Ronald Maurice Darling, Jr. (born August 19, 1960) is an American former right-handed starting pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for the New York Mets, Montreal Expos, and Oakland Athletics. Darling currently works as a color commentator for national baseball coverage on TBS as well as for the Mets on both SNY and WPIX, as well as co-hosting on the MLB Network.
During his 13-year career, Darling amassed a 136–116 won-loss record, with 13 shutouts. He threw 1,590 strikeouts and had a 3.87 ERA. In 1985, he was picked for the All-Star team.
Darling had five pitches in his repertoire: the slider, a curveball, a circle changeup, a splitter, and a four seam fastball. In the beginning of his career, Darling's weak point was control, as he finished seasons in the top four in base on balls three times; as his career progressed his control improved considerably. He was considered one of the better fielding pitchers of the time, and won a Gold Glove Award in 1989. Darling had one of the best pickoff moves among right-handers. An above-average athlete, he was sometimes used as a pinch runner. In 1989, he hit home runs in two consecutive starts.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to a Hawaiian-Chinese mother and French-Canadian father. After growing up in Millbury, Massachusetts, he attended St. John's High School in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.
Darling attended Yale University, where, according to a Mets broadcast televised on April 24, 2015, he had two majors that were collectively called "American studies."
At Yale, Darling began his college career for the Yale Bulldogs in the Ivy League as a position player, and did not pitch regularly until his sophomore season.
On May 21, 1981, Darling faced future Mets teammate Frank Viola, then of St. John's University in an NCAA post-season game, and had a no-hitter through 11 innings. In the 12th inning, St. John's broke up the no-hitter and then scored on a double-steal to beat Darling 1–0. Darling's performance remains the longest no-hitter in NCAA history, and the game is considered by some to be the best in college baseball history and was the subject of a New Yorker story by Roger Angell, who attended the game. During the game former New Haven mayor Dick Lee introduced Angell to another spectator, Smoky Joe Wood, a former Yale baseball coach and Major League pitcher from the early 20th century.
Darling went on to play more games in Major League Baseball than any Yale alumnus since 19th-century pitcher Bill Hutchinson.
Darling was set to graduate in December 1982, but was drafted by the Texas Rangers in June 1981.
He was the last former Yale Bulldog to reach the Major Leagues until pitcher Craig Breslow made his debut in 2005 (and was not followed by another Yale player until catcher Ryan Lavarnway in 2011).
Darling was selected in the first round (ninth overall) of the 1981 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers. He put up mediocre numbers with the AA Tulsa Drillers and, before the 1982 season began, he and Walt Terrell were traded to the Mets for Lee Mazzilli. For the Mets, Darling and Terrell would eventually combine for seven double-digit win seasons. They traded Terrell three seasons later for Howard Johnson. For Texas, Mazzilli never regained his limited glory of the late 1970s.
Darling would have compiled decent numbers with the AAA Tidewater Tides in 1982 and 1983 except for very high base on balls counts during both seasons. Despite that, Darling was called up to the majors in late 1983. The Mets had the worst record in the National League and second-worst in the majors when Darling debuted on September 6, 1983. He was impressive in that start but left the game down 1–0 and the Mets lost 2–0. The Mets were also last in offense in the N.L. Darling's 0–3 start were all in decent pitching performances. He finished his season with a complete game victory and was in the majors for good.
New York Mets
Building to a championship
In 1984, Darling won a spot in the starting rotation and maintained a spot there almost uninterrupted until 1990. While his early walk percentages were poor — he even led the league in walks in 1985 — he never again showed the terrible walk percentages he had at AAA.
With Darling and Terrell each getting their first long-term chance in the majors and with the debut of young star and eventual Rookie of the Year Dwight Gooden, the Mets went from second-worst in the majors in 1983 to fourth-best in the majors in 1984 — but also second-best in the division thereby missing the postseason. Darling had difficulty pitching on the road in 1984 compared to pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium including an ERA more than 50% higher. He had a streak of seven wins in seven starts in June (5–0) and July (1.88 ERA) including a pair of complete game four-hit shutouts but the other two-thirds of the season were not nearly as successful. The Mets were in first place at the end of July but Darling's 2–6 record the rest of the way was little help and the Chicago Cubs won the division by 6 ½ games. Darling finished 12–9 overall with an ERA of 3.81.
