The 1986 New York Mets blitzed their way through their 162-game schedule and into the World Series where they would defeat the Boston Red Sox in game 7 after trailing 3-0. The Mets’ starting pitcher for that game, Ron Darling, decided to write a book, which is soon to be published, called “Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life.”
The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from the book, in which Darling discusses the use of alcohol, and amphetamines were vital to the team’s success during their grueling title run.
When I first came up, there was a jar of pills that was kept in a prominent place—prominent, that is, if you knew where to look for it. It was called the jar because, come on, baseball players weren’t the most creative bunch. It became part of our language, our shorthand. If someone was scrambling, trying to mask an ache or a pain, or maybe to recover from an injury, he’d say, “I’m in the jar today.”
Each pill had its own name. The five-milligram amphetamines were known as white crosses—and these were passed around like candy, if that was your bag. The heavier doses were black beauties. Remember, this was well before the common use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs; in many ways, you could make an argument that the drugs of choice in our clubhouse were more performance reducing than anything else. But most starting pitchers were loath to mess with any chemicals that might mess with their mind-set—anyway, I was. You’ve got all that time between starts, the last thing you want is to be anxious and on the edge for four days; if anything, you want something to take the edge off.
Still, the jar was very much in evidence, very much a part of our team “chemistry,” even though the jar itself had disappeared by the 1986 season. We continued to use the same language, though, so you could still hear the terminology on the team plane and in the clubhouse, but the pill-taking became much more secretive. You either understood the euphemism—or you didn’t, because it didn’t apply. It was no longer out in the open. The talk went underground, but even there you’d continue to hear comments like, “Hey, I did a couple of white crosses but that didn’t do it so I threw a black beauty on top and it was perfect.” You’d see guys toward the end of a game, maybe getting ready for their final at bat, double-back into the locker room to chug a beer to “re-kick the bean” so they could step to the plate completely wired and focused and dialed 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. How they came up with this recipe, this ritual, I’ll never know, but it seemed to do the trick; they’d get this rush of confidence that was through the roof and step to the plate like the world-beaters they were born to be.
Understand, there was no party in the use of these drugs—that part happened off the field, away from the game. No, this was all business. This was the care and feeding of the professional athlete. The “jar” was like our traveling medicine cabinet, a way to chase the aches and pains. You’d walk into the clubhouse and catch one of your teammates sitting in front of his locker looking like he’d just been through a spin cycle. There’d be dark circles under his eyes. The simplest movements would be accompanied by the groans of an old, beaten-down man. It would be the middle of August—game 141 on the schedule, say—the dog days of the dog days, and this poor guy could barely stand and straighten his knees because of all the abrasions running up and down his legs. He’d be bruised from head to toe, from being plunked by a season’s worth of pitches. He’d have a couple of broken bones in his hands, but he was determined to play through his injuries, to see his way to the butt end of the schedule. Maybe he was playing for his next contract, scrambling to keep his job over some upstart rookie.
These pick-me-up type drugs were just a way to mask or chase the pain. They were part of the landscape; they’d been around the game for generations. In the era of Mays and Aaron, the heroes of my growing up, it was all about red juice or Cuban coffee—the brews found in virtually every clubhouse, spiked with amphetamines and whatever else the prevailing “wisdom” suggested. Guys would down a cup, grab a bat, and head out for the most fearsome batting practice session you’d ever seen.
This was how you played 155 games a season, because even your horses needed a day off every here and there. This was how you got paid, how you cheated time. You found a way to power through, and for a great many of us this could only happen with a pharmaceutical assist. The perception back then was that you couldn’t possibly make it to the end of a season without some carefully timed fistfuls of pills, and a shotgun blast of beer to wash them all down. You couldn’t get there on your own. But, of course, you could. Absolutely you could. It’s just that most of us didn’t trust that you could.
The white crosses and black beauties and all the colors and varieties in between were such a big part of our approach to the game, we still talk about it. The guys I played with, we get together and reminisce. We marvel, really, at the s— some of our teammates put into their bodies…into our bodies. We run the numbers in our head, try to calculate how many milligrams of amphetamines were actually in play during that great World Series run. Go around the diamond; do the math. Ten milligrams here, twenty there, maybe thirty over there…up and down the lineup, all across the field, we were shot through with so much of the stuff it’s hard to imagine how we thought it could shake out to the good.
There you have it, folks. The key to winning a championship, besides having some talent, is doing drugs and drinking beer in the dugout during games. Last year’s Mets could have used this advice. Happy Opening Day..
[via Wall Street Journal]
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