"You could play the lotto and you might have a better chance of winning than what happened to me.”
At BallNine, we try to be objective reporters for the most part. But when it comes down to it, everyone on our staff just absolutely loves baseball.
We’re fans first and appreciate the game’s history.
For me, there is no team in any sport of which I am a bigger fan than the 1986 Mets. I may not have framed photos of me and my mom at my place, but I certainly have framed photos of me with Doc Gooden and Lenny Dykstra.
And that brings us to today’s guest for Spitballin’, Doug Sisk.
We’re going to do a two-part interview with Sisk because being a part of the 1980s Mets brings way too many stories to cover in just one installment. This week, we’ll discuss his path to the Mets and remember some great stories along the way. Next week, we’re covering stories related to 1986.
Like me, Sisk grew up a huge Mets fan. The major difference is that he grew up in Washington state and actually ended up winning a World Series ring with the franchise. I grew up in New Jersey and won a Little League championship with BallNine EIC Chris Vitali.
Kind of apples and oranges.
After pitching for Washington State, Sisk signed with the Mets as a free agent at the age of 22 and by the time he was 24, he found himself on the mound for his Major League debut in a historic game pitching against one of baseball’s all-time greats.
Sisk was a workhorse out of the Mets bullpen his first two Major League seasons. His bowling-ball sinker was nearly impossible to lift out of the ballpark. He pitched 182 innings over those two seasons, registering a 2.18 ERA and only allowing two home runs. As a rookie, he pitched 104 innings and gave up just one home run to a fellow named Mike Schmidt. No shame there.
Sisk’s emergence in the bullpen actually allowed the Mets to trade away the promising Neil Allen, who had been the top arm in the Mets bullpen the four previous seasons. If you’re a Mets fan, you already know the player the Mets got back in the Allen trade—Keith Hernandez.
After his first two stellar seasons, injuries got the best of Sisk. He gutted through seven more years at less-than-perfect health and along the way, he was a member of the legendary 1986 Mets. Sisk had 71 innings out of the pen in ’86, the third-most innings that season behind co-closers Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco.
Like I said, we’re fans first here at BallNine, and this interview is a fan talking to one of his 24 heroes from the best baseball team he ever rooted for.
Please join us as we go Spitballin’ with Doug Sisk.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Sisk. As a huge Mets fan, anytime I get to talk with one of the ’86 Mets it’s an incredible experience. Before we get into your Mets career, let’s go back to your childhood. What was baseball like for you as a kid?
This is one of those goofy stories that you can’t script, but back in the mid-1960s growing up in Tacoma, Washington, my favorite team was the New York Mets. By the time they got to the 1969 World Series and beat the Baltimore Orioles, I could name the entire team. That’s when I first started to learn the box scores. Kids don’t do that nowadays. My two favorite players on the team were Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver. Playing in high school, I played on the JV team until my senior year when I got a little bit bigger. Then I ended up going to junior college and Washington State University before signing with the Mets.
That game had everything. It was a game where you weren’t gonna be mad whether you won or lost. When the game was over, the Braves were like, “What the fuck man. Whatever, let’s get out of here.”
Wow, that’s unbelievable that you grew up a Mets fan living nowhere near New York and then ended up winning a World Series with them.
We didn’t have instruction growing up. There wasn’t anybody to teach you how to pitch. You learned on your own. I used to throw rocks on the beach at buoys and seagulls. That’s how I built up my arm strength, but my mechanics were brutal. I signed late and needed work, but we had great minor league pitching instructors. We had Al Jackson, Bill Monboquette, Greg Pavlik, and of course Mel Stottlemyre in the majors. They didn’t pull any punches on instruction. If you weren’t going to make it with that kind of instruction, you’re gonna have a tough time anywhere.
What was it like putting on that Mets uniform and pitching at Shea as a young player, and being teammates with Tom Seaver?
In 1982, I got called up to the Big Leagues that summer. That winter, we ended up getting Tom Seaver back. When Opening Day came around, Tom Seaver got the start and guess who came on in relief in his first game back with the Mets? Me! Unbelievable. You could play the lotto and you might have a better chance of winning than what happened to me. To get a chance to pitch with a guy that was one of my top players growing up. Incredible. Seaver had three Cy Youngs at the time and Steve Carlton started for the Phillies. He had four and had just won the previous year. I think it was the first time guys with seven combined Cy Youngs faced each other. Seaver’s leg started bothering him in the sixth, so I came on and pitched the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings and got the win. Just to have my name in the box score with that man is incredible.
