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From 1984-1990 (although he was fired midway through the 1990 season), the Mets were arguably the strongest team in the National League. They never finished below second place in any of those years, won two division titles in that span, and a World Series championship to cap it all off. The man behind these great teams was none other than Davey Johnson, the greatest manager the Mets have ever had.
After managing the Mets' minor league teams for a few years, Johnson was promoted by Cashen to replace interim manager Frank Howard after the 1983 season. The team had a key piece already in place with 1983 Rookie of the Year Darryl Strawberry, but it was Johnson that ultimately got the young rookie phenom pitching sensation to the big leagues for good in 1984. Johnson's arrival also gave more playing time for second baseman Wally Backman, who had been bouncing back and forth to the minor leagues. The 1984 team all of a sudden started to play in ways that the Mets had not been able to do since 1976. They had Strawberry, Keith Hernandez and George Foster to carry a once powerless offense, while Gooden followed Strawberry's footsteps and became the 1984 Rookie of the Year. Ron Darling also had a breakout season this year. The Mets had been competing with the Cubs for most of the year, but ultimately fell short despite a 90-72 record. With Johnson at the helm, this team was only going to get better.
If the 1984 team was not viewed as serious National League contenders, then the 1985 squad certainly was, especially after the Mets acquired catcher Gary Carter from the Expos. They went 98-64 that year, but barely missed the playoffs as they were unable to overtake the Cardinals. They kept pace for most of the year and possessed some of the league's players, none more spectacular than Gooden who won the NL Cy Young award that year with a 24-4 record and 1.53 ERA. Carter and Strawberry led one of the best offenses of the decade. The shortcoming though made Johnson's Mets even hungrier to win.
The third time certainly was the charm for the Mets in 1986 as they breezed through the regular season in dominating fashion with a franchise-best 108-54 record. They then survived a tight six-game series against the Houston Astros and went on to beat the Boston Red Sox in one of the greatest World Series' in baseball history. The Mets needed some luck to go their way throughout the postseason, but they played hard nonetheless, and combined with a few particular plays going their way, they hoisted the franchise's second championship. However, as the team got better on the field, they got worse off the field. In July, Darling, Bob Ojeda, Rick Aguilera and Tim Teufel were all arrested after exiting a bar for assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. The whole team made a scene after winning the Houston postseason series by drinking a lot on flight back and destroying part of the plane's interior, which did not make the Mets' front office very happy. Finally, Gooden and Strawberry, among others began to dabble with cocaine/crack; a choice that would certainly have a big effect on their futures.
After an offseason highlighted by the acquisitions of David Cone and Kevin McReynolds, the 1987 squad was destined to repeat and win another championship, but it was not meant to be as the St. Louis Cardinals held on to beat out the Mets for the division title. Strawberry's production grew to another level and Howard Johnson had a breakout season as he became the everyday third baseman. But Ojeda and Aguilera missed most of the season, which hurt the pitching staff. After this bitter disappointment, the Mets set their sights on redemption.
The 1988 season was a much better campaign as the Mets ran away with the division with a 100-62 record. Strawberry and McReynolds carried the offense as Howard Johnson, Hernandez, and Carter all had down years. The pitching though was better than ever before as Cone joined an already strong rotation and went 20-3, finishing third in the Cy Young voting. The team felt they could easily get back to the World Series, but then came the Los Angeles Dodgers and their ace Orel Hershisher. The Mets ended up losing this series in seven games, resulting in yet another disappointing ending, even though it was better than the previous year.
The 1989 season did not live up to expectations and the Mets finished second to the Cubs that year by six games with an 87-75 record. However, this was the beginning of the undoing for Johnson, who lost a considerable amount of production from many players, not to mention those who ended up getting traded in mid-season. By the end of this year, Lenny Dykstra, Roger McDowell, Wilson, Hernandez, and Carter were all gone. The main reason they even stayed in contention was thanks to perhaps the best season from Howard Johnson, who became only the third player ever to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in multiple seasons.
By the time the 1990 season began, Johnson knew the Mets had to get back to winning again in dominating fashion, but after the first 42 games of that season, with the Mets at a 20-22 record, Johnson was all of a sudden fired at the end of May and replaced by his coach, Bud Harrelson. Harrelson ended up leading the Mets to yet another second place finish, but it marked the end of the greatest era in Mets history.
Thanks to his success throughout his tenure, Johnson is statistically the top manager in Mets history. He managed 1,012 games, won 595 of them, and finished with a .588 winning percentage. All three of these statistics are first among Mets managers. Appropriately, Johnson was recognized for his contributions when he got inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in August 2010. The Mets have had a good number of strong managers that have brought success, but the Mets' best decade by far has been the 1980s, and the team had mostly Johnson to thank for the triumphs. Until someone else manages the Mets to another championship or two and bring at least a good six or seven years of success, Johnson will forever remain the best man to ever manage the Mets.