There was really only way for “Once Upon a Time in Queens,” ESPN’s four-part documentary that chronicles the 1986 New York Mets championship team, to reach its crescendo: with the most famous dribbler up the first base line in baseball history.
Bill Buckner’s infamous error that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for the Boston Red Sox, who were one out away from a World Series championship, allowed the Mets to score the winning run and cap off a three-run comeback. But for director Nick Davis, that play presented a much different challenge.
How do you find a new way to show one of the most famous plays in baseball history?
“We had access to all this never-before-seen footage or rarely seen footage from this documentary crew that followed the Mets in ’86 off and on for Major League Baseball. I don’t think anybody had seen the side angle of Mookie hitting the ball in probably 35 years. I think it was part of the Mets’ ‘Year in Review’ film,” Davis told TheWrap. “I don’t even think they showed nearly as much of it as we do.”
Davis also explained that the shot of Mookie Wilson, who hit the game-winning slow roller that Buckner booted, hadn’t really been seen before.
“I mean, there’s this other shot that I don’t think has been seen before of what happens afterwards. Because Mookie — and he says [in] the interview, like, ‘I don’t know why I did this’ — but he kept running towards second base. I mean, the game’s over, but just out of habit, ran towards second base and the camera finds him at the mound,” he said. “Following Mookie from the mound, being mobbed by his teammates, then down into the dugout, and then through the dugout and down the steps into the tunnel, and the tunnel leading to the clubhouse, in one continuous shot — to me, it’s like the Copacabana shot in ‘Goodfellas.’ So exciting and exhilarating, given what’s just happened. And when we saw that shot, it was like, whoa, this is gonna blow people’s minds.”
The four-part doc, which debuted on Sept. 14, tracks the Mets from the team’s inception in 1962, with an emphasis on how then-general manager Frank Cashen built the powerhouse squad of the late 1980s — one of the only eras when the Mets were better and more popular than their more celebrated crosstown rival, the Yankees. The team was as brash as it was good, regularly making news for players’ drug addictions as well as that one time they were billed for $100,000 in damages on their plane ride home from Houston after winning the National League pennant.
Davis, who like this reporter is a die-hard (and mostly disappointed) Mets fan, is sure that the Mets of 1986 would have never been allowed in 2021.
“There was no social media. And look, it was just a completely different time. I mean, can you imagine any of the ’86 Mets or a bunch of the ’86 Mets after a game, deciding to go help one of their players look for a missing earring?” Davis said (for those unaware of the earring reference). “It feels like it’s a really different time in which we live.”
ESPN’s “Once Upon a Time in Queens” premieres over two nights on Sept. 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. ET.