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Mudville: May 30, 2024 3:31 pm PDT

Dirtbag Baseball

This has been neglected and forgotten by those now in charge of baseball.

They don’t get it and may never will, that’s why it is so important to bring it back into the spotlight.

There are many reasons why baseball was beloved as America’s Pastime. One of the biggest reasons throughout the long history of the game was playing with hustle and with an edge.

The ability to not give in. The quest to prove people wrong. To light a fire in a game so others will follow. That is how you create a winning atmosphere.

It’s what I like to call Dirtbag Baseball.

We know it when we see it. And it was certainly on display in the riveting ESPN 30 for 30 Once Upon a Time in Queens.

It is that desire to not give in, in no way, and take away everything from the opposing team, including their pride. The ’86 Mets were relentless in their quest to do just that and in a baseball world now where everything is measured, even bat flips, and that has become more theater than pure in your face joy, the game has suffered.

Exit velo, pitch speed, pitch shape, defensive metrics, offensive metrics to every degree, all that is measured, but there is no calculation to measure the pure desire to win at all costs.

That dirty uniform is a badge of honor, but it is more than that – and if there is anything I would love to see teams do, it is to bring back that mindset of no one is going to stop me from succeeding.

Keith Hernandez had that, so did Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Ray Knight, Kevin Mitchell and the late Gary Carter, who, as his wife noted in the 30 for 30, “Gary hated to make the last out.’’

“It was like you went up and smacked their mother or something. It was just not going to be tolerated. Losing was not going to be tolerated.’’

One of the many highlights of the four-part saga were the incisive comments of Mets pitcher Ed Lynch, who came to the team in 1979 in a Joe McDonald trade (one of his last as Mets GM) from Texas for Willie Montanez (side note: I always played first base with a Willie Montanez mitt). Then Lynch was devastatingly sent away in a trade on June 30, 1986 by Frank Cashen in a deal with the Cubs.

Ed Lynch missed the party.

Lynch wasn’t there for the ending, but he was there from the beginning and saw the traits it took to achieve that wonderful team ability to never quit.

The Story reached out to Lynch on Saturday to discuss those qualities of success. This should be mandatory reading for anyone who works in baseball.

Ed Lynch has learned a lot of lessons along the way, he pitched and graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1977 (Mookie Wilson was the Gamecocks centerfielder) with a degree in business and then after his major league career ended, the Brooklyn born Lynch earned his law degree from the University of Miami in 1991. He worked in the front office of the Padres and had a run as Cubs GM during the Sammy Sosa years. Lynch’s first draft pick was a kid named Kerry Wood. He also was a long-time scout after that GM experience.

Ed Lynch knows the heart of the game from many angles.

While with the Mets, what did Lynch see in these individual players that made them such winning “dirtbags.’’

“The biggest difference for me between losing teams and winning teams,’’ Lynch told BallNine, “was that when I was on those losing teams early, we would lose a tough game and it was like ‘Oh, that’s okay, we played hard. We’ll get ‘em tomorrow.’

“And then all these guys started coming up with the Mets, they took every defeat and every at-bat where they did not succeed and every inning they pitched where they did not succeed as a personal insult.

“It was like you went up and smacked their mother or something,’’ Lynch said. “It was just not going to be tolerated. Losing was not going to be tolerated.’’

Again, this was not just one guy.

“It was everybody,’’ Lynch said.

PITTSBURGH - 1985: Pitcher Ed Lynch of the New York Mets pitches during a Major League Baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium in 1985 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Losing would not be tolerated. Lynch then broke it down.

“In any group dynamic, it’s in thirds,’’ he began. “You got a super-motivated top third. Then you got the middle third that doesn’t know what to do and then you have the third at the bottom who are just a bad influence. When you have the top third is that ultra uber-competitive, the middle third went right along with them and then the bottom third they just got rid of.’

That is such a brilliant comment and that is how you build a winning team. Every winning team needs a leader and there is no doubt who the leader of those Mets was on the field, in the dugout and in the clubhouse.

“Keith was the guy,’’ Lynch said of Keith Hernandez, who came along from the Cardinals in the Frank Cashen deal on June 15, 1983 – for Neil Allen and Rick Ownby. “He was the guy who got it all going.’’

You hear that often from that generation of Mets, but Lynch then put it in perspective, the real face-to-face difference Hernandez made in the mindset of the team.

“Before (Hernandez), if I didn’t get a bunt down,’’ Lynch explained, “nobody would say anything. Maybe (manager) Joe Torre would say something. If I didn’t get a bunt down after Keith got there, he’s waiting for you on that top step, man.’’

What would Keith say?

“He’d say, what the (bleep) are you doing, get the bunt down. That might cost us the (bleeping) game you (bleeping) (bleep).’’

You get the bleeping picture. It’s called accountability, something that has been lost in today’s game to a great degree.

“I’m like, (bleep) you. I’ll show you,’’ Lynch said of his immediate response to Hernandez. “I worked so hard on my bunting after that I became a really good bunter. I couldn’t hit worth a darn but I could bunt.’’