1985 was an improvement for Darling despite a career-high 114 walks. His April included a one-hit seven-inning no-decision and a five-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts. On July 4, Darling pitched on one day's rest making the only relief appearance of his first seven seasons during a marathon 19-inning 16–13 win. Darling finished the legendary game in which 13 runs were scored in the extra innings alone and the Mets blew four leads and nearly blew a fifth. After starting 9–2, he was selected to his only All-Star team but did not participate in the game. Overall, he posted his career-best winning percentage with a 16–6 record. His record could have been even better but, in eight of his starts, he received seven no-decisions and a loss despite allowing less than two earned runs each time. On October 1, Darling pitched nine shutout innings on only four hits but the game was scoreless until the 11th. The Mets narrowly missed the postseason but Darling established himself as a clear number-two starter behind Gooden's untouchable 24–4 season.
In 1986, everything came together for the Mets and Darling was no exception. He finished with a 15–6 record and posted his career-best 2.81 ERA which was third-best in the N.L. He also received the only Cy Young Award votes of his career, finishing fifth behind Mike Scott of the Astros. The Mets led the way most of the season and their top four starters all received Cy Young votes. On May 27, Darling tied his career-high with 12 strikeouts in a five-hit complete game victory which, despite a poor April, raised his record to 6–0. He was good on the road but even better at home with a 10–2 record at Shea. His worst blemish was off the field when, on July 19, he and teammates Bob Ojeda, Rick Aguilera and Tim Teufel were arrested outside a bar in Houston, Texas for fighting with security guards (who were also off-duty police officers). All four were released in time for the following game and the worst results were $200 fines but the incident fed into the Mets' reputation as a rowdy crew that season. Despite the run-in, Darling was featured on the cover of the August 25 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.
The 1986 National League Championship Series was tied 1–1 when Darling started Game 3 but he pitched poorly and left losing 4–0. The Mets recovered to win both the game and eventually the series. Darling opened the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. He pitched extremely well in Game 1 allowing only a single unearned run but lost a hard-luck 1–0 game to Bruce Hurst. With the Mets in danger of falling into a 3–1 series deficit, Darling started Game 4 and extended his 0.00 ERA to 14 innings as the Mets won easily, 6–2. After Game 6, Bill Buckner and the Sox bounced back in Game 7, scoring three early runs against Darling. Shaky into the fourth inning, Darling was relieved but the Mets recovered to win their second World Championship.
Darling went 12–8 in 1987 but had to battle most of the way, as did the rest of the team. Darling's April ERA was over six and he didn't win a game in either May or June, going 0–4 with eight no-decisions between victories. He rebounded to win six consecutive starts after the All-Star break but a good second half only lowered his ERA to 4.29 — the worst of his first seven seasons. On June 28, Darling had a no-hitter through seven innings but the Mets wound up losing the game. They were poised for a run at the division in mid-September when Darling went out with one of the few injuries of his career. He missed the last couple weeks of the season and the Mets missed the postseason.
In 1988, Darling bounced back with a career-high 17 wins. He started quickly with two shutouts in his first four games. A first-half 10–5 record with three shutouts and a 2.70 ERA were not enough to earn an All-Star spot. On the season, he compiled a career-high four shutouts but also suffered one of his worst games, getting knocked out in the first inning of an 11–2 loss on July 19. Darling's home-versus-road discrepancy was enormous as he went 14–1 at Shea and only 3–8 on the road with an ERA more than twice as high. He finished the season strong, winning his last five decisions. The Mets coasted into the playoffs but Darling pitched poorly in the 1988 National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the series tied 1–1, he fell into an early 3–0 hole but the Mets bounced back twice to win 8–4. In the deciding Game 7, Darling was again matched against 1988's best pitcher, Orel Hershiser, but was overmatched. Darling gave up six runs and was knocked out in the second inning while Hershiser pitched a five-hit shutout, shocking the Mets and winning the series' Most Valuable Player award. The one-sided game was the last postseason appearance for the Mets until 1999.
