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Mudville: June 23, 2024 11:15 pm PDT

Barry Lyons II

"I don’t think I could have had a better seat to witness history."


It’s a word that’s thrown around the sports landscape and is often paired with success and enthusiasm.

Passion extends beyond the game, though. You have to be passionate about your sport to be able to work out year-round to make yourself better. That passion comes from sacrificing things in life, dedicating thousands upon thousands of hours to a sport and a pure love of what you are doing.

Nearly forty years after being drafted by the Mets, Barry Lyons is still passionate about baseball and talks about the sport with the youthful enthusiasm you’d expect from someone just entering the professional ranks.

Lyons joins us for Part II of a special two-part Spitballin’ this week.

Last week, we discussed his upbringing as part of a family of athletic superstars in Biloxi, Mississippi. Today, we pick up where we left off in the middle of the historic 1986 Mets season and continue on through 2021, as Lyons still remains very active in baseball.

An ambassador for the Biloxi Shuckers, the Brewers AA affiliate, Lyons has his opinions on the game today as well. Like most longtime baseball fans and former players, he’s not happy with the changes he sees.

That’s been the great debate that has divided the generations of fans as the game evolves. Former players have dedicated their entire lives to the sport in multiple ways. If they weren’t so passionate about the sport, they wouldn’t care about the changes and decrease in quality of the product.

But try telling Lyons and players like him to not be so passionate. It ain’t happening.

So join us as we go from the 1986 Mets to the Biloxi Shuckers on Spitballin’ with Barry Lyons.

Last we left off, we had discussed your Major League debut and the 1986 Mets. You mentioned you were at Shea Stadium for Games 6 and 7 of the World Series. What are some of your memories of that historic Game 6?

I was in street clothes because I was injured and had several vantage points that game. I was down on the field for some of the pregame stuff, but Major League Baseball was trying to remove me because I didn’t have my credentials. Ultimately, Joe McIlvaine gave me his badge. He wanted me to experience the game from ground level because I was one of their guys that he hoped would be in that position many times going forward.

For pregame, I was on the field, in the clubhouse and dugout and it was just so exciting and exhilarating even though I wasn’t in uniform. When the game started though, I was up in the broadcast booth with Bob Murphy. I was sitting a row behind them and Shea Stadium had that overhang. I saw them all looking up in the sky and was wondering what they were all doing. Then I saw that paratrooper come down with his “Go Mets” sign and land near the mound. That was some kind of moment!

Yes it absolutely was! Where were you as the game progressed?

Probably about the sixth inning I went and sat behind home plate. If you remember, there were double doors behind home plate and they would open up and it would lead to the tunnel. I was to the right of that a few rows up. I’ll never forget it. I was really troubled when I saw Dave Henderson hit that home run off Rick Aguilera, my former roommate, and seeing the pain on his face. The quietness of the ballpark was so eerie.

“As much as I am disappointed in a lot of the things going on in today’s game, it was and always will be the greatest game, no matter how many changes they make to today’s game.”

What was your experience in that historic bottom of the tenth?

I’ll never forget it. There was a lady a couple of rows behind me and to my right. She was praying out loud and she just kept praying. [Wally] Backman flied out and then Keith [Hernandez] flew out to center and it just sucked. From my vantage point, I could see into both dugouts. The Red Sox were all climbing on the top step and all the excitement was building there. They were ready to come running out of the dugout any pitch. Our dugout was just sitting back and pretty quiet.

Then Gary Carter gets a hit and Kevin Mitchell comes through with a hit. You could feel the momentum building. But still, we were two runs down with only one out to give. When Ray Knight got his hit and drove in a run, the excitement built to such an incredible level so fast. Then you had the wild pitch which bounced off [Rich] Gedman to his right. That was right in front of me. The ground ball that got through Buckner and the craziness that took place from there; I would much rather have been down on the field in uniform, but having not been, I don’t think I could have had a better seat to witness history.

Amazing stuff for sure. Looking back now, what are your thoughts about Mookie Wilson’s grounder and that play?

