Friday, May 27, 2016

It's Time to '86 the Booing of Doug Sisk

The Mets will be celebrating the 30-year anniversary of their most recent world championship this weekend at Citi Field.  The highlight of the weekend will be the on-field ceremony on Saturday honoring the members of the 1986 World Series winners.

Ten years ago, the Mets also reunited the '86 champs on the field before the start of a Saturday night game at Shea Stadium.  The evening was gloomy and rainy on August 19, 2006, but the weather did not dampen the spirits of the 42,810 fans in attendance at big Shea.  All of the former players had to dodge raindrops as they entered the field to a huge ovation during their introductions.  But one player had to dodge something other than rain as he took his position on the field, as Doug Sisk continued to be subjected to the barrage of boos that have rained down upon him in Flushing for over three decades.

(Jacqueline Duvoisin/Getty Images)
Doug Sisk was signed as a 22-year-old amateur free agent in 1980.  Two years later, he completed his quick ascent to the major leagues.  In eight late-season games for the Mets in 1982, Sisk was quite effective, allowing just one run (a home run by future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson) in 8⅔ innings.

Sisk's first full season with the Mets in 1983 was nothing short of spectacular, as he posted a 2.24 ERA in 104 innings - all in relief.  In doing so, he became just the fifth pitcher in team history to throw 100 or more innings while pitching exclusively in relief, joining Tug McGraw (1972), Skip Lockwood (1977), Jeff Reardon (1980) and Jesse Orosco (also in 1983 - Orosco reached the 100-inning mark two weeks before Sisk did).

Amazingly, Sisk allowed just one home run in those 104 innings in 1983, and once again, it was a future Hall of Famer who took him deep (Mike Schmidt).  To this day, Sisk is the only pitcher in club annals to pitch more than 100 innings in a season and allow fewer than three home runs in that campaign.

As great as Sisk was in 1983, he was even better in 1984, especially during the first half of the season.  Through July 1, Sisk had recorded 11 saves and was the owner of an otherworldly 0.50 ERA, allowing three earned runs in 53⅔ innings.  Opposing hitters were batting just .165 against the right-hander and slugging (if you want to call it that) at a .188 clip.

Sisk had always pitched to contact, nibbling at corners hoping to get batters to swing at his best pitch - the sinkerball.  As a result, hitters didn't collect many hits (just 29 of them through July 1), but they also drew their share of walks (31 bases on balls).  Still, the object of the game for a pitcher is to keep the opponent off the scoreboard and few pitchers were as effective at doing that during the first half of the 1984 season as Doug Sisk was.

As the weather got hotter in July, so did the race for the N.L. East crown between the Mets and Cubs.  But one player who melted in the heat, unfortunately, was Doug Sisk.  Sisk allowed runs in six of his 12 outings during the month.  From July 28 to August 6, Sisk made three appearances on the mound.  All three times he pitched against the Cubs.  All three times he allowed runs.  And all three times the Mets lost.  Sisk was then placed on the disabled list with what the team called shoulder stiffness.  But the reliever begged to differ, claiming the transaction should not have happened.

''I don't think they should have disabled me,'' Sisk said.  ''I've had soreness in the shoulder in the past, and have pitched with it.  It's demeaning to me to be put on the disabled list.  It wasn't necessary.  It makes me feel they intend to trade me before next season.''

Upon his return from the disabled list, Sisk made five more appearances for the team in 1984.  He held the opposition scoreless in four of them.  The one time he was scored upon was - you guessed it - against the Cubs on September 8.  And that's when the fans began their routine of booing Sisk every chance they got.

Ghosts boo.  You shouldn't.  Especially when it comes to Doug Sisk.

Sisk came into the game with the Mets trailing the Cubs by two runs.  He faced 14 batters in two innings, allowing eight of them to reach base.  But just two of them scored.  Wes Gardner then relieved Sisk and allowed two more Cubs to score.  Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who went on to win the Cy Young Award that season, pitched a complete-game shutout as Chicago knocked off New York, 6-0.

Now here's what gets me.  The Mets were shut out in that game.  Sisk came into the game with the Mets already trailing by two runs.  Which means the Mets would still have lost that game even if Sisk had pitched two perfect innings.  Now let's go back to the three consecutive appearances against the Cubs prior to Sisk's stint on the disabled list.  The first one (July 28) was definitely on Sisk, as he came into a tie game and allowed four runs (three earned).  But the other two?  Not so much.

On July 29, Sisk took the mound in the ninth inning with the Mets trailing the Cubs, 2-0.  He then allowed the Cubs to tack on an insurance run.  The Mets failed to score in the bottom of the ninth and lost, 3-0.  That result was certainly not Sisk's fault.  Eight days later, Sisk entered the game against the Cubs with the Mets already trailing, 7-3.  He pitched a scoreless sixth, then put up another zero in the seventh.  Sisk then allowed two runs in his third inning of work and the Mets lost to Chicago, 9-3.  Again, New York would have lost even if Sisk had not allowed two runners to cross the plate after he had already pitched two scoreless innings.

