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Ron Darling Comments on Drug, Alcohol Use in Dugout with 1986 New York Mets

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2016

New York Mets pitcher Ron Darling got his sixth win of the season as the Mets beat the Los Angeles Dodgers at Shea Stadium, Monday, May 31, 1988, New York. Darling pitched into the ninth inning with Randy Myers coming in to save the 3-2 win for the Mets. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)
Ron Frehm/Associated Press

After winning the World Series in 1986, the New York Mets looked to be building a dynasty in Flushing. Instead, they made one playoff appearance over the next decade. 

The Wall Street Journal shared an excerpt Monday from Ron Darling's upcoming book, Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life. Darling, a former pitcher for the Mets, recounted how a number of his teammates used amphetamines and drank beer in the middle of games during the team's title run.

Darling explained that players used amphetamines to help them get through the physical and mental rigors of an MLB season. The details aren't particularly revelatory, as Mark Kreidler wrote on ESPN.com in 2005 that amphetamine usage has a long history in baseball:

Greenies got mentioned at least as far back as the Pittsburgh drug trials of the 1980s, when players testified they received the stimulants from Willie Stargell, Bill Madlock and even [Willie] Mays. All three men, who denied either using or supplying, later were cleared of wrongdoing by the commissioner's office. (The current commissioner, [Bud] Selig, has said he first heard about greenies in the old Milwaukee Braves clubhouses of the late 1950s.)

The stimulants have been steadily mentioned ever since, too -- but almost never by anyone in the midst of his career. A retired Tony Gwynn spoke openly of baseball's amphetamine problem in 2003, estimating for The New York Times that 50 percent of position players were using them routinely, many of them before almost every game. (Gwynn subsequently was blasted by those in uniform at the time for, in their opinion, speaking out of school.) Chad Curtis spoke after his retirement about the pressure on fielders not to play the game "naked" -- that is, not to play without speed.

Somewhat more surprising was Darling's account of Mets players drinking in the middle of games they were involved in:

They had it down to a science, with precision timing. They'd do that thing where you poke a hole in the can so the beer would flow shotgun-style. They'd time it so that they were due to hit third or fourth that inning, and in their minds that rush of beer would kind of jump-start the amphetamines and get back to how they were feeling early on in the game—pumped, jacked, good to go.

Starting pitcher Dwight Gooden and outfielders Kevin Mitchell, Lenny Dykstra and Darryl Strawberry were among the centerpieces of the '86 Mets. All four players were 24 or younger when the team won the title. The Mets should've been competitive for another three or four seasons at least. Instead, after reaching the 1988 National League Championship Series, they didn't make the playoffs again until 1999.

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Drug use played a part in curtailing Gooden's baseball career. In a 2011 interview on ESPN's E:60 (via ESPNNewYork.com), the former Cy Young Award winner revealed he missed the Mets' World Series parade because he was high in a drug dealer's apartment.

Strawberry, meanwhile, was addicted to cocaine, which prevented him from fulfilling his massive potential.

This all adds a different perspective to the Boston Red Sox's stories of fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse, which was the most recent MLB scandal of that nature. In 2011, the Boston Globe's Bob Hohler reported starting pitchers John Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett would drink beer, play video games and eat fried chicken on their off days in the clubhouse during games.

Those infractions are tame in comparison to the '86 Mets' exploits.

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