Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Police Play Shea and Sting Decides to Quit

IT WAS ON THAT DAY, GORDON SUMNER SAID,  he decided to quit The Police.

Performing with bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers before 70,000 delirious fans* at a giant municipal sports stadium, Sumner -- aka Sting -- decided he'd reached the summit of his professional life. He was not yet 32 years old.

Summers, Sting and Copeland
on their terminal world tour
The date: August 18, 1983. The place: Shea Stadium in the New York City neighborhood of Flushing, Queens, home of Major League Baseball's New York Mets and the National Football League's New York Jets, both of whom were irrelevant to The Police. 

Two months into a planned 10-month, 107-date world tour, the band's one-night stand at Shea was part performance, part pilgrimage and part homage to The Beatles, who'd famously played there 28 years earlier. 

"We'd like to thank the Beatles for lending us their stadium," Sting said from the stage.

The Beatles. The Fab Four. Simultaneously the best and most popular rock or pop group of their era, they'd split up 13 years earlier.  While many groups and artists had since attained and held the world's attention -- the Rolling Stones, the Who, Bruce Springsteen, the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson with and without his siblings, Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Beach Boys to name a few -- none had yet shown the chart-dominating staying power of those cheeky lads from Liverpool, England.

Enter the London-birthed Police, a trio featuring the charismatic front man Sting on lead vocals and bass, Summers on guitar and Copeland on drums. Their first four albums had produced a string of hits including Roxanne, Can't Stand Losing You, Don't Stand So Close to Me and Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.

A 7-inch plastic piece of rock history
All of that paled in comparison to what came next: Synchronicity, a 10-song LP full of jukebox hits: Synchronicity II, King of Pain, Wrapped Around Your Finger and the omnipresent smash Every Breath You Take.

Conceptualized by psychologist Carl Jung and amplified by author Arthur Koestler's The Roots of Coincidence, Synchronicity was the notion that sometimes things happening at the same moment appear to be related events even if there's no causal connection between them. 

Every Breath You Take was everyone's simultaneous event, it's creepy stalker lyrics set against an utterly irresistible beat. The biggest hit single of 1983, it spent eight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. And that was just in the US. It also topped the charts in Canada, Ireland and South Africa, reached number 2 in Australia, Norway and Sweden, number 3 in France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands and copped the Grammy Award for song of the year. King of Pain quickly followed it up the charts, reaching number three.

In between those events, The Police headlined at Shea. Opening for them were Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Opening for her was a little-known band out of Athens, Georgia, that had cut just a single album titled Murmur. They were R.E.M., and amid late afternoon drizzle that summer day, the big, echoey concrete and steel ballpark in Queens swallowed them up. 

A band in a box: Sting, Copeland and Summers from the '83 tour book
Their day as the world's biggest band was yet to come.

While the Jets would abandon Shea for New Jersey's Meadowlands after the 1983 season, the ballpark continued on as home of the Mets and an occasional concert venue for another 25 years before being torn down and replaced.

Long Island native Billy Joel's two-night run in July 2008 closed out its musical history. In The Last Play at Shea, a documentary film recounting the stadium's role in rock, Sting revealed what he was thinking that rainy evening now 35 years ago, up on stage where the Fab Four once thrilled.

"I realized that you can't get better than this, you can't climb a mountain higher than this. This is Everest," he said. "I made the decision on stage that ok, this is it, this is where this thing stops, right now."

Though the tour continued on, The Police never made another album. Based on their five-LP canon, they made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Four years later, they were joined by R.E.M. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts finally arrived in 2015.

* Including me and my pal, Eddie, whose idea it was to get tickets. Thanks Big Ed!

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Friday, August 10, 2018

From Rectitude to Rapscallion with Patrick Stewart

"TEA. EARL GREY HOT!" Jean Luc Picard is coming back!

The always engaging Patrick Stewart
live on Broadway, circa Spring 2000
Sir Patrick Stewart will reprise his role as the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation character, he and CBS announced last weekend. But it's not for a Star Trek, The Next Generation project. It's for something.... beyond.

