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While Mets Find Trouble, Dodgers Pick Matrimony

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In the New York Mets and the L.A. Dodgers, you’ve got an interesting study in two teams moving in distinctly opposite directions.

The Mets are headed due South, on a runaway bullet train.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, have the distinct look of a team on the rise.

This is an unusual situation, considering the final 1986 standings, which show the Mets as World Series champions and the Dodgers 16 games below .500.

But it’s been a busy offseason for both ballclubs.

Let’s see what the Mets have been up to since they knocked off the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, all the while winning hearts by projecting themselves as--in the words of Don Sutton-- “arrogant asses.”

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Infielder Tim Tuefel and pitcher Ron Darling spend time in court in connection with a little brawl that took place during the season at a Houston bar. They wind up with $200 fines and probation. Neither player declares bankruptcy, but the publicity doesn’t help the team image.

Dwight (Dr. K) Gooden almost becomes Dr. J (for Jail) when he gets into a scrape with the cops in Tampa. After hurling accusations at the police, Gooden winds up pleading no contest. Like Spiro Agnew, Gooden gets off with no slammer time, only a fine and a community service gig. And his reputation takes a beating.

Troubled slugger Darryl Strawberry gets himself publicly accused by his wife of beating her and threatening to kill her.

World Series MVP Ray Knight is a veteran who, you’d think, the Mets would be looking to for leadership for next season, right? If so, they’ll have to look through strong binoculars, because Knight doesn’t like the Mets’ contract offer and takes a hike.

Most recently, Gooden’s girlfriend comes to meet him at a New York airport and is arrested for packing a loaded, stolen .38-caliber pistol in her purse. Even in New York City, this is a crime.

This is the same girlfriend, who along with Gooden and his sister, was involved in a heated dispute at a car-rental counter at the same airport last year. No gunfire was exchanged, however.

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Her recent arrest doesn’t help the Mets’ image or morale any. So when someone asks what you think of the Mets’ chances in ‘87, you have to say, “Chances of what? Suiting up nine players on Opening Day? Fair.”

Manager Davey Johnson doesn’t know, come April, which Met players will be wearing pin stripes and which will be wearing pen stripes. Davey’s got to be wondering what happened to the good old days when players spent their offseason playing golf and fishing.

It’s grim in Metsville. A state of shock. There is even a movement afoot to change the name of the home ballpark to Shea It Ain’t So Stadium.

If you’re a Mets’ fan, you open the morning paper very slowly, and start with the comics before venturing into the sports pages.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, are taking a different approach to offseason activities. They are getting married.

Some time late last season, Tommy Lasorda must have called a team meeting.

“Look, fellows,” Lasorda probably said, only in more colorful language, “we’ve tried everything. We’ve tried going deep, we’ve tried bunting. We’ve gone with youth and with experience. We’ve juggled the lineup and switched laundry detergents. Nothing works. Here’s my plan. You single guys . . . “

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In October, just after the end of the season, Steve Sax ran off to Hawaii and got married. This is what you call being a team leader.

Tom Niedenfuer has announced his engagement to actress Judy Landers, with the wedding scheduled for just after the ’87 season. Last month, Ken Howell and Mike Marshall got married, though not to each other. Third baseman Jeff Hamilton will take the plunge before spring training. And according to one report, shortstop Mariano Duncan is engaged.

That’s a lot of blushing brides on one ballclub. Of course, you’d be blushing, too, if your fiance’s team was trying to come back from a 73-89 season.

At last report, Dennis Powell and Franklin Stubbs were the team’s only matrimonial holdouts, but they still have about 40 more shopping days until spring training.

It would be natural to assume that the rash of Dodger marriages is a coincidence, unless you’re aware of team history and tradition. In the Brooklyn Days, then-owner Branch Rickey would strongly advise all his single players to look for wives.

He would loan players money for their weddings and honeymoons. The players would get married and then go out and hit 40 home runs, and so who can say Rickey didn’t know what he was talking about?

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Decades later, the Dodgers, in desperation, apparently have returned to Rickey’s philosophy.

It will be interesting to watch the respective fortunes of the Dodgers and Mets next season, to see if good citizenship and domestic stability have any bearing on won-lost records.

As insurance, the Dodgers might be advised to add one more married guy to the roster. A guy like Tim Raines, say. Scouting reports say Raines is a strong family man, and you just can’t have too many of those kinds of player.

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