Friday, April 5, 2019

Review of "Doc, Donnie, the Kid and Billy Brawl"

It isn't often that both the New York Mets and New York Yankees have good years during the same season.  Of course, 2000 comes to mind when they played the "Subway Series" but one that might not be as fondly remembered is 1985 when both teams came very close to winning their respective divisions.  That season is remembered in this excellent book.

“Doc, Donnie, the Kid and Billy Brawl: How the 1985 Mets and Yankees Fought for New York’s Baseball Soul” by Chris Donnelly
Baseball, history, Mets, Yankees

Publish date:
April 1, 2019

312 pages

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

1985 was a baseball season that captivated New York that the city hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years.  Both of the city’s teams, the New York Mets and New York Yankees, were involved in tight races for their respective divisions that came down to the final week of the season.  Both teams had star players that captivated their fan bases.  One had a long history of winning, the other was mostly known for its struggles save for one magical season.  The stories of both the Mets and the Yankees during that crazy season are captured in this book by Chris Donnelly.
The personalities of the front office personnel could not have been different. The Mets were owned by Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday, who were hands-off owners and left the team in the hands of general manager Frank Cashen.  Cashen’s baseball moves were approved by the owners and some turned out to benefit the Mets in a big way.  Two trades that were of this nature are discussed in the book, trades in which the Mets acquired catcher Gary Carter and first baseman Keith Hernandez.
On the other hand, the Yankees were owned by George Steinbrenner, who was continually second guessing the decisions of his general manager and field manager.  Some of Steinbrenner’s more famous rants about the running and performance of his team and players are documented in this book, including his insult of outfielder Dave Winfield, calling the All-Star player “Mr. May.”  He fired manager Yogi Berra after only 14 games in 1985 and re-hired Billy Martin for the fourth time. These are just a few of the many times a Steinbrenner action is described in the book.
The play of both teams on the field, however, makes up the bulk of the book and for both of them, they played above expectations.  The Mets were an up-and-coming club in 1985 with young stars Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry leading the way.  Gooden had one of the best seasons ever recorded by a pitcher, and when Carter was acquired from the Montreal Expos, the Mets got even better.  However, while they were in first place for a brief stretch, they ended up finishing second to the St. Louis Cardinals.
As for the Yankees, they used the frequent circus-like atmosphere surrounding Martin and Steinbrenner to their advantage by shutting it out of their minds (as best they could, anyway) and playing good baseball as well.  While Don Mattingly was a young star on the rise, the team was mostly made up of veteran players such as Winfield and Rickey Henderson.  While their expectations were not as high, the Yankees had some great play as well and like their cross-town rivals, they finished second as well behind the Toronto Blue Jays.

The overall arching theme of this book, however, is the battle to win over the city – both in the press, in the stands and in the hearts and minds of baseball fans in New York.  While Cashen is occasionally quoted in the book (from newspaper accounts at the time) about the Yankees, the writing about Steinbrenner and his obsession with the Mets and their success makes for good reading.  At times these passages could be hilarious, sometimes maddening, but always entertaining.

For these reasons and many more, every fan of one of the New York teams needs to add this book to their bookshelves.  An informative, entertaining and well-researched book, it captures the spirit of New York baseball during that crazy 1985 season.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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