It’s been replayed zillions of times over the years. I, like so many other people I have to believe, still feel for Billy Buckner. He is remembered for that more than the great person and great player he was. I got to know Billy a little bit after that. What a sweetheart of a guy he was. He actually came to a few of our 1986 Mets memorabilia shows prior to his passing. I had lunch with him one day and he shared some of the pain he had been through as a result of that play. He had moved to Idaho for years. It was such a sad thing to witness such a good man and a great ballplayer to have his whole career centered on one error. It’s really unfair. He was a tremendous ballplayer. I always get a lump in my throat thinking how it affected him.

What did you think of the documentary Once Upon a Time in Queens?

I thought the people who did the documentary captured that time period so well. Not just the live game action, but the whole picture of all that was going on in New York at that time. The things that were going on in and around the Mets and the ballpark. It was exhilarating to watch it all again. It was really great and I enjoyed it very much.

Moving on from the ’86 Mets, I wanted to ask about the 1988 Mets. That was an incredibly talented team too and you played a bigger role there. What did you think about that team?

It really was an unbelievable team. I’ve heard some people compare it to the 1986 team saying that it might have even been better. Some will say, “No way.” I get the back and forth of it. Talent wise, we were as good or better. But there were some things missing as far as leadership. Ray Knight wasn’t there and he got a lot of credit in that ’86 documentary and rightfully so. I don’t know that the average Mets fan realizes how important he was.

Kevin Mitchell was gone too, but he was traded for Kevin McReynolds who was a great player too. You could debate whether it was for the right reasons or wrong ones. But we had a great team in ’88 any way you look at it.

What was your own experience like on the ’88 team?

Well, the Mets traded Randy Milligan to the Baltimore Orioles and he became a very good first baseman. They got back Mackey Sasser, so I went from being the primary backup in 1987 to a third catcher role in ’88. He was a left handed hitter and added depth to our team. It was really beneficial to have him. He was an outstanding hitter and his catching skills were still developing. All in all, Mackey was a great player but unfortunately for me personally, it was another road block. It was a tough pill to swallow at first, but I was thankful to be part of the Mets. I played just about the same amount of games as the year before, but only had about 90 at bats in 50 games.

Mackey would start against a tough righty to give Gary Carter a day off. Then I’d come in for defense at the end and maybe get an at bat if they brought in a lefty reliever. I think over the course of the season I only had about 11 starts. That was tough from that respect, but that team was incredible. Howard Johnson had tremendous power and speed. Straw and McReynolds had great seasons. [Lenny] Dykstra and Backman were still at the top of the lineup and Kevin Elster was at short now. He was really good defensively. Gary and Keith were a couple of years older and on the backside of their amazing careers, but they were still Gary and Keith.

Tony Clark.

What are your reflections about the 1988 NLCS?

We all know how it ended and who the bad guys were as far as the Mets were concerned: Orel [Hershiser], [Kirk] Gibson and [Mike] Scioscia. Those three played huge roles but it was the whole Dodgers team who beat us in the seven game series. Orel, Gibson and Scioscia had their moments in the sun and they all came at the right time that series. It was their year; there’s destiny involved too. It’s just so hard to win a championship. So many things have to fall in place and go your way. You can have the talent and the will to win, but there are so many things that can and will and will always happen that could change the course of a game. They can seem so miniscule, but they end up changing the course of a game and series.

That’s the absolute truth. We’ve seen it just about every game of the playoffs so far this year.

Look at that play in the Red Sox series where the ball bounced over the right field wall after deflecting off the outfielder. Every day there’s something new that can and will happen in this great game. As much as I am disappointed in a lot of the things going on in today’s game, it was and always will be the greatest game, no matter how many changes they make to today’s game. I have a lot of beefs with today’s game and I have seen Kevin Kernan address them so well on your site. I am glad someone is doing that.

That’s the truth and I feel like a lot of the things former players and longtime fans have been complaining about all year are really manifesting themselves in the postseason. Feel free to air your grievances here!

