Athletes tell it ‘In Their Own Words’ for memorabilia line

Former Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson wants you to know something about the moment for which he is most remembered.

“It’s not Bill’s fault,” Wilson handwrote as part of a paragraph on a 20-by-24 photo describing the most transcendent moment of his 12-year major league career for a new line of memorabilia for Steiner Sports.

In the photo, Wilson is running after hitting what announcer Vin Scully described as a “slow roller up along first, behind the bag,” seconds before the moment that every Mets fan remembers — and every Boston Red Sox fan wishes they could forget. It’s a chilly night at Shea Stadium on Oct. 25, 1986, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

What happened seconds later, described by the next four words out of Scully’s mouth, “It gets through Buckner!” made Wilson an instant hero in New York’s baseball lore. The ball squirted under the glove of Boston first baseman Bill Buckner. Ray Knight came in to score the winning run and the Mets denied the Red Sox the 1986 World Series championship, forcing a Game 7 showdown at Shea Stadium two nights later, when the team known for boozing and brawling won the franchise’s second World Series title.

For years, Buckner was an object of fan’s derision. He was frequently booed by fans at Fenway Park and elsewhere, and was released by Boston before the 1987 All-Star break.

But Wilson wants fans to remember that a lot came before that ball slipped through Buckner’s wickets — that with Boston leading 5-3, Gary Carter singled with the Mets down to their last strike to start a rally. That Kevin Mitchell had a pinch hit single, and then Ray Knight singled, scoring Carter. That Red Sox reliever Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch that allowed Mitchell to score and tie the game at 5-5.

It wasn’t Bill’s fault.

Such thoughts are what Scarsdale resident and sports memorabilia maven Brandon Steiner hoped to capture with the new “In Their Own Words” series, which features handwritten reminiscences on photos of more than 50 great sports moments by the athletes who lived them.

For Steiner, who has expanded the idea of what constitutes memorabilia to include just about everything athletes wear and use during a season, including the very grass and dirt they play on, it’s another unique idea in the memorabilia industry that links fans’ favorite moments to the player’s deepest thoughts about them.

“I try to stay a fan and think of what people want. What do they want? The dirt was simple. I was looking at Derek Jeter, and only one person can get the jersey he’s wearing, but what about that dirt he’s standing on? When I got on the field, I wanted to grab some of it, and I figured I wasn’t alone,” Steiner said at a launch party for the line, held at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse at Grand Central Terminal and attended by nearly 20 retired athletes including Wilson, Buckner, Magic Johnson, Brian Leetch and Robert Tyree.

Founded in 1987, Steiner Sports has partnerships with the New York Yankees, Madison Square Garden and the Brooklyn Nets to sell team-related memorabilia, and with more than 40 athletes, including Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, Chris Paul, Henrik Lundqvist and Joe Mauer, to market autographed items.

And while Steiner Sports, now owned by OmniCom, has lost team partnerships with the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, Steiner said the ending of those partnerships was not a major misfortune.

“To me, those are learning experiences. They weren’t downs, they were just — team partnerships are quirky. When you go to the West Coast, the Dodgers are a great team, don’t get me wrong, but the fan base wasn’t there to support it,” Steiner said. “Losing those teams were not big downs — economy and fans and how they react are downers, but those teams were just minor blips.”

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman and WFAN radio host Craig Carton look on as Magic Johnson describes his participation in the 1992 NBA All-Star game.

Steiner said he is generally excited about “In Their Own Words,” as he sees it as a way to preserve history while athletes can say what was really on their minds.

“With Mookie, we were sitting in the office and came up with this idea about Game 6. We said, ‘Nobody knows what really happened. We should go to Mookie and ask him about it,’ and that’s what spurred the whole thing on,” Steiner said. “When we’re sitting with these guys, they’re telling us a story that no one else knows.”

To Wilson, what happened in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 isn’t a story that no one else knows, it’s a story that everyone seems to have forgotten.

“So many people, they get caught up in the moment and the only thing they remember is the last thing that happened, and the last thing that happened is the error,” Wilson told the Business Journal.

“There were a lot of other things that happened right there, so no, it wasn’t all his fault,” Wilson said of Buckner’s error and the loss that forced Boston fans to wait 18 more seasons for a World Series title.

Wilson, now 23 years removed from his final major league game, said he can’t believe the expansion of the memorabilia industry.

“I gave away everything. I gave it to people to auction it off for charities, or just people who wanted it,” Wilson said. “But that’s what baseball is. Let’s face it — this is New York. And I’ve been to a lot of cities, but this city embraces its athletes more than any other city.”

Mookie Wilson’s 20-by-24 signed “’86 Buckner Game” photo retails for $609.

And one more thing.

“You probably don’t remember Paul Simon sang the National Anthem that night,” Wilson wrote at the bottom of the photo.

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