After their 100-win 1988 season ended, the Mets started a decline that lasted well into the 1990s. Darling's 1989 started as poorly as 1988 had ended when he lost his first three starts with an ERA of 11.57. He recovered with a good May but was inconsistent for the entire season, finishing 14–14 with a 3.52 ERA. Darling's five losses in his last seven starts contributed to the Mets missing the postseason. Darling did become the first Mets pitcher to win the Gold Glove Award. He was also the last N.L. pitcher to win the award before Greg Maddux's remarkable streak of 13 consecutive Gold Gloves. On August 10, 1989, Darling won his 83rd game with the Mets to move him past Jon Matlack into fourth on the Mets' all-time wins list where he remains today (behind Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and Jerry Koosman).
In 1990, the Mets were in transition and manager Davey Johnson's job was in jeopardy. Darling was sent to the bullpen part-time for the first time in his career. His first relief performance in late April went well but was followed by three terrible starts. The rest of his season was a mix of starting and relief. With an ERA of 4.60 in late August, Darling was in the bullpen for the next month. He made two starts to close out his season and won them both but the Mets could not catch the Pittsburgh Pirates. In total, 1990 was Darling's first losing season (7–9) and was his worst ERA to-date.
Trade and American League
Darling was back in the New York Mets' starting rotation in 1991. Although his pitching was improved over 1990, he was still inconsistent, winning three games with scoreless pitching but getting hit hard in many other games. Unlike previous seasons, Darling posted poor numbers at Shea Stadium while pitching well on the road. He pitched scoreless two-hit ball over eight innings in Montreal in his last pre-All-Star break game but pitched only once more before being traded.
Darling's Mets career came to an end on July 15, 1991, when he was traded with a minor leaguer to the Montreal Expos (the team he had two-hit less than two weeks earlier) for former closer, Tim Burke. Burke pitched well for the Mets but their 28–48 record after the trade was the worst in the majors. Burke was out of the majors after 1992 and the Mets were terrible for the next several years (though more due to ill-advised expensive acquisitions than the Darling trade). Darling's three starts for Montreal were poor, with an ERA of 7.41, and on July 31, 1991, the Expos traded Darling to the Oakland Athletics for two minor leaguers. After the Darling trades, the Expos were left with three minor leaguers, none of whom played more than two games in the majors.
With Oakland, Darling immediately logged two seven-inning scoreless starts and won his first three decisions. Then, his poor control returned and Darling lost seven straight decisions including his last six starts. In three of those losses, he allowed two or fewer runs. Oakland, coming off its third consecutive league pennant, was barely above .500 before acquiring Darling. His acquisition did little to affect that.
After the 1991 season, Darling became a free agent and re-signed with Oakland. In 1992, he had his last quality year, finishing with over 200 innings pitched, a 3.66 ERA and 15 wins. Inconsistent for most of the season, Darling also showed flashes of brilliance, including three complete game two-hit shutouts — the only two-hitters of his career. He was the victim of poor run support including a no-decision seven-inning one-hitter that was nearly a loss, an eight-inning two-hitter that turned into a no-decision after an unearned run, and two other games where he allowed one earned run and took the loss. Darling finished with the best record on the team percentage-wise. Oakland coasted into the postseason with little trouble and Darling was called to start Game 3 with the series tied. He pitched well but gave up two costly home runs and took the loss. The A's went on to lose Games 4 and 6 as well and Darling never again pitched in the postseason. Similar to the Mets, the A's descended into a postseason drought that lasted seven seasons.