Mets' Ron Hodges, Mike Jorgensen and Doug Sisk. (Photo By: Dan Farrell/NY Daily News Via Getty Images)
What was that like, experiencing Seaver’s return to New York?
All that hoopla about Seaver coming back to the team was huge. In Spring Training, being that our names both ended with S, we did a lot of things together. One time we were giving our blood at the same time and I hated giving blood. He came in pretending to be a doctor, blew up a rubber glove into a balloon and just was a funny guy.
Truly unbelievable for sure. Now I actually read something interesting about your Major League debut as well. Could you talk about that a little?
I got called up from AA and met the team in Pittsburgh. I flew in that day and George Bamberger wanted to get me in right away. The first hit I gave up in the Majors was to Willie Stargell. It came on the day they were honoring him, Willie Stargell Day, and it was one of the last hits he got in his career. I saw him years later when I was with Atlanta when he was a roving hitting instructor for the Braves. He put his arm around me and said, “Hey Siskie, did we ever hook horns?” I said, “As a matter of fact we did, big guy,” and I told him the story. That was the first hit I gave up in the Big Leagues and what a guy to give it up to. It was a packed stadium that day, which they never had. It was already football season, so the fans had already flipped to the Steelers.
Your career started just as the Mets were turning the corner to contention again. There were so many incredible young players coming through the system both with and behind you. Could you see that success building?
I saw it in 1984. I really did. Everything was clicking and we were just missing one or two guys. We only lost Hubie Brooks off the team for ‘85, but got Gary Carter for him in return. Hubie was a great player, by the way. I thought we could have gone to the playoffs in ’84. We were also starting to bring up young pitchers who were doing well. Ron Darling came up and we had Walt Terrell before we traded him for Howard Johnson. I had a heck of a year in the first half, but my shoulder started bothering me and I fell off the mark. It was exciting though. For me, nobody expected it. Davey was in his first year as manager and the year before that, they had won the AAA World Series. He started bringing guys up from that team like Wally Backman, Kelvin Chapman, and Mike Fitzgerald, who went to the Expos too in the Gary Carter trade. But these young guys were getting chances and they were playing well.
Doug Sisk #39 of the New York Mets pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during a game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1987 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
I think it’s fascinating to look and see how the Mets of the late 1980s were built. Seems like they kept all the right prospects and all the trades worked out in their favor leading up to 1986. What did you think as you saw the roster being constructed?
In 1985 we got Gary Carter and Howard Johnson. Tim Teufel became a part of the product in ’86. Frank Cashen and that group did a fantastic job. They were patient with a lot of players and they had a lot of players in the pipeline. We were loaded. We had guys in AAA who should have been in the Big Leagues, but there was no room for them. Guys like Randy Milligan. Mark Carreon was a good ballplayer too, but he was in the minors. There would be scouts from all other organizations watching our guys in Instructional League. It was a challenge for Frank and Joe McIlvaine to protect guys on the roster.
We were all excited [when they started bringing in star players]. There was new ownership as things transitioned from the Paysons to the Wilpon/Doubleday Group. They were starting to get aggressive in who they brought in. They believed we had a good team and saw that fans were starting to come out. They believed in what things would be like if they brought in some stars and really got things going. They did a lot of due diligence on bringing guys in too. Keith Hernandez was great, but St. Louis was washing their hands of him. Gary Carter came in too. The magnifying glass was going to be on everybody.
What are your thoughts about Keith Hernandez as a player?
He should be a Hall of Famer. Why has he not been looked at? They need to do an all-time press to get him in the Hall of Fame. He was a guy I feared pitching against before we were teammates. I wanted no part of that guy. He could hit a home run or get a base hit if he needed. He could hurt you a million different ways. Just a tough out and so intense. Never gave up an at bat. If he was given a rare day off, he’d sit there pissed all game. He was always intense, but whenever we played against the Cardinals, oh boy.
Mets' Roger McDowell, Jesse Orosco and Doug Sisk. (Photo By: Gene Kappock/NY Daily News Via Getty Images)
Before we get into the 1986 stuff, I wanted to ask about a game in 1985. I’ll just throw the date out there and you can take it away. July 4, 1985.