That is one of the many little things that also is missing in today’s game. How many times do we have to see Gary Sanchez’ No. 24 trudging to the backstop to pick up a wild pitch/passed ball? Saturday he missed a pop-up as the Yankees self-destructed. Imploded. And how’s that framing going? How many bunts are not put down. Teams don’t advance runners when needed and it costs them. Sloppy errors in the field and lack of hustle are the calling card of today’s game.

And did I mention the nightly base-running mistakes where runners don’t score from second on base hits because they have no clue where the defenders are or get mindlessly doubled off on line drives or fly balls because they are in their own world.

That’s why it is so funny to watch a Mets game now and when something like that happens, if you listen closely you hear a gigantic sigh from Hernandez in the TV booth. No words, just a sigh.

You just know he wants to get in somebody’s grill for their lack of attention to detail. But he can’t. Today’s players don’t react well to criticism. They are super soft in that respect. Managers and coaches put their heads down and let the player walk back into the dugout without a word being said.

It is really sad.

No one is waiting on the top step for them.

Lynch then made a point that I’ve been harping on for years. And don’t forget, after Lynch ended as Cubs GM, he was a special assistant in that front office for years and then went to scout for the Blue Jays, so he is all caught up on today’s game. He currently works in real estate in Scottsdale for KMF Real Estate.

“Our game has turned into a Showcase Game,’’ Lynch declared. “These kids don’t play the game. So, it’s all about the procedure and the process. If I do all my pregame work everything will fall into place.’’

That was not the mindset of the 1986 Mets.

“That team,’’ Lynch said, “everything was geared towards 7:35. Everything. Nothing you did the entire day wasn’t to prepare yourself, when the bell rang, to kick somebody’s ass.’’

That came through loud and clear in Once Upon a Time in Queens.

“Now it seems the goal for a lot of these guys is the pregame work, the strength and conditioning and the diet and the stretching and they forget why they are there,’’ Lynch said. “Plus, if you are in a showcase, if you are a young, good high school player, and I don’t blame the players, but if you are in an Aflac Game at Wrigley Field and you come up for your only at-bat and there is a man on second, nobody out, it’s a tie game, the eighth inning, you’re going to move that runner over. Heck no, you are going to try to drive him in, that’s why you are there.

“So they don’t play the game to win because everything now is workouts, lessons and showcases.’’

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. It’s about time somebody spelled it out so the owners know why their teams can’t win.

This current Mets team is four games under .500 and has made an art form of losing one-run games. You think that is just happenstance? No it’s not. It’s also why the streaky Yankees can’t get out of their own way on the field for weeks at a time. It’s why the NL East division-leading Braves are 4-9 in extra-inning games.

“I was judged on how I got people out,’’ Lynch said. “Not how hard I threw, not how many strikeouts I had, but did I get people out. Did I give our club a chance to win the game. I played with a ton of guys who could throw a lot harder than me but they were never going to get anybody out.’’

Lynch made it clear that it is not an easy thing to do to assemble the right mix of talent and desire and dirtbags.

“I got training as a general manager, so I know how tough it is to put winning teams together,’’ he said. “You better have the right people.’’

Those Mets from 1986 had the right people in the front office going out to search for talent.

“They had guys like Joe McIlvaine, Harry Minor, Roger Jonewaard,’’ Lynch said. “Those guys were out on the ground looking at players, and that’s how you get the good players … you look inside their souls.’’

That’s a great line. Look inside their souls.

Sometimes you have to look inside their soles as well.

I remember Joe McIlvaine telling me about the first time he scouted Kevin Mitchell in person in San Diego and how Mitch showed up wearing street clothes and dress shoes, not spikes, and crushed baseballs.

Looking into souls is needed, Lynch said because, “When the shit hits the fan, it’s September, everybody is tired. You’re for 1-for-21. You need a win. You are up there battling against a guy who is throwing 100 miles per hour, I don’t care what your launch angle is or how fast you run, you’ve got to have guys who want to COMPETE.’

That is the winning essence of the game. Compete.

Bring on the dirtbags. Produce a 10-pitch at-bat like Mookie Wilson did in the 10th inning of Game 6 October 25, 1986 at Shea Stadium and on the 10th pitch hit a little roller up along first, behind the bag, it gets through Buckner, here comes Knight and the Mets win it.

Such a hit can change your season, change your life.

“Your job is to drive in the runs or score them,’’ Lynch said of hitters. “That’s your job.’’

It is not fair to ask the players to do something they have not worked on, Lynch pointed out.

“You have to teach guys to win in tough situations and then all of a sudden here comes the postseason and you ask guys to do things that you have not asked them to do the entire year,’’ Lynch explained. “Get a bunt down. Move that runner over. Give me an extra inning on the mound. Get that tough lefty out. And they can’t do it and everybody is booing them.’’

Because of the trade Lynch was not able to be with the Mets when they won the World Series in ‘86, their last World Series victory. At the time of the trade a devastated Lynch said, “It’s like living with a family all year and they throw you out on Christmas.’’

With the 30 for 30 showing of Once Upon a Time in Queens and that Christmas night in 1986, Lynch’s ability to put baseball and life in perspective is again in the spotlight.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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