be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The outfielder was never a batting champion, homerun champion, MVP (Most Valuable Player), and even though he was fleet of foot, he did not become Major League Baseball’s all time stolen base champion, during his tenure in the big leagues – September 2, 1980 to October 6, 1991. What the consummate professional was, however, and continues to be to this day, to New York Mets fans of a certain age, is one of, if not, the most beloved player in franchise history.
William Hayward Wilson was born on February 9, 1956 in Bamberg, South Carolina. Life was not easy for Wilson as a child growing up as an African American in the racially divided south. His father, James, a hardworking sharecropper, only made twenty-five dollars a week, and had a large family to support on the meager amount of funds. Wilson often had to miss school, in order to help his father and other siblings work the farmland, so there would be food for dinner that evening. In fact, he didn’t play organized baseball until he was in high school. His playing days might have ended right then and there, if not for the intervention of a local judge who thought there was something special about Mookie and his abilities. Eventually, Wilson impressed more than just the judge, when scouts came to watch him play. Initially, he was offered a scholarship to South Carolina State, but ironically the school eliminated its baseball program, prior to his arrival. Not the type of person to easily give up, after a stint at Spartanburg Methodist College, Mookie transferred to the University of South Carolina, becoming the first African American in the school’s history to play on a sports team.
During the amateur draft in 1977, Wilson was drafted by the Mets in the 2nd round. He signed a contract for a little over $20,000 dollars, pocket change for professional ball players by today’s standards. At the time, the Mets were perennial losers, always playing second class citizens to the older and mystique filled New York Yankees organization. Mookie was determined to play hard, no matter how poorly the majority of the team performed, or underperformed for that matter.
“I was accustomed to winning. I had won in every league I’d been in… When you celebrate because you didn’t lose 100 ballgames, that’s not good. Some of the players couldn’t care less about winning. When you get comfortable at losing and there’s no threat to your job, there’s not much incentive. You come to the ballpark, you play nine innings, you lose and you don’t see anybody coming up to remove you from your job. That may be overstating it a little bit, but that’s the way I saw it. Winning was not a priority. They wanted to win, but maybe they didn’t know how.”
The first chapter of the book, deals with the often discussed, Game Six of the ’86 World Series, or more importantly, the 10th inning, when a slow rolling ground ball Mookie hit, after a ten pitch at bat, went through Boston Red Sox’s first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs. Had the ball not made its way past Buckner, the game would have remained tied, and considering the Red Sox had a 3-2 game lead in the series, had they gone on to win in extra innings, they would have been crowned world champions. The chapter is written in an interesting way; Wilson and Sherman don’t bog the reader down with insignificant details. Mookie doesn’t shy away from admitting, that even had Bill Buckner, a man he has since become good friends with, played the ball cleanly, he still would have beat him to first, and Mets third baseman Ray Knight would have scored the winning run. Wilson recounts how Buckner was playing injured, and that in order to make the play he had to play the ball laterally away from the bag. (As an aside, the ball Wilson hit, last sold at auction back in 2012 for $400,000).
One thing that bother’s Wilson was his firing from the Mets coaching staff following the 2011 season, which was the first for current Mets manager, Terry Collins. Collins, who picked Wilson for his staff, has told Mookie that he had nothing to do with his firing. What bothers Wilson the most is not the fact that he was let go by the organization, but to his way of thinking, he was never given a satisfactory reason as to why. He also is quite clear in his feelings regarding team management, and the fact that he feels they really don’t care about his concerns.
“I feel that I deserve to hear just some words to justify the actions of an organization that I have honored and promoted every day of my nearly thirty-year existence in it…I don’t care about not having a job. If they fire me because they have a better replacement, that’s fine. But when no information is given as to why a move is made, it’s much worse than getting an explanation I might disagree with. They just dictated my career as a player and a coach and it wasn’t right.”
In addition, to his firing, Wilson speaks on how he felt the Mets were headed in the completely wrong direction at the time, in terms of how the ball club was being constructed.
“I felt like I was watching the deterioration of the Mets organization. They seemed to have no identity. My concern was that the character of the players they were looking for superseded the talent they brought to the table. Character on a team is important, but you’ve got to have the horses to win.”
Wilson also discusses his views on the careers of Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry. He blames Mets management from the 1980s, for the way the two gifted, young superstars were basically given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted, as long as they performed on the field. Their constant imbibing of alcohol and cocaine abuse, which sadly, led to habit forming addictions for both men, Wilson feels, greatly impacted both player’s chances to be first ballot hall of famers. Mookie also feels personal remorse for not being able to help the two young all-stars lead a better lifestyle.
In addition to the topics I have briefly touched upon, the book goes into detail about the marathon Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, that to a man, each member of the Mets knew they had to win. None of them wanted to have to face pitcher Mike Scott of the Houston Astros in a Game 7, because baseball history might have turned out differently if they had. Wilson also speaks about his playing time for the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as his life after baseball; the various jobs he has had, and his pursuit of his degree in divinity. “Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the ’86 Mets,” is a story that can be read by anyone who likes to learn about the lives of well-known professional athletes; and the well written, interesting book is a must read for New York Mets fans, both those fans who watched Wilson during his playing days, and younger fans who are interested in team history.