Word is that a new CBS All Access program will fast forward to Picard's life years after his epic seven-year voyage as captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC 1701-D, a sort of a Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Generation, and hopefully not one in which he's an elderly man stricken with Irumodic Syndrome.

The prospect of Picard: The Sequel, (eat your heart out William Shatner) is all the more breathtaking when looking back at how far we've come from the prospect of some unknown balding, British, Shakespearean actor becoming the most respected and, arguably, the most beloved of all the captains in Trekdom (and arguably, the best actor to ever regularly grace a Star Trek series.)*

Larger than life, Jean Luc Picard has eclipsed pretty much everything else Stewart has every done. And he's done quite a lot.  Here's a look back at some of his other career highlights:
  • Vladimir Lenin in the TV mini-series, The Fall of Eagles, in 1974
  • Oedipus Rex in a made for television Oedipus Tyrannus, 1977
  • narrator of a one-man rendition of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, seasonally on Broadway from 1991-1995 and again in 2001, with a movie version in between
  • Richard I in Robinhood, Men in Tights the motion picture, 1993
  • Professor Charles Xavier in the Marvel X-Men movies starting in 1995
  • MacBeth, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2008
  • A totally different Vladimir -- opposite Sir Ian McKellen's Estragon -- in Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot, 2013-14;
  • More than 60 Royal Shakespeare Company productions; and
  • The voice of Poop in The Emoji Movie, 2017
Plus, for about 145 Broadway performances in the Spring and Summer of 2000, he was the libidinous Lyman Felt, in Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mt. Morgan.

Who?


Well, if Jean Luc Picard was the moral north star of the ST:TNG universe, Felt was his polar opposite. Felt was so un-Picard that if the two characters ever met and shook hands, the energy released by their mutual annihilation might power a starship. Really.

A ticket to 'Ride"
Miller's play opens with Felt, an insurance agent and bigamist, hospitalized after crashing his Porsche on the snowy, titular mountain. He awakens to find Theo, his wife of 30 years, has arrived from New York City.

Leah, his younger, prettier wife from Elmira, is there too.

This from a playwright who had three wives over his 89 years, leaving the first one for Marilyn Monroe.

Now conscious -- and cornered -- Lyman must account for his behavior to the icy, waspish old spouse played by Frances Conroy, and to her passionate rival played by Katy Selverstone.

“A man can be faithful to himself or to other people, but not to both,” he declared, according to a contemporaneous Variety review. Later, according to the same article, Felt likens a man to a 14-room house. “In the bedroom he’s asleep with his intelligent wife, in his living room he’s rolling around with some bare-ass girl, in the library he’s paying his taxes, in the yard he’s raising tomatoes and in the cellar he’s making a bomb to blow it all up.”

Top billing
Unrepentant, he wrings admissions and concessions from those around him. By play's end, Felt's not the only one who's morally compromised.

Refreshing as it was to see Steward playing against Picard-type, shifting from rectitude to rapscallion, the critics were somewhat divided. The New York Times liked it. New York Magazine? Not . After 23 previews and 121 performances, it closed on July 23, 2000, the day after I saw it.

Two months earlier, after shedding his Felt persona for a curtain call, Stewart went full Picard and staged an insurrection. He called out the show's producers -- including the powerful Shubert Organization -- questioning their commitment to the production.

"There are many elements that go into making a Broadway play a success. The casting, the direction, the design, the acting, the play. And in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, we know we have an extraordinary, provocative and vastly entertaining play," the actor said.  "What is also needed is promotion and publicity. People need to be told that a play is out there. Arthur Miller and I no longer have confidence in our producers commitment to this production (especially the Shubert organization) or their willingness to promote and publicize it." 

Their backers were not amused and issued a statement asserting their commitment, "could not be stronger." Dragged before Actor's Equity, our captain, oh captain, apologized, later explaining it was the right thing to do.

* Honorable mentions to Leonard Nimoy, Avery Brooks and Michelle Yeoh.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Ten Weeks Before Bucky 'Bleeping' Dent...

"THE TWO OF THEM DESERVE EACH OTHER. One's a born liar, the other's convicted." --  New York Yankees Manager Billy Martin, July 24, 1978.

