Dec 28, 2015

1986 Mets World Series MVP: Ray Knight (1984-1986)

Charles Ray Knight was born December 28, 1952, in Albany, Georgia. The six foot right hand hitting Knight was drafted in the tenth round of the 1970 draft by the Cincinnati Reds. Although Knight made his debut with Cincinnati in 1974, he didn't play again during the Big Red Machine's glory years.

As a first baseman there was no room behind Tony Perez & Dan Driessen. As a third baseman not much room behind Pete Rose. Knight did not appear again until 1977 as a utility player. He was a highly touted prospect who was to replace Pete Rose, having some big expectations to live up to. He saw action in 80 games in 1977 mostly at third behind Rose & Joe Morgan, batting .261 with a HR & 13 RBIs. The next season he hit a lowly .200, but became the Reds regular third base in 1979 when Rose left for Philadelphia as a free agent.

Knight did well with his big chance, batting .318 (third in the league) with 10 HRs 37 doubles & 79 RBIs. It was the only year he made the post season at the end of The Big Red Machine's dominance, although they lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS. Knight went 4-14 batting .286 against the eventual World Champion Pirates in that series.

In 1980 he made the All Star team although his average dropped off to .264. That year he had career highs in HRs (14) and doubles (39) while driving in 78 runs. On May 13, 1980 after an 0-15 slump, he homered twice in the same inning against his future New York Mets team. He was one of the leagues slowest runners, grounding into the most double plays two straight seasons in the early eighties. Knight stayed in Cincinnati through 1981 batting only .259 his last season there. He was then traded to the Houston Astros for Cesar Cedeno, making way for Johnny Bench’s transition from catcher to third base.

In Houston he hit .294 with 179 hits (8th in the NL) six HRs & 70 RBIs making the All Star team in 1982. He was also one of the leagues better third baseman defensively, leading the league in games played twice & was number three in fielding twice. 

In 1983 he won the Hutch Award, batting .304 (5th in the league) with 36 doubles (5th most in the NL). By 1984 Knight & the Astros organization weren’t getting along. Phil Garner took over the Houston third base position as Knight’s average fell to .223. In late August he was traded to the New York Mets for three minor leaguers.

Knight debuted with the Mets on August 29th at Shea Stadium playing third base in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. His first big hit came on September 5th, as he broke open a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea. In the bottom of the 6th inning, he hit a base hit with the bases loaded, putting the Mets ahead leading to a 4-2 win. The win put the Mets behind the Chicago Cubs by six games & in the heat of a pennant race.

It was their first winning season in eight years & there was a lot of excitement around Shea Stadium. Two days later in an important head to head matchup against the first place Cubs at Shea Stadium. In the top of the fifth inning, Knight misplayed a ground ball off the bat of Kith Moreland, that was ruled a hit. It ended up being the only hit of the game, that Dwight Gooden gave up in a one hit, ten strikeout performance in a 10-0 shutout.

Knight closed out the rest of the month batting .280 in 27 games, with a HR & six RBIs. By 1985 the Mets traded Hubbie Brooks, who had been the regular third baseman in the deal to get Gary Carter. Knight was now sharing time at third base (73 games) with Howard Johnson (113). Johnson saw more playing time although he batted just .242 (11 HRs) Knight hit a dreadful .218 with six HRs 12 doubles 36 RBIs & a .252 on base % in 90 games. Knight struggled all season, he did not hit over the .200 mark until July 7th.

He had a few bright spots; in May he hit a two run HR to put the Mets ahead of the San Francisco Giants on their way to a 3-2 win. Ten days later he hit a three run HR & had another RBI double leading the Mets to an 8-1 win. On July 27th he had another four RBI day led by a three run HR off Houston's Frank DiPino in a 16-4 win over the Astros. Before the season was out he had yet another four RBI day in early September.

After his poor '85 season, the Mets tried shopping Knight to the Pittsburgh Pirates to get back an old Mets fan favorite; veteran Lee Mazzilli, but no deal was worked out. Mazzailli would come back to the Mets after all, when he was released by the Pirates in August.

In Spring Training 1986, Mets hitting coach Bill Robinson worked closely with Knight on his hitting. He changed his batting stance from a lower crouching position to a more straight-up type of stance. The result in the Mets 1986 Championship season was Knight, batting .298 (8th in the NL) raising his average 80 points.

He would hit 24 doubles, with 11 HRs 76 RBIs & a .351 on base % . He hit eight sac flies (8th in the NL) & grounded into 19 double plays (5th most in the NL). He went on to win the Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year Award as well as the Babe Ruth Award, while taking over the as the main third baseman. He first appeared in the third game of the '86 season & hit HRs in his first two starts, gathering five hits, & three RBIs. He began the year determined to prove he was not finished.

On April 25th he hit a pair of HRs in a 9-0 win against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets began the season so well that Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog soon conceded the division to the Mets. By the end of April Knight had six HRs and 12 RBIs, batting over .300. In May the revived Knight had two different eleven game hitting streaks & was batting .333. Over the next two months, hit safely 40 of 51 games. Knight also had seven RBIs in the week leading up to the 4th of July.