Darling re-signed with Oakland again after 1992, this time a multi-year deal for over $2 million per season, but he was unable to repeat his 1992 performance. 1993 was awful for Darling. Through July, his ERA hovered around six and he was relegated to long relief for over a week. He pitched better after July lowering his ERA to 5.16 but lost five of his last six decisions.
Outside of July, Darling's 1994 would have been as bad as 1993. In July, he won five starts with one no-decision with an ERA under three. It was Darling's last hurrah. He stumbled through two starts in August before the 1994 Major League Baseball strike ended the season. With his torrid July, Darling reached double digits in wins once again but finished under .500 with a 4.50 ERA. Darling led the American League with 25 games started despite pitching that was average at best.
When the strike lasted into 1995, Darling started terribly, logging an ERA over nine in his four starts without making it through the fifth inning in any of them. His only complete game of the season ended with a 1–0 loss on May 30. Darling won only four games with an ERA of 6.23. After a bad loss, Oakland released him on August 19, 1995, (his birthday) bringing his playing career to an end.
Since 2000, Darling has been active in television. He worked as a broadcaster for the A's, had a FOX show called Baseball Today and appeared on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. He also provided baseball analysis for the YES Network, Fox Sports Net and, in 2004, CSTV.
Darling appeared on the Hall of Fame balloting for 2001, receiving one vote.
In 2005, Darling was involved in banking ventures in Southern California. He was then hired to be the television color commentator for the inaugural season of the Washington Nationals. Darling worked alongside veteran play-by-play announcer Mel Proctor on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which suffered from low viewership due to legal battles between Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Comcast cable television. Darling and Proctor were not asked back by the Nationals for 2006.
In 2006, Darling was hired by SportsNet New York as a color commentator and studio analyst for the Mets, joining veteran Gary Cohen and former Mets teammate Keith Hernandez. Darling also appears on some of the SNY-produced WPIX broadcasts in the New York Metropolitan Area. He won an Emmy Award as Best Sports Analyst for his work on the Mets broadcasts. He appeared in a Sovereign Bank commercial in 2008, which is frequently shown on SNY and is often joked about among the three Mets broadcasters during games.
He threw out the ceremonial first pitch during Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS at Shea Stadium.
In 2007, Darling was a color analyst for TBS' coverage of the 2007 MLB playoffs. He was paired with play-by-play man Dick Stockton. As of 2008, he provides commentary for the network's regular-season coverage, paired with Chip Caray. During the playoffs, he joined Caray's other regular partner, Buck Martinez.
In 2013, Darling joined MLB Network as a studio analyst.
In 2015, Darling volunteered to provide play-by-play commentary for television broadcasts of Mets spring training games.
In March 2009, Alfred A. Knopf published Darling's book The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball, Pitching, and Life on the Mound.
In April, 2016, St. Martin's Press published Darling's book Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life.
He was married to Irish Wilhelmina model Antoinette O'Reilly, with whom he had two children, Tyler Darling and Jordan Darling. She had small roles on television and in movies, sometimes using her married name, Toni Darling. During their marriage, they appeared in numerous magazine features together.
In 2004, he married Joanna Last, a makeup artist for Fox Sports. In February, 2016 they had a son, Ronald Maurice Darling III.
Darling currently lives in Manhattan.
Darling's younger brother, Edwin, a first baseman, was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1981 and played 69 games in their farm system over two seasons.
Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, broadcast by NBC, ran so long that the network chose not to air Saturday Night Live rather than show it after the game. When it was shown for the first time two weeks later, Darling filmed a special introduction, apologizing on behalf of the Mets for pre-empting SNL.
Darling is mentioned in the Law & Order season 13 episode "Under God". Lennie Briscoe is telling Ed Green how he blurts out Darling's first name for no reason, as the pitcher reminds Briscoe of his daughter Cathy, who was killed in 1998. Cathy had a crush on the pitcher during the 1986 season, when she was a teenager.
Darling had small roles in the films Shallow Hal and The Day After Tomorrow. He also played himself in Mr. 3000.