THE Review: Ron Darling’s “Game 7, 1986”

In the beginning of Ron Darling’s “Game 7, 1986,” Darling writes “This book is not like other sports books. Certainly, it’s not like other books by former ballplayers.” He points out most athletes who write their memoirs dwell on their great achievements. Darling, though, has chosen to write a book on his greatest failure — his start in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. It is a bold move, one that falls a bit short, just like that start.

ron darlingDarling found himself in the situation about which every kid dreams — being on the mound for the final game of the World Series. Instead of seizing the opportunity, Darling failed. He went just 3.2 innings, allowing three runs on six hits, with a walk and no strikeouts before he was pulled from the game in a move, that while he admits was right, still “rankled” him.

Ron Darling’s poor performance is all but forgotten because the Mets, of course, went on to rally and win the game and the World Series. But Darling has never forgotten, and this book is an examination of that. It is an interesting exercise, but is it enough for an entire book?

The book could have been filled out with stories of those raucous Mets. However, many of those stories have been told countless times, and Darling makes it clear he has no interest in writing that type of book. And that’s fine; no need to drag former teammates through the mud. But more fun, positive stories would have been appreciated. Like the one where Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin noticed the rookie Darling alone at a restaurant. They invited him over to their table, where they told baseball stories for hours before leaving and sticking Darling with the check (between the three, they drank 36 7&7s!). Darling told the restaurant owner that he didn’t have that type of money, and the man ripped up the check. He said the trio never paid for its drinks!

Instead, Darling does a pitch-by-pitch analysis of his performance. Luckily he only lasted those 3.2 innings or it would have been excruciating.

Ron Darling does go behind the scenes slightly. He writes about the drug culture on those 1986 Mets. He says he never saw anyone use cocaine, but amphetamine use was out in the open. Darling never comes right out and says whether or not he indulged, but the writing suggests he did not. A declarative statement would have been nice.

He also takes a “mini-swipe” at Darryl Strawberry, saying he did not work very hard. He says both Strawberry and Dwight Gooden “squandered their gifts.” He resents it more with Strawberry because “Doc had that sweetness about him.”

Darling also reveals he only really has three friends from that team — Ed Lynch, David Cone and Kevin Elster. He blames himself, saying he is “not a close friendship kind of guy.” Indeed, Darling comes off as distant in the book. He says he and Keith Hernandez were friendly as teammates and are friends now that they are broadcast partners, but they are really not close and “keep to ourselves away from the ballpark,” save for “dinner once in a while when we’re on the road.”

Oh, and Ray Romano delivered a futon to his apartment a few days before the World Series.

Then there was the writing style of Ron Darling and co-writer Daniel Paisner. They relied often on repetition as a device, repeating the same word in consecutive sentences. It was done for dramatic effect, but it got a bit tedious. For example, we are told early in the book four times that there were 50,032 people in the stands at Shea Stadium for that game, three times within three pages, twice in the same paragraph. And just for good measure we are told twice more in the same paragraph later in the book. In fact, there was a lot of repetition of facts in the book (did we need to be told twice that there was no radio in Darling’s “sweet old” 1966 Mercedes?); how else to fill out a book that was essentially about a third of a baseball game?

Some odd decisions were made that go to the question of credibility. Darling says during his senior year of high school, a scout from the Red Sox came to see him. Darling was a shortstop then, and the scout told him “you’ll never be a major league baseball player.” Darling admits the scout was right; he never would have made it as a shortstop, so he took up pitching in college. Darling writes, “I’ve never mentioned his name, and I won’t mention it here because I don’t want to dishonor this man or his family.” Why would it be a dishonor? The scout delivered an accurate report. It’s not like he said Darling would never be a big league pitcher and was dead wrong. Without naming him, there is no proof it actually happened, or at the least happened the way Darling remembered.

And there was the story about a death threat before Game 7. Darling writes, “… I was flagged by a Major League Baseball official. Mets General Manager Frank Cashen was with him…” Two pages later, it was “I just nodded my head and half listened until Jay and the baseball guy said what they had to say.” So who was there, “Frank Cashen” or “Jay” (presumably Horowitz)? It might have been a simple editing mistake (we all make those), or maybe an error in Darling relating the story to his co-writer. Or maybe it never happened. I doubt that’s the case, but any good lawyer will tell you it is never a good sign when people start changing facts during a story.

I really wanted to like this book, but I just did not enjoy it. To put it simply, it was not a fun read. A few more baseball stories, a little less of Ron Darling’s brain would have been better. But hey, Darling did say this was a different kind of book.

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