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Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Updated: October 26, 12:03 PM ET
Darryl Strawberry: '86 Mets tough team

By Mike Mazzeo
Special to ESPNNewYork.com

Darryl Strawberry has no doubts that the 1986 New York Mets would beat the 1998 New York Yankees.

And if there's anyone who should know, it's Strawberry, who played on both championship teams.

"There's no question. You cannot beat the '86 Mets," Strawberry said Tuesday while appearing on ESPN New York 1050's "The Michael Kay Show." "The Yankees teams I played on were great teams with great personalities, but they were good guys. The '86 Mets would've been drilling those guys; I just know how our pitching staff was: hit this guy, hit that guy. And those were the kind of guys we were. We were mad, we wanted them to get outside themselves. That's the kind of group we had that year, so the '86 Mets were a very difficult team to play against."

The '98 Yankees, though, are widely considered one of the greatest teams ever assembled in baseball history. They went 114-48 (.704) in the regular season -- finishing 22 games ahead of second-place Boston in the American League East division -- and 11-2 in the postseason, sweeping the San Diego Padres to capture the Fall Classic.

Their 125 combined regular season and postseason victories are the most ever for a title team -- nine more than the '86 Mets (108-54 regular season, 8-5 postseason), who had previously held the record. In the regular season, they outscored the opposition 965-656.

"I won't say anything about us being the greatest," owner George Steinbrenner said then. "But there hasn't been anybody better."

While Strawberry played right field for the '86 Mets, Paul O'Neill was in right for the '98 Yankees. O'Neill said that season's Yankees would have beaten those Mets.

"The '98 Yankees, to me, were as close to perfection as I've ever been part of, as far as sports. Everybody had good years, and everything went right," O'Neill told ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand. "I don't see that happening."

Bernie Williams led the '98 Yankees with an AL-high .339 batting average, while Tino Martinez accounted for a team-high 28 of New York's 207 home runs. David Cone led the pitching staff, which compiled a team ERA of 3.82, with 20 wins. Playing in a part-time role, a 36-year-old Strawberry batted .247 with 24 homers and 57 RBIs.

"They were very good," said O'Neill, who made his big league debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1985 and is now a YES Network game analyst. "I couldn't sit back and go player-by-player. I think the '98 team had much more depth. We had a couple of World Series under our belts, too. We were seasoned to that point. The '86 Mets were just a great team. They won just one World Series, right?"

The '86 Mets failed to live up to their dynastic potential in large part because Strawberry and Dwight Gooden got sidetracked off-the-field.

"His younger days, being as a Met, I'm sure he felt his importance to the team was probably greater," O'Neill said. "That was one of the strengths of the '98 Yankees was no one person was looked to win a game every single night. There was a lot of pressure on Straw (with the Mets) to put up big numbers, day-in and day-out in for that team to win."

The '86 Mets were known for their relentlessness and unrivaled in their ability to party. They outscored the opposition 783-578, while leading the National League in runs, batting average and ERA with a sterling 3.11. A 24-year-old Strawberry was tops on '86 Mets with 27 homers, while Gary Carter led them with 105 RBIs. Bob Ojeda led the rotation with 18 wins and a 2.57 ERA.

Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand was used in this report.