On July 3rd he hit a walk off tenth inning HR off the Astros Frank DiPino. The Mets had gone into the inning down 5-3 with Daryl Strawberry hitting a two run shot to tie it, before Knight's game winner. It was his second game winning hit off DiPino as well. On August 3rd, in a game against the Montreal Expos, Knight first broke a 1-1 tie with a two run double in the 8th inning. Roger McDowell was unable to hold the lead & the game went to extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Knight singled off Tim Burke winning the game as Wally Backman scored. In the month he drove in seventeen runs, having two four hit games & ten multi hit games.

Brawls: Ray Knight was a hardnosed player on the rough housing in your face '86 Mets Championship team. He became notorious for being the center figure in on the field brawls.

In May in a Shea Stadium game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitcher Tom Niedenfuer served up a grand slam HR to the Mets George Foster. The next batter was Knight, Tom Niedenfuer then hit him with the pitch on the left elbow. Knight flung his bat and headed right after the 6-foot, 5-inch Niedenfuer, tackling him to the ground.

Both benches and bullpens cleared as the melee began. The Shea fans threw debris on the field and Lasorda blasted them in the media, claiming someone threw a quarter at him that almost caught him in the eye. Centerfieldmaz was at the next game, sitting right on top of the Dodger dugout, as the heckling of the Dodgers carried over into that game as well.

Knight’s comment after the game was: "If he wants to hit me, fine, I'll do the same thing to him."

On July 23rd, in Cincinnati, The Mets tied up a wild game in the ninth inning against the Reds. In the 10th inning Eric Davis stole second and third base, sliding hard into Knight. Knight barked right at Davis, and Davis shoved him in return.

Not a good move on his part, as Knight the former high school Golden Gloves boxer cracked Davis square in the jaw with a punch. Davis' head snapped back like it was on a rubber band and all hell broke loose. The benches emptied and fights broke out all over the field. (George Foster was the only Met to stay on the bench, it was the final straw in his Mets career as he lost his team mates & was soon released).

After all the ejections, the Mets were short of position players. Manager Davey Johnson used pitchers Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell to alternate between pitching and the playing outfield. Howard Johnson later blasted a three run homer in extra innings as the Mets won it, in one of the most memorable regular season games of that year.
                     
Post Season: In the NLCS against the Houston Astros he only hit .192 but began his hot streak in the final game epic Game #6 at Houston. It was Knights sac fly that scored Keith Hernandez in the top of the 9th inning to tie up the game. In the 16th inning, Knight drove in the go ahead run as he doubled off Aurelio Lopez scoring Daryl Strawberry, advancing to third on the throw. Knight then scored a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jeff Calhoun.

Ray Knight goes down in Mets history as being the MVP in the classic 1986 World Series.

In the opening Game One he went hitless & did not play in Game Two. In Game #3 at Fenway Park he drove in a run with an 8th inning single off Joe Sambito. In Game #4 he had two hits with a 4th inning RBI single. In the famous Game #6, Knight drove in the Mets first run with a base hit off Roger Clemens & then scored the tying run on Danny Heeps ground out. Originally Knight made a fielding error in the 7th inning which led to a Boston run.

In the 7th inning, he made an error on a Jim Rice ground ball. with Marty Barrett already on first. Barrett would score the go ahead run at the time, but Rice was thrown out at home plate on a Mookie Wilson throw to Gary Carter.

Knight later singled off Calvin Schiraldi with two out in the tenth inning, driving in Gary Carter for the first run of the amazing comeback. Knight advanced to second when Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch to Mookie Wilson scoring Kevin Mitchell. Knight would score from second when Wilson's “little roller” went through first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs. Knight scored the game winning run, in one of the greatest comebacks in World Series history.

In the 7th inning of Game #7, he sealed his fate as the Series MVP, when he hit the go ahead HR off Schiraldi to put the Mets ahead for good. Overall in the World Series he went 9-23, good for a .391 average, one HR, one double & five RBIs. In three career post season series’ he hit .279.                                                                         

After the season the Mets G.M. Frank Cashen & Ray Knight couldn’t come to any contract agreement. The Mets let him go to free agency & chose Howard Johnson to be their regular third baseman. Knight became the first player in history to join a new team after winning the World Series MVP award.

He signed with the Baltimore Orioles, who would finish sixth losing 95 games for 1987. Knight went on to hit .256 with 14 HRs & 65 getting traded to the Detroit Tigers the next season. In 1988 he hit .217 for Detroit in 105 games retiring at the end of that season at age 36.

In a 13-season career, Knight hit.271 with 1311 hits 84 HRs, 266 doubles, 595 RBIs a .321 on base % and a few brawls under his belt in 1495 games. At third base he played 1021 games with a .957 fielding %. He also played 339 games at first & ten in the outfield.

Family: Ray knight has been married to golfer & LPA champion Nancy Lopez-Knight for over thirty years. They have three kids together and reside in Albany, Georgia. In July of 2009 rumors circulated that the two were splitting but they worked out their differences.

Retirement: After his playing days he managed the Cincinnati Reds from 1996-1997 going 125-137 as a skipper. The team finished thirs in 1996 as he went 81-81. In 1997 he was 43-56 but was dismissed before the end of the year.

He managed one more game in 2003 when he was a Reds coach (2002-2003) filling in as interim manager when Bob Boone was replaced by Dave Miley.

Knight was briefly an analyst for ESPN & then landed the job as the Washington Nationals studio analyst for MASN's network.

Knight has had a falling out with the Mets organization & still hasn’t forgiven the team for not resigning him after his 1986 performance. He chose not to attend the 20th anniversary reunion of the 1986 team, or the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadiums in 2008.

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