This weekend, my Oakland A's make their first trip to Shea Stadium since the 1973 World Series. It's all part of the inherently unfair cash cow called inter-league play. (The A's have played the woeful National League Central teams for the last week or so, but somehow the Mets found their way onto Oakland's schedule. The league-leading Mets are not playing A's divisional rivals Anaheim or Seattle).
While I can't fix that particular inequity, it's high time someone do something about 1988.
Your baseball playoff teams that year were the Oakland A's, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. While the A's made short work of Boston, the Dodgers and Mets engaged in an epic seven game series. Despite winning 100 regular season games and being overwhelming favorites, the Mets were single-handedly defeated by NLCS MVP Orel Hershiser.
Now, for almost 20 years, I've had this inexplicable mental block about what happened in the 1988 World Series. The A's had won 104 games, swept the ALCS and were baseball's best team. Yet, everything I've read seems to indicate that the Dodgers beat them, too. That can't be right. I'll keep researching.
Meanwhile, I've always wondered what would've happened if the true two best teams met on the field that year.
Catcher - The A's featured lefty-righty two-headed hydra, Ron Hassey and Terry Steinbach. Neither was better than average on offense, while Steinbach was stronger with the glove. The Mets wheeled out the decaying remains of Gary Carter, who's only remaining skill was "veteran presence". Odd, since everyone on the Mets hated him. Edge: A's
First Base - Mark McGwire might've actually been underrated as a player in his early days. Known for his power, he also took tons of walks and played defense at a Gold Glove level for years. The Mets' Keith Hernandez was still a vacuum at first, but his best offensive days were behind him. Edge: A's
Second Base - Atlanta Braves castoff Glenn Hubbard, 59, jumped to the American League in '88 and hit like a National League #8 hitter. The Mets' Wally Backman put up a .388 OBP and hit like a top of the order talent. Seriously, we gave Glenn Freakin' Hubbard 300+ plate appearances that year? Edge: Mets
Shortstop - Walt Weiss stole the Rookie of the Year Award from the infinitely more deserving Jody Reed. On the other hand, Kevin Elster stole money from the Mets in putting up an anemic .282 OBP. These guys would go on to play about 1,000 years between 'em. On the other (other) hand, Howard Johnson moved to SS in the NLCS vs. the Dodgers. He didn't have much of a glove, but he was a 20 HR/20 SB player in '88. Edge: Mets
Third Base - The A's Carney Lansford was always a wee bit overrated by us Oakland fans. His power numbers weren't really what you'd want from a corner infielder and his on-base numbers were equally mediocre. Gregg Jefferies started at 3B for the Mets in the NLCS. Forgotten in all of that failed prospect talk was the fact that he was eight kinds of kick azz in 1988, albeit in a very small sample size. Edge: Push
Right Field - I cannot articulate how awesome it would've been to see the two best players in baseball go against each other that year. AL MVP Jose Canseco vs. the guy who should've won it in the NL, Darryl Strawberry. History hasn't been kind to either man, but long before both self-destructed into pathetic caricatures, these were the two guys who made you stop what you were doing when they stepped to the plate. Edge: Push
Center Field - Dave Henderson picked a fine time to have a career year. His .304/.363/.525 line was inexplicably lost amid "The Bash Bros." hype. The Mets trotted out the lean, pre-enhanced version of Lenny Dykstra and, on occasion, Handsome Mookie Wilson. In 1988, this one wasn't even close. Edge: A's
Left Field - Stan Javier and Luis Polonia could run (44 combined SBs), but without the designated hitter, the A's would've likely taken their chances with Dave Parker who, by this time, was a statue in the field and failed to bring much power in his first AL season. The Mets fielded the enigmatic Kevin McReynolds. Loved by some, despised by others, McReynolds slugged 27 HRs and was 21 for 21 in stolen bases. I believe he was "loved" in '88. Edge: Mets
Starting Pitching - The A's featured 21-game winner Dave Stewart, backed up by Bob Welch (17-9) and Storm Davis (16-7). The Mets rotation didn't include anyone over 30 and starred Doc Gooden (18-9), David Cone (20-3, 2.22 ERA), Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Bob Ojeda. Amazingly, the Mets' five starters made 156 out of 160 starts that year. Truth be told, I'd forgotten how great they were. Edge: Mets
Relief Pitching - And, speaking of greatness, the A's bullpen from 1988-90 was one of the best in baseball history. Dennis Eckersley put up 45 saves, while Greg Cadaret, Rick Honeycutt, Gene Nelson and Eric Plunk provided effective lefty-righty symmetry. The Mets had Randy Myers and Roger McDowell at the front of the pen with help coming from whichever starting pitcher (Ojeda?) didn't make the World Series rotation. Edge: A's
Manager: Oakland's Tony La Russa and New York's Davey Johnson. In hindsight, La Russa probably got too much credit for his team's success, while Johnson, arguably, didn't get enough. La Russa wasn't quite the bullpen micro-manager that he'd become in later years and stuck to a conventional approach that wasn't nearly as cerebral as George Will would have you believe. Johnson was as rowdy and incorrigible as his players and, as a result, they'd run through walls for him. Edge: Push
The Result - Stupid Dodgers. You guys ruined everything, you ruiners! An A's vs. Mets World Series could've ended apartheid, cured cancer and brought down the Berlin Wall before two of those three things happened a few months later.
The A's offense was loaded with right-handed hitters who would've been perfect for Gooden and Cone to carve up. But, any close games that became a battle of bullpens would give the obvious edge to Oakland. Most of the Mets had previous playoff and World Series experience, but that didn't help them much vs. the Dodgers. Looking back at their team stats, it's eerie how evenly matched these two teams were.
New York would've had home field advantage and it's not hard to imagine Oakland stealing one of the first two games at Shea. Going back to the Bay for games 3 through 5, I just don't see Storm Davis and Bob Welch holding down a Mets offense with a DH. Game six goes to the road team, while Dave Stewart falls valiantly to the Mets in Game 7.
So, all this writing and we still would've lost?
Well, at least it wouldn't have been to the Dodgers.