Combative Billy Martin,
from the '78 Yanks yearbook
Manager, yes, but not for long. At least not in that instance. The subjects of Martin's airport bar alcohol-fueled ire were his star outfielder, Reggie Jackson, and team owner George Steinbrenner. An unholy trinity, a year earlier they'd collaborated to bring the Bronx Bombers their first championship since 1962. The star burnished his Mr. October legend by closing out the series with three consecutive first-pitch homers in its last game.

But now, just past the halfway mark of a flagging title defense effort, egos clashed, nerves frayed and tempers boiled over. Jackson, mad at Martin for batting him low in the Yankees lineup, ignored his manager's instructions to swing away and bunted into a costly out during an extra-inning game.

The Yanks lost that July 17 game to the Kansas City Royals, 9-7, dropping them a season-worst 14 games behind the arch-rival first-place Boston Red Sox.

But appearances were not as they seemed. Changes significant and petty were afoot in both organizations, harbingers of a dramatic reversal of fortune that made this season the stuff of legend.*

The talkative Eck went 20-8 in 1978...
(from the Sox' 2nd edition yearbook)
Mr. October was suspended five games for insubordination. Upon his return, the star professed his innocence to the press. That touched off a Martin tirade during which he threatened to bench Jackson indefinitely even if it meant his own dismissal.

Hours later, after the Yanks thumped the White Sox, 7-2 in Chicago, the manager offered his fateful unfiltered remarks at an O'Hare International Airport bar before a flight to KC.

Four years earlier, Steinbrenner had pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's '72 reelection campaign and to obstructing justice. Martin, having just stepped on the boss's third rail, was as good as dead. Forty years ago this Tuesday, he tearfully resigned.

On the day of Martin's demise, the Sox were 63-33, 30 games over .500, enjoying a 5.5 game lead over the second place Milwaukee Brewers, but a slimmer 10.5 game bulge over the Yankees. Portentously, Boston had lost five straight during Jackson's forced sabbatical. (Cue the third-person omniscient: little did they know...)

... while the low key Guidry went 25-3.
(from the Yankees' yearbook)
Three years earlier, led by gold dust rookies Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, the Olde Towne Team had won the American League pennant then lost an agonizing 7-game World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. While the Big Red Machine rolled over the Yankees in four straight the next year, the Bombers rebounded to win it all in '77, the pendulum now appeared Boston-bound thanks in large part to Rice.

The Boston left fielder was on fire. After 96 games, he was batting .322 with 24 homers and 81 runs batted in. He had a .606 slugging percentage and an OPS of .982. Bolstering his presence in the lineup, Lynn, perennial all star catcher Carlton Fisk and aging icon Carl Yastrzemski.

Dennis Eckersley led a starting rotation that included Luis Tiant, Bill "Spaceman" Lee and free agent signee Mike Torrez.

Playing .696 ball -- on pace to win 112 games -- on June 23, the Red Sox fatefully issued a revised 1978 yearbook, swapping out its original cover boy, Fisk, for one celebrating Rice. The second-edition Sox won just 51 more games, a .543 clip. The Yankees from that point played at a .627 clip. The race was on.
A revised yearbook, a reversal of fortune

They had replaced Martin with soft spoken Bob Lemon, who'd led the White Sox to a 90-win season in '77, only to be cashiered in early '78 when the South Side Hitmen got off to a bad start. Bill Veeck's loss was the Boss's gain.

Steinbrenner had his man. Freed from the Jackson-Martin power struggle, the Bombers reverted to championship form, with one notable exception who far exceeded those expectations.

Starter Ron Guidry, who'd gone 16-7 with a 2.82 earned run average and 176 strikeouts in 1977, was now almost unhittable. Amid all the tumult, he'd gone 14-1, with a 2.11 ERA before Martin's departure. He'd finish at 25-3, with a 1.74 ERA and 248 Ks, winning the American League Cy Young Award in a walk and nearly copping league Most Valuable Player honors too.

That MVP award went to Mr. Rice of Boston, who'd hit .315 with 46 homers and 139 RBIs. It was no consolation for what ensued after the yearbook was revised, the star suspended, the manager resigned.