When Sisk pitched his final game before being "disabled", the Mets' record was 62-45.  When he returned on August 31, the Mets were 73-58.  That means the team posted a losing record (11-13) while Sisk was recovering from his "injury".  I'm sure the boo birds found a way to blame him for that sub-.500 record as well.

Overall, Sisk finished the 1984 campaign with 15 saves and a 2.09 ERA - numbers that are still quite impressive, but not enough to make fans stop booing.  It didn't help that Sisk posted a career-worst 5.30 ERA in 73 innings the following season in 1985.  But Sisk recovered nicely in 1986, and had fans stopped booing for just a second during that glorious campaign, they might have noticed that Sisk had quite a comeback season.

Sisk lowered his ERA in 1986 by more than two runs, finishing the year with a 3.06 mark.  He also didn't allow a single home run in 70⅔ innings - not even to a future Hall of Famer.  How unusual was it to pitch that many innings and not give up a single long ball?

Without generating this chart for me, you'd still be booing Doug Sisk.

As you can see, in the Mets' 50-plus years of existence, only five pitchers have thrown at least 30 innings in a season without allowing a home run.  The only one to surpass 36⅓ innings in a tater-free campaign was Doug Sisk in 1986, and he pitched almost twice as many innings as the next closest gopherless pitcher.  And since the Mets came into the league in 1962, there have been only a dozen occasions in which a pitcher threw more innings than Sisk in a season without allowing a home run, as detailed in the chart below.

I wonder if the other pitchers on this list had to put up with constant boos from their home crowd.

Sisk pitched twice in the 1986 postseason and guess what?  He didn't give up a run when he pitched against Houston in the NLCS and he held Boston scoreless in his lone World Series appearance.  And on both occasions, he climbed the hill at Shea Stadium, which must have disappointed the people who were looking for someone to heckle.

The Mets failed to repeat as world champions in 1987, but Sisk had another solid season.  He pitched 78 innings - his highest regular season total since his fabulous 1983 campaign - and posted a 3.46 ERA.  He also walked just 22 batters, averaging 2.5 walks per nine innings, which was the lowest ratio of his career.

When the Mets were battling it out with the St. Louis Cardinals for the division title in September, it wasn't Sisk who gave up the crushing, season-changing homer to Terry Pendleton.  That was Roger McDowell.  And when New York was still mathematically alive during the last week of the season, Sisk wasn't on the mound giving up a walk-off blast to light-hitting pinch-hitter Luis Aguayo.  That was Jesse Orosco.  In fact, from August 31 until the end of the season, Sisk pitched ten times and recorded a 2.08 ERA.  Even more impressive was the slash line against him, as opposing hitters could only manage a .208/.240/.229 mark in those ten appearances spanning 13 innings.

But let's boo Sisk and give McDowell and Orosco a pass for their contributions to the final month of the 1987 campaign.  It's what all the cool kids are doing, right?

One threw his glove up in the air, while the other had fans who just didn't care.  (Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)

On Saturday night, the Mets will honor all of the members of the 1986 World Series champions.  It will be a weekend to cheer the heroes of the past, not boo the one person who has been unjustly blamed for the Mets not winning the division crown in 1984 and who had just one bad season during his six-year career in New York.  Sadly, that person will not be in attendance for the reunion, as Doug Sisk - along with former teammates Kevin Elster, Roger McDowell and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre - will be skipping out on the festivities.

For those of you who would have booed Sisk relentlessly had he been joining his teammates this weekend at Citi Field, here are some of his numbers as a Met.  Out of all the pitchers in franchise history who threw at least 400 innings for the team, Sisk's 3.10 ERA is tied for the seventh-lowest mark.  Other pitchers in the top ten include Tom Seaver (2.57), Jesse Orosco (2.73), R.A. Dickey (2.95), Jon Matlack (3.03), Jerry Koosman (3.09) and Dwight Gooden (3.10).  You probably associate those pitchers as Cy Young Award winners, Rookie of the Year Award recipients or pitchers who recorded final outs in the World Series for the Mets.  In other words, Sisk is in good company.

In addition, Sisk allowed just 11 home runs in 412⅓ innings during his time with the Mets from 1982 to 1987.  That's an average of 0.24 homers per nine innings - the lowest of any pitcher with at least 400 innings in team history.  The only other hurler with a ratio under 0.50 is Roger McDowell, who gave up one of the most heartbreaking home runs in club annals when he allowed Terry Pendleton to take him deep on September 11, 1987.  The ten players behind Sisk on this list include the usual suspects - Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Gooden, Orosco - as well as other notable pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Bob Ojeda and David Cone.

To put it bluntly, Sisk was a damn good pitcher, one who deserves to be honored along with his fellow 1986 world champions.  It took an entire 24-man roster to win the World Series in 1986.   Doug Sisk was one of those two dozen competitors.  And as such, he should be treated like a champion.  A festive celebration is no place to air grievances.

Even though Sisk won't be there to hear the roar of the crowd, Mets fans should leave their boos outside the rotunda when they enter Citi Field on Saturday.  It's time to finally give Doug Sisk the long-overdue cheers he deserves. 

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