Well, that’s not my purpose here but thank you for giving me the chance to speak my mind. There are so many things about the way the game is played from the time that I was blessed to play it. But you know, there were differences from the time I played to the way the game was played long before I ever got to that level. Things change, I understand that about life. To me though, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There are just so many wonderful things about the game that they have changed. I am not a fan of “showcase baseball” where it’s just how hard can you throw and how hard can you hit. You can talk analytics and spin rates and launch angle, but I don’t care for any of those things. A line drive works in any situation. Move the guys over when they’re on second with no outs. Get guys in from third. The whole batting practice routine used to be putting a couple bunts down, then hit behind the runner, then practice some hit and runs, then it was getting a runner in from third. There was a purpose to everything. We practiced situational hitting and it showed in the game. It disgusts me to see the number of strikeouts and the number of overly aggressive swings where all you have to do is put the ball in play and you get a run to help your team win. I could go on and on.

Barry and Julie Lyons. (Photo via Clarion Ledger)

You don’t ever see situational hitting anymore, even in some of the biggest spots. There has been a big change in pitching too. As a former catcher, what do you see there?

They’re glorifying that radar reading and trying to make it seem like the pitchers today throw so much harder than the pitchers of yesteryear. That is fake news, to borrow a term that has been out there. Technology is different. It’s just a matter of where they measure the ball. In my opinion, there are more guys on a staff that throw hard now, but nobody is out there throwing harder than Nolan Ryan did. From my opinion and the scouts’ opinions that I talk to, the difference is in the radar guns and technology used. The 99s and 100s you see now were 93s and 94s when I played. There are no ifs and or buts about it. Those are just some of the key things though that bother me.

My whole point is they keep changing the game to help the hitters. That’s bullcrap. Go back to hitting the ball to all fields and putting balls in play and not be happy with striking out. Guys strike out and don’t care and that makes me want to puke. That’s just another out? Bull—you know what. But you know, I am always gonna be a fan. I was a fan before I was a player, when I was a player and will be the rest of my life.

I’m the same way. I complain about it, but still watch the games and drive to parks around the country to watch it.

There’s one last thing though that really bothers me. The game has been taking over by the mathematics and technology whizzes and that’s so sad. There are so many great baseball people who were in the game who were let go because of that and there are so many other guys who would love to be in the game, myself included, but there aren’t any opportunities for us.

I managed for three seasons after I was done and have been a broadcaster, but I am very happy to have played a role in bringing baseball to my hometown and am blessed to go to the ballpark and enjoy 70 nights of AA baseball in Biloxi, right here in my own backyard. I am thankful beyond measure for what God has blessed me with and now baseball is a platform for me to share my testimony, my faith and what God and Jesus have done for me in my life. That’s what’s most important.

I’m glad you brought up the Biloxi Shuckers. Can you tell our readers about your involvement with them?

Late in my career I was back in AAA and was just an insurance policy as a veteran catcher in ’92, ’93 and ’94. I was down in the minors just in case something happened to the guys on the Big League roster. My number wasn’t called any of those three years even though I did well. During that time, we would come to play New Orleans and they played at the University of New Orleans as a AAA team. It wasn’t a good facility. I would commute from Biloxi when I was in town to play New Orleans. The vision came into my head during those times to bring baseball to Biloxi. I went in to see the mayor of Biloxi who was a friend of mine. I proposed bringing minor league baseball there.

At the time, it wasn’t possible. It took 20 plus years and a lot of trials and tribulations. It took persevering through Hurricane Katrina and a lot of personal trials and tribulations for me. But after more than 20 years, it ultimately came to fruition. Minor league baseball came to Biloxi in 2015. A new ballpark was built less than a half mile from the house I grew up in. I had a significant role in making it happen, but I give God the glory. We have a great core group of fans who support us and love minor league baseball.

That’s such an awesome accomplishment. It must be amazing to watch the Shuckers play and see people enjoying it, knowing you played such a big role in getting them there. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with?

My goal with the Shuckers was to honor my parents and family name and to leave a legacy of minor league baseball for people here in my hometown so that it would be something they could enjoy for generations to come. For that, I am eternally grateful. I didn’t set out to play Major League Baseball for financial gain and I didn’t set out to bring minor league baseball to Biloxi for the money. I did both for the love of the game, for the love of my hometown and to honor my family and God. I am very thankful to be a part of the Biloxi Shuckers organization. My childhood dream was to be a Major League player and my adulthood dream was to bring minor league baseball to my hometown. I got to accomplish both.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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