Signed away from the Yankees
only to play a big role in their comeback
(from the Sox' 1st edition yearbook)
Sox fans had long been accustomed to seeing their team swoon. Seventy years removed from their last championship, they'd already endured Enos Slaughter's mad dash in '46, Bob Gibson's dominance in '67 and Ed Armbrister's interference in '75. None of that was adequate preparation for what was to come.

Swoon not withstanding, Boston enjoyed a nine-game lead over New York as late as Aug. 13. But, by Sept. 10, it was gone. Days later the Red Sox were 3 1/2 back with 15 games to play. Then, led by a pair of future hall-of-famers, Yastrzemski and Eckersley, they rallied while the Yanks faltered.

On Oct. 1, the season ended with both teams holding identical 99-63 records, setting up a one-game playoff to determine the AL East division champion. If you're a Sox fan, this is probably your stop. For the rest of you, it went like this:

That game was held on Oct. 2 at Fenway Park in Boston. Guidry, with 24 wins on the year, started for New York, while Torrez -- a 16-game winner who'd been a Yankee 12 months earlier -- went for Boston. After six innings, the Red Sox clung to a 2-0 lead on built on a Yastrzemski homer and an run-scoring single by Rice.

The mild-mannered nightmare of Red Sox nation
(from the Yankees' yearbook)
With one gone in the seventh, Torrez yielded back to back singles, as many as he'd allowed all game. He got pinch-hitter Jim Spencer on a fly to left for the second out, bringing up Yanks' light-hitting, ninth-hitting shortstop Bucky Dent.

Dent hammered a 1-0 pitch off his instep, tumbling to the ground in pain, pausing the game and any momentum Torrez might have carried into that moment for a full minute while New York's trainer applied a numbing agent.

The shortstop stepped back in the box, choked up on his bat and swatted the next pitch he saw into the screen above Fenway's 37-foot high left field wall for just his fifth homer of the year. It gave the Yankees a lead they'd never relinquish and made him persona non grata in New England forever.

* Supplanted as the Yankees' top reliever, when the Yankees signed Goose Gossage, reigning Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle poured his ire into a best-selling tell-all about the '78, titled The Bronx Zoo.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Last Time the Stars Came Out in Washington D.C.

NOW A DECAYING HULK, the ballpark was then just eight years old. It's summer residents, the Washington Senators, were winning at last. Two days earlier, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had walked on the moon. It was party time in the nation's capital and Major League Baseball's best and brightest were coming.
You gotta have balls to play in the nation's capital

The date: July 23, 1969. The event: MLB's 40th All Star Game.  It would be Washington's fourth such affair and its last for nearly half a century. And it couldn't have come at a worse time for the host American League.

It was a time of National League dominance, the likes of which the mid-summer classic had never known. The so-called senior circuit had won each of the last six contests, 12 of the previous 15 and held an overall 21-17-1 advantage since the event's inception in 1933.

This sides for this outing at recently rechristened Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium were decidedly lop. Thirteen NL players were destined for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, five were in the starting lineup including pitcher Steve Carlton and catcher Johnny Bench. The AL squad had just six, battery not included.

Rain had postponed the match for a day. Now, with Richard Nixon off to welcome the astronauts home from Tranquility Base, Vice President Spiro Agnew thew out the first ball. Maybe they should have left him in.

The New York Yankees' Mel Stottlemyre started for the Americans. He immediately yielded a single to the Pittsburgh Pirates' Matty Alou, who'd bat .331 that year. Alou moved to second on ground out by the Chicago Cubs' Don Kessinger. He went to third on a wild pitch, then scored when hometown hero Frank Howard misplayed Hank Aaron's shot to left.

One hot dog and two Franks
The bottom of the first saw the AL send up a gold-plated trio: Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Frank Robinson. Hall of Famers all. Carlton set them down in order.

Cleon Jones of the New York Mets led off the second with a single. Bench's two-run belt brought him home. In the bottom of the frame, the 6'7" Howard -- aka the Washington Monument, aka The Capital Punisher -- took Lefty deep for shot of redemption. NL 3, AL 1 after two.

Any good feeling in the home dugout quickly dissipated.

