The Bad Guys Won @ 10

It occurred to me this morning that it’s been 10 years since I began work on my first book, “The Bad Guys Won.” Figured, for no particular reason, I’d reminisce.

To begin with, “The Bad Guys Won” is my favorite book project. It’s not the best book I’ve written—”Sweetness,” by far, is my strongest product. But TBGW was sort of the perfect literary storm for me: First project, a team I grew up loving, a great PR guy willing to help out (Jay Horwitz) and a stadium a mere 25 minutes from my home.

TBGW was not my idea. I must say that from the start. I was approached by an agent, Susan Reed, who asked if I’d ever considered writing a book. I was 29 at the time, fresh off of the whole John Rocker mess, jealous (in a 100% good way) of my pal Jon Wertheim, who’d just penned the excellent “Venus Envy.” So, yes, the idea of writing something long had entered my head. Only my ideas, requested by Susan, absolutely blew. I think I’d long fantasized about co-writing KISS drummer Peter Criss’ autobiography. I also probably wanted to do something on Garry Templeton or J.R. Richard—two boyhood favorites.

“Uh …” said Susan. “Have you ever considered the ’86 Mets?”

I hadn’t—but the team made for an ideal book subject. Reasons:

1. Nobody had ever written it. Nothing’s wrong with delving into a subject that’s already been covered (Walter Payton, for example, released an autobiography shortly before his death), but it sure as hell is easier being first. The ’86 Mets were fresh literary turf.

2. Huge book market. Huge.

3. Perfect lapsed time for nostalgia. Kostya Kennedy wrote a wonderful Joe DiMaggio biography last year, but I think it would have sold 300,000 copies had it been released a decade earlier. Along those same lines, it’s much too early to write, say, a Ken Griffey, Jr. or Michael Phelps biography. Time needs to pass—just not so much time that most of the fans are dead. The 16-years between Game 7 of the ’86 World Series and my signing of the contract was perfect.

4. Great characters. I mean, REALLY great. The narratives of Gooden and Strawberry (fallen superstars) might be told over and over, but it remains riveting. Gary Carter—the too-good-to-be-true nerd (in a great way). Keith Hernandez, smoking cigarettes in the dugout. Backman and Dykstra—the gross pugs. Sid Fernandez—portly Hawaiian, dumb as rocks. Ray Knight, the veteran trying to salvage his fading skills. On and on and on.

•••

The first player I contacted was Doug Sisk, a little-known reliever. Not sure why … think I found a number somewhere. He was, from the start, awesome. “I just got an address list for the entire team from a reunion we had,” he said. “You want a copy?” Didn’t have to think twice on that one.

Best interviews—Ed Hearn (described Rafael Santana’s penis as “a cock as big as a bat.”), Bobby Ojeda, Terry Leach, Mookie Wilson, Ray Knight. Kevin Mitchell was wonderful—we met in California, where he was managing an Independent League team. When I asked about Gooden saying he once cut the head off of a cat, I thought he was going to kill me. “That’s a fucking lie,” he said. “A fucking lie.” Gooden and Strawberry didn’t talk—one was in jail, the other (I believe) in rehab. Dykstra agreed to talk, but only if I fly him to New York from California (uh, no). George Foster gave me about 15 minutes on the phone, and his voice really sounds as if he just sucked in a tank of helium. Hernandez invited me to his Manhattan apartment, which had some of the most breathtaking art I’d ever seen. Carter and I met at the Mets’ spring training complex in Port St. Lucie. He was superb, if not a tad cliched. As I left I passed his car, which had the license plate “Kid 8.” I spoke at length with Bill Buckner, but only after I assured him I thought he was a wonderful player (I do), and that I believed John McNamara deserved most of the blame, for not replacing him defensively with Dave Stapleton (I still feel that way).

•••

Some funny trivia about TBGW.

1. I loved the title. Still do. It was a quote Davey Johnson gave to me, when he talked about how nobody was rooting for the Mets, but in the end “the bad guys won.” My editor, the awesome David Hirshey, didn’t like the title. Let’s call it “The Wild Bunch.” When he said that, I almost vomited. “Dave,” I said, “that’s awful. Please, no.” I think the marketing department at HarperCollins also liked “The Wild Bunch,” but David went with me on that one. If you open the book to the photo inserts, one of the pictures is a bunch of Mets getting wasted on the mound. It says “Wild Bunch” in caps, because when that was written the title had been changed. It’s never been corrected.

2. I hated the subtitle. Still do. It’s the only one of my five books where I can’t actually tell you, without cheating, what the subtitle is. Here, I’ll try: “A season of brawling, boozing, bimbo chasing with Sraw, Doc, Mook, Mex, Kid and the ’86 Mets.”

Nope—this is what it actually says: “A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform—and Maybe the Best.”

Thing is, as much as that subtitle irks me, Hirshey was right. It works with the layout of the cover. And I’ve been asked about it a million times—probably a positive.

3. When the first edition came out, the cover had the wrong date on it. It’s supposed to be a newspaper front page from the morning after the Mets won—but someone screwed up. To be honest, I would have never noticed. But, man oh man, Met fans sure did. It was promptly changed for future editions.

4. I was identified inside the book as an editor at Newsday. I was not, and never have been, an editor at Newsday. Oy.

5. Authors are responsible for getting other writers to blurb the book for the cover. I had three people. One, Steve Rushin, was an SI colleague and, as many know, one of the most famous sports writers in America. The second was Jody Berger, a former ESPN The Magazine writer who was working for the Rocky Mountain News at the time (a curious pick to blurb a Mets book; to my great dismay, Jody and I haven’t spoken in years). The third was Bill Fleischman of the Philadelphia Daily News. Bill was actually my sports journalism professor at the University of Delaware, and remains a a very close friend and mentor.

6. I was in Philadelphia, preparing to appear on a TV show called Daily News Live. Cell phone rang—it was Hirshey. “Hey, Pearlman …”

“Yup.”

“Your book is on the New York Times best-seller’s list.”

Elation.

•••

Mets fans seem to have embraced this book. It’s not my biggest seller (Boys Will Be Boys wins that one), but it’s certainly my book that’s been embraced with the most passion. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of this; how much it means to me.

Thank you.

6 thoughts on “The Bad Guys Won @ 10”

  1. What a great blog post. It’s hard being a Mets fan in the land of Cardinals (Northwest Tennessee). I am ordering the book tonight.

  2. Great stuff, Jeff. I happened to pick the book up a few years later, and it was the type of read that made me envious, like the best SI long-form articles. When I went to London to get my masters in journalism in 2009, I made sure to bring it with me.

    I still flip through it on occasion.

  3. Stephen in NW Ohio

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember you blogging (a while back now) about wanting to revise TBGW. I am also quite fond of the book and would welcome the opportunity to read a revised edition of this story.

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