Mets against the Braves, the long extra-inning game. 19 innings I believe. It was always raining in Atlanta and this particular game we had two long rain delays. I came in and pitched four innings. I think one of the most memorable things about the game was just how filthy everyone was by the end of it. Gary Carter caught that entire game, which is incredible between the rain delays and everything else. Davey got kicked out of the game and the ones who were out of the game were coming into the clubhouse and watching there. Our postgame meal was lying there for six hours. Every time we would take the lead, the clubhouse guys would uncover the spread and get it all ready. Then things would happen like Rick Camp hitting a home run against Tom Gorman and they’d have to cover it back up. That happened twice, so the third time we took the lead, Davey said, “If you touch that spread again, I’ll kick your ass!” They left it alone.
Another funny thing was that the guys who had been kicked out of the game or replaced, had drank all of the beer in the clubhouse. They had to go into the visiting clubhouse to get more beer so the guys who were still playing could have a beer when it was over. We ended up winning and Ron Darling pitched the last inning. Then they lit the fireworks off. Apparently, the radio stations in Atlanta were getting calls asking if Atlanta was getting bombed!
I believe it! I’ve heard so many great stories about that game and just love seeing the highlights of it. You’re the first person I’ve interviewed who played in it, so thanks for sharing your stories about it!
There were a lot of great memories from that game. It’s funny, Rick Aguilera was supposed to pitch the next day so Davey sent him back to the hotel to get some sleep. At about 4 am, his roommate, Lenny Dykstra, showed back up to the room. Aggie thought that Lenny was coming in from being out all night! Rick fell asleep watching the game and woke up a couple of times throughout the night and saw the game on TV and assumed it was a replay. He didn’t realize it was the same damned game! Lenny told him, “No, the game just got over dude!” Aggie said, “There’s no way. You’re full of shit.” But he found out it was true and we won that game and the next day as well.
What a game. They brought in Roger McDowell in the third inning because we were ahead and thought the game would get rained out. They thought it was gonna be five innings, but he gave it up. I think Roger ended up getting ejected too. The game was a big deal. We even got memorial pins sent to us for the longest game ever played at Fulton County Stadium. I eventually played for the Braves and people still talked about that game. That game had everything. It was a game where you weren’t gonna be mad whether you won or lost. When the game was over, the Braves were like, “What the fuck man. Whatever, let’s get out of here.” Nobody was going to criticize anybody about the game. Everyone remembers how the game ended and Rick Camp, but everyone forgets a lot of the crap that happened in the middle of the game because it was hours earlier!
Such a wild game, as it seems so many were back then. For me being a young Mets fan at the time, I remember so many games like that so vividly. Do you have any other games or accomplishments from back then that stand out to you too?
It’s funny, there was a game where I actually had a five-inning save, which I think was the most innings pitched for a save in a nine-inning game at the time. I was at Mets Old Timers Day last year, which was great, and they even had the old scorekeeper from the Mets there. He made his way to talk to me and I’m thinking there’s all these great players here and he wants to talk to me? He said he’s been wanting to talk to me forever and asked me if I remembered the game against the Cardinals where I pitched five innings and got the save. I said, “As a matter of fact, I do!” He told me it was the longest Major League save ever recorded back then. I always wondered why he gave me the save and not the win. He said it was scorer’s discretion. Carlos Diaz pitched one and a third innings before me and he got the win. I got a hit in that game too.
I had a terrible hangover too. Davey told me I wasn’t going to pitch because I pitched like five games in a row. I went out and had a few drinks and the next day I got to the ballpark not feeling too well. But they called down the pen and asked if I could pitch to one batter because the pitcher was leading off and they didn’t want to do a double switch. I said yes, but I didn’t have any spikes on and wasn’t wearing a cup. I went out there in someone else’s shoes and no cup and got out of it. Then Davey asked me if I wanted to hit and I said I did and got a hit. I ended up pitching five scoreless innings and Davey looked at me and said, “Well, now you’re definitely not pitching tomorrow!” I said, “I’m not even showing up to the ballpark!”
Tune in next week for Part II of Spitballin’ with Doug Sisk, when we get into stories about the 1986 Mets – a topic that needs its own entirely separate installment.