Aaron started the third with a hit off the Oakland A's Blue Moon Odom. Then Cooperstown-bound Willie McCovey homered. An out, an error, a single and two doubles later, the National League had three more runs. Though Detroit Tigers catcher Bill Freehan replied with a solo shot, McCovey cracked his second round-tripper an inning later, this one served up by the Tigers' Denny McLain.

When Freehan's single -- off the peerless Bob Gibson -- drove in pinch runner Reggie Smith in the 4th, the game still had the look of slugfest. The Nationals had three homers and nine runs. The Americans had two taters and three runs. And the game wasn't half over.

Except that it was.

Both sides combined for just three hits the rest of the way, no more than one in any single frame. The Cleveland Indian's Sam McDowell, aka Sudden Sam, fanned four in two innings of work. He was one of three AL hurlers to hold the NL at bay.

Baseball and a tax break
The game ended with that same 4th inning score, 9-3. Knucksie Phil Niekro, he of 318 career wins, got the save.

Some of the senior circuit's gaudiest stars were relegated to just bit parts. Willie Mays pinch hit and skied to right. Ernie Banks pinch hit and lined out. In his lone plate appearance, Roberto Clemente fanned. Pete Rose, destined to be baseball's all-time hits leader and hall of fame pariah, popped out. Tom Seaver, in the midst of a 25-win Cy Young Award season, never pitched.

Each of the junior circuit's future Hall inductees, including Carl YastrzemskiHarmon Killebrew and Brooks Robinson, went hitless.

McCovey, with his two homers and three runs batted in, was the game's most valuable player. By season's end, with a .320 average, 45 homers and 126 RBIs was the league's MVP too.

Cleon Jones hit .340 -- third best in the NL behind Rose, .348 and Clemente, .345 -- and caught the final out as the Miracle Mets won the World Series, 5 games to 1, over the Baltimore Orioles. It was their first winning season since their birth in 1962.

Bench and McCovey - two for the Hall
In between the mid-summer classic and the miracle, there would be "Vietnamization" of the war in southeast Asia, the Manson Family murders, Hurricane Camille and Woodstock.

The host Senators, managed by Ted Williams -- aka the Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame and Ted Fucking Williams -- were never better, posting an 86-76 record. It would be their only winning season in 11 Washington campaigns.

By 1972, they were gone, relocated to Arlington, Texas, as the Rangers.

Having previously lost the original Senators franchise (sometimes confusingly called the Nationals) to Minnesota, the District of Columbia was left pining for a team to call it's own for 34 years.

In 2005 it got one, the Montreal Expos. They called RFK Stadium their home for three years before moving into the brand new Nationals Park. There the stars will come out again on Tuesday night.

Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Manny Being Manly - A Minor League Excursion

HE STOOD OUT LIKE a teenager playing tee-ball, a rock-solid minor league slugger who had "can't miss" written all over him.

Independence Day
He was 21-year-old Manny Ramirez and before he was "Manny being Manny," he was Manny being manly. Not just "can't miss," he was impossible to miss.

It was July 4, 1993 -- 25 years ago today -- and I was in Binghamton, New York with my pal Jeff at the second stop of an upstate minor league excursion. A day earlier we'd been at historic Dunn Field in Elmira for some Class A NY-Penn League action.

Now we'd moved up a class, to the AA Eastern League affiliate of the New York Mets. On the B-Mets roster were outfielder Butch Huskey, infielders Aaron Ledesma and Quilvio Veras, plus pitchers Jason Jacome and Pete Walker, prospects all, but none could hold a figurative candle to the big kid on the opposing Canton-Akron Indians.

Long mired in the nether regions of the American League's Eastern Division, the parent Cleveland Indians were on the cusp of a renaissance. Among Ramirez's teammates were future big leaguers David Bell, Brian Giles and Herbert Perry. But that big kid, he stood out.

Two years earlier Manny had been drafted out of George Washington High School, in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan. Emblematic of the changing mosaic of the city, the same school had produced Hall of Famer Rod Carew and in an earlier era, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Ninety feet and a cloud of dust: Ryan Martindale beats the tag of
Andy Dziadkowiec as Julio Peguero, left, and Brian Giles, right, look on.
Ramirez had been a first round pick, 13th overall. The hometown New York Yankees, picking first, selected pitcher Brien Taylor, who injured his arm in a bar fight and never made the majors. Taken right behind Ramirez by the Montreal Expos, slugging Chicagoan Cliff Floyd.

At roughly the halfway point of the Eastern League season, Ramirez was batting a robust .339, pounding out 102 hits in 301 at bats over 77 games. He'd belted 15 homers, driven in 68 runs and even stole two bases.

Giles too was a comer, but his .303 average came with just five dingers and 36 ribbies.

Huskey, 22, a projected slugger for the Mets, had hit 13 homers and driven in 55 runs, while batting just .248. Over the summer he added a dozen circuit clouts and 43 more RBI's, meriting a September call up to The Show.

The numbers, through July 3, 1993
So too did Manny. He'd play just just a dozen more games for the C-A tribe -- hitting two more taters and knocking in 11 -- before being moved up to AAA Charlotte and then the big club, where he took his place among Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton.

Two years later, the Indians, now in the AL Central, went to the World Series for the first time since 1954, starting a run of six first place finishes in seven seasons with a second pennant in 1997.

Ramirez finished runner-up for the 1994 AL Rookie of the Year award, behind the Kansas City Royals' Bob Hamelin and blossom into a perennial all star and most valuable player candidate.

He'd play for two World Series winners too, albeit for the Boston Red Sox, not the Indians and be suspended -- twice -- for using performance-enhancing drugs, the second time ending his career.

That punishment likely killed his Hall of Fame prospects, despite a lifetime batting average of .312, 555 home runs and 1831 RBIs. The drug in question: human chorionic gonadtropin, a not-so-manly female fertility drug also known as HCG, which can also boost testosterone production in men.

Just Manny being Manny.

But about Elmira


An hour's drive west of Binghamton, but a world away, Elmira's Dunn Field Municipal Stadium exists almost out of time, a pre-World War II relic that stands in stark contrast to the B-Mets' utilitarian Binghamton Municipal Stadium, which opened in 1992.

New Marlins and old Pioneers
The old ballpark is nestled alongside the Chemung River. Peering out from the grandstand, past the outfield fence. all one sees are trees and rolling hills. It's as picturesque a place to see a ballgame as exists in this world.

For decades it served as a NY-Penn League or Eastern League outpost, the Elmira Pioneers affiliating with teams including the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, the Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies and, for one magical season, 1969, for the expansion San Diego Padres and Seattle Pilots.

Don Zimmer once played there. The legendary Steve Dalkowski too. So did Rabbit Maranville, Davey Johnson, Wade Boggs and Oil Can Boyd.

The Pioneers and their MLB affiliates,
from the '93 program/yearbook
Nowadays they're mostly remembered as a Boston Red Sox farm club, a relationship that lasted from 1973 to 1992, after which they affiliated with the expansion Florida Marlins, when I saw them take on the Geneva Cubs.

Like a lot of small northern cities, Elmira's population is declining, and with it, its baseball fortunes. After the 1995 season, the team moved to Massachusetts, re-affiliating with the Red Sox as the Lowell Spinners. Subsequent editions of the Pioneers played in the independent Northeast, Northern and CanAm Leagues.

Now they're part of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, which sounds, well, perfect.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Before Bull Durham, There Were The Durham Bulls

WHEN THE LEGEND BECOMES FACT, print the legend -- baseball edition.

"... about America's other favorite pastime."
Bull Durham, a fictional story about the minor league Durham Bulls, opened in U.S. theaters 30 years ago this week and immediately took its place in the pantheon of great baseball movies alongside The Babe Ruth Story, Pride of the Yankees and The Natural.

Within the next five years came Eight Men Out, Field of Dreams, Major League, A League of Their Own and The Sandlot. Baseball was boffo at the box office and Bull Durham led the charge.

Directed by one-time minor leaguer Ron Shelton, the film got a great many things right about the low rent, high fun MiLB universe: its rites, rituals, goofy mascots and promotions and the fans who took their transient players to heart and sometimes to bed.

In it Kevin Costner played Crash Davis, a career minor league slugger and sage acquired by the Bulls to tutor idiot bonus baby, pitcher Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins. Susan Sarandon was their sensuous bohemian mutual love interest, Annie Savoy. Costing $7 million to make, it grossed more than $50 million at the box office and embedded itself in pop culture history.

The movie's anniversary will be feted this season in diverse places such as Helena, Montana and Framingham, Massachusetts and at minor league ballparks in Fargo, North Dakota, St. Paul, Minnesota, Asheville, North Carolina and Woodbridge, Virginia.

Dirty Al Gallagher, 1981 program coverboy
It's almost enough to make one forget the Durham Bulls were and are a real baseball team, one that existed long before the movie that made them so well known. Among their alumni, hall of famer Joe Morgan, sluggers Rusty Staub, Ken Singleton and Greg Luzinski plus 1972 National League Rookie of the Year Jon Matlack.

But, nine years before the movie, they didn't exist at all.

The Bulls, for all intents and purposes, had gone extinct after the 1971 season, having spent their last two years without a major league affiliation. Before that, they'd been the Carolina League farm club of the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Houston Colt 45's. Their once and future home, the Durham Athletic Park, had gone to seed.

Enter entrepreneur Miles Wolff, a man who would go on to found and/or lead entire minor leagues. In the dilapidated DAP , he had a vision. It would ultimately entail sod, paint, elbow grease and a manager named Alan Mitchell Edward George Patrick Henry Gallagher, also known as Dirty Al.

Resurrected for the 1980 season as a Class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, they took the field  before 4,591 fans, wearing spandex uniforms designed by Universal Studios and boasting a roster studded with future big league players including Brett Butler, Gerald Perry, Milt Thompson, Albert Hall, Rick Behenna and Joe Cowley.

The Greatest Show on Dirt
Also present, a struggling 24-year-old catcher/first baseman named Brian Snitker, who would soon hang up his spikes and turn to coaching. In 2016 -- at the age of 61 -- he became the Braves' manager.

The Bulls endured the theft of their home uniforms and their bus getting stuck in the mud, but ultimately drew 176,000 fans to the gussied up old ballpark built in 1926 and compiled an 84-56 record, good for a spot in the Carolina League championship series, which they lost to the Phillies' Peninsula Pilots, three games to none.

The Bulls were boffo in Durham. For their efforts, they were awarded the 1981 Carolina League All Star Game and more Braves prospects, among them pitcher Jeff Dedmon and outfielder Brad Komminsk, the fourth overall pick in the 1979 amateur draft. He would bat .322 that year with 33 homers and 104 runs batted in. He even swiped 35 bases.

The prospects, courtesy of Chick-Fil-A.
Despite his heroics, the Bulls slipped to fourth place in the composite standings and Dirty Al's second season at the helm in Durham would be his last, though he'd spend the better part of the next two decades managing minor league teams from Chattanooga to San Jose to Duluth to Kansas City.

The Bulls' popularity would only grow. Wolff, in a 2017 interview, recounted his team's early support from former Universal Pictures president Thom Mount, a Durham native. Upon visiting the ballpark, Mount told Wolff, "some day we'll make a movie," a remark the entrepreneur said he'd dismissed as "Hollywood talk."

Six years later, Mount dispatched Shelton to the Durham Athletic Park to soak up the atmosphere.

When the stars came out the DAP
"We were sure it was going to be a huge flop," Wolff said. It wasn't and ever since, the Bulls have been boffo everywhere. In 1990, they became the first Class A team to draw more than 300,000 fans in a season. Then Wolff cashed out, selling his team to the local Capitol Broadcasting Company.

Five years later, the club moved into a new stadium, the 10,000-seat Durham Bulls Athletic Park. In 1998, they were elevated to the Triple-A International League as the top farm club of the then-expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

In a move that can only be described as life imitating art imitating life, on June 15, the Bulls will wear Bull Durham throw back jerseys for their own 30th Anniversary celebration of the movie they  made possible, which in turn made them famous.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Monday, May 28, 2018

Forty Years of Darkness on the Edge of Town

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN LOOKS LIKE a doofus. Admit it. He does.

The cover pic for Darkness on the Edge of Town does him no favors. Bed-headed, bleary eyed, lips midway between pursed and puckered, he looks like photographer Frank Stefanko rolled him out of bed at 3 a.m., said, "here, put this on..." and before the Boss could say, "Wait. What?" they were done shooting. It is not a flattering picture.

Which is odd because the album it graced is about a lot of things, work, faith, hope, sex, anger,  resentment, resignation, determination and driving, literally and figuratively, but I wouldn't put weary dishevelment on the list.

Still, Springsteen's fourth studio LP turns a biblical 40 years old on June 2, so maybe it's only fitting that the journey with him to The Promised Land also starts with a bit of skepticism about the intended destination. The ransom note-typewriter typography of its title and track listing seem to beg the question: would you buy a record from this man?

Badlands, you've got to live it every day, 
We'll keep pushin' till its understood
 and these badlands start treating us good.

I did. More than once. In different formats. Others did too. And looking back across four decades, it's not hard to find the reason: Darkness -- sandwiched as it was between the fabulously bombastic Born to Run and the two disc tour-de-force The River -- is the definitive Springsteen album.

"It's a meditation on where are you going to stand? With who and where are you going to stand?" he said in a 2011 documentary.

More than any other release, this one is responsible for his enduring image as a voice of the forgotten blue collar man trapped by circumstance and grinding it out until that nighttime rendezvous in the field behind the dynamo, or after walking the darkness of Candy's hall.


Springsteen was just 28. Success, as he defined it, was still eluding him. Any guy in his mid-20s, working for unreasonable bosses, chasing unattainable girls and realizing that adulthood meant fighting for what you want and who you are, could relate. I certainly did.

But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold. 
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode.

My dad once called him, "the working man's millionaire." After many years of success, even the Boss himself admitted being "a rich man in a poor man's shirt." But we all know he didn't start out that way... that all this wiry kid from Freehold, New Jersey, had was that burning ambition to be somebody and it took some time for that image of who, exactly, to come into focus.

On his first three LPs, Springsteen was something of a chameleon: a stream-of-consciousness lyrical poet for Greetings From Asbury Park, a soulful troubador on The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle and then the leather jacketed street hustler with the spectacular B.T.R., an album that put him on the cover of Time magazine and Newsweek in the very same week.

Full stop.

All that momentum slammed to a halt when Springsteen decided to break up with manager Mike Appel. Their three-year legal battle keep him out of the recording studio but continuing to tour and more importantly, to write. He poured out his frustrations and anger at The Man in a torrent of lyrics, enough for several albums. Out of that frenetic activity emerged Darkness, a record unlike anything he'd done before: a collection of angry, chip-on-his-shoulder rockers, full of searing guitars, slamming drums, coarse vocals and testosterone.

He comes across as angry, defiant, forever done taking shit from anyone. There's none of Born to Run's romantic optimism, none of the good time bonhomie that would temper the more fraught moments of The RiverDarkness is 10 tracks of darkness and Old Testament thunder.

Beneath all that there's a recognition that life doesn't play out the way its planned. Despite the bravado of driving 'cross the Waynesboro County line, down Kingsley and from Monroe to Angeline*, there's the sad surrender of the trophy girl in Racing in the Streets and in the title track finale where the narrator admits the enemy is within.

I lost my money and I lost my wife, 
them things don't seem to matter much to me now. 
Tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause l can't stop, 
I'll be on that hill with everything that I've got, 
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost,
for wanting things that can only be found 

in the darkness on the edge of town.

Despite its significance, Darkness seems more respected than loved. Its songs inspired a spinoff,  covers, imitation and parody, but when it comes to ranking the Boss's records, it's almost never the fan favorite. Not here, nor here or here and definitely not here, although finally, here.

It's often second-best, which is a shame, because while others may better define his career, none of them better defined the man.

* For Bruce, geography is a thing of the mind. The Promised Land opens with the narrator driving out of the Utah desert and across the Waynesboro County line, but there is no Waynesboro County anywhere in the U.S.  Nor, Prove It All Night fans, is there a place called Angeline, though there are plenty of starting points called Monroe, including Monroe Township, New Jersey.

Something in the Night lovers take heart, you too can drive down Kingsley with the radio up so you don't have to think. It's in Asbury Park, NJ. Send a postcard if you go.

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