Sunday, December 16, 2018

O.J. Simpson Runs to Glory -- December 16, 1973

I WAS THERE because somebody dumped New York Jets tickets on my dad.

"The consummate runner fulfills the promise"
It was Dec. 16, 1973, one of those punishingly cold days at Shea Stadium, when icy wind whipped in from Flushing Bay, numbing everything in its path. Green Bay's Lambeau Field may be synonymous with "frozen tundra," but a late season Jets home game could just as easily freeze you to the marrow.

On this day, the team was 4-9. By the 1 p.m. kickoff, snow was falling.

So why? Why trudge out to the C-shaped municipal stadium surrounded by parking lots and expressways to sit in the arctic chill, drink watery hot cocoa and watch bad Jets football (a virtually redundant description throughout the 1970s)?

Two words. Make that two initials: O.J., as in Simpson, a man on the cusp of rushing for more than 2,000 yards in a 14-game season, something never accomplished before or since.

O.J., aka The Juice, winner of the 1968 Heisman Trophy while at the University of Southern California. Selected with the first overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 1969 National Football League draft, he was handsome, articulate and charismatic. A first-magnitude star.

If you were born after 1994 -- after his descent into infamy -- it may be difficult to comprehend the hold he had on the American public, as an athlete, part-time actor, sportscaster and pitchman for orange juice, western boots and rental cars.

He'd come of age in an era that saw the first wide-spread acceptance of black celebrities as just plain celebrities. In 1965, Bill Cosby became the first black to play a lead role in a television drama, I Spy. Three years later, while Simpson was running to greatness at USC, Diahann Carroll took similar stride for black women in Julia. In 1970, Flip Wilson got in his own TV variety show.

Why run through airports when you can fly?
During the 1960s, Muhammad Ali transcended professional boxing to become one of the world's most widely recognized celebrities, a man willing to sacrifice his career for his principles. But where he was controversial and brash, Simpson was silky smooth and universally liked, by men and women, white and black. He transcended race in the same way Barack Obama would three decades later.

O.J.'s affable demeanor and good looks made him a natural for the tube and silver screen. Holding out for a better deal before signing with the Bills, he even threatened to bypass Buffalo for Hollywood, where he'd already had bit parts in Dragnet, Ironside, Medical Center and It Takes a Thief.

While he eventually signed, he didn't hit the ground running. O.J. rushed for just 1,927 yards over his first three seasons combined, barely surpassing Jim Brown's single-season record of 1,863. But things changed in 1972, when the Buffalo hired a new coach, Lou Saban, who plugged in The Juice and let him run.

Simpson's 1,251 yards led the league. His 94-run from scrimmage in an October game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was the longest in the league that year. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 89.4 per game but scored only six touchdowns as the Bills staggered to a 4-9-1 record.

By game 10 of the 1973 season, Simpson surpassed his previous season total, running for 1,323 yards, 123 of them at the Jets' expense in week 3. Though held to under 100 yards in three games, he finished the year in a rush, piling up 480 yards just over weeks 11, 12 and 13. Arriving at Shea, he'd already carried  the ball 1,803 yards and Brown's record was only 60 yards away.

That record fell before the end of the first quarter and, with the frost-bitten Shea faithful to bear witness, piled up precisely 200 yards on the day as the Bills bullied the Jets, 34-14.  It would be the last game for Jets coach Weeb Ewbank, architect of their Super Bowl III victory, and my first as a fan.

For the season, Simpson had juked and jetted his way to 2003 yards -- almost 1.14 miles -- pursued by 11 men sworn to stop him.

In time, and with extension of the standard NFL season to 16 games, the record would fall. So too would O.J., in a manner that would have seemed unimaginable fiction to football fans on that snowy day.

Simpson as doomed astronaut John Walker, with co-stars Sam Waterston and James Brolin
in the thriller Capricorn One. Photo from the July 1978 issue of Starlog Magazine

Between those two defining moments, Simpson played pro-football for just six more years, the final two for his hometown San Francisco 49ers. His acting credits included roles in The Towering Inferno, The Cassandra Crossing, Roots, Capricorn One and the Naked Gun movies.

In 1985 he wed Nicole Brown, with whom he had two children over seven tumultuous years that during which the former football star cheated on and abused her. They divorced in 1992.

In June 1994, he was charged with murdering her and friend Ronald Goldman, but apprehended only after a 50-mile -- or 88,000 yard -- low speed chase across the Los Angeles freeway system pursued by dozens of police officers sworn to stop him.

Simpson was acquitted after an epochal 1995 trial but found legally culpable in a civil suit two years later and ordered to pay more than $33 million to the victims' families.

Ten years after that, he'd be convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping for crimes involving sports memorabilia -- our communal tokens of hero worship. Sentenced to nine to 33 years imprisonment, The Juice was set free in 2017.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Mr. October's Hip Check Decks Dodgers in '78 Series

WE DRANK BEER and set off fireworks. We looked at skin mags and been bar-mitzvahed. That summer, I even had what you might call a girlfriend. We were two men in 8th grade and we were going to the World Series.

It was October, 1978, and the New York Yankees were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers. Again. A year earlier, the Bombers had beaten -- and humbled -- the Brooklyn fugitives, 4 games to 2. Reggie Jackson bashed three homers in the final game, burnishing his "Mr. October" legend.

A rematch of rivals, and
a fresh new hell for L.A.
Then, as now, the Dodgers were trying to avoid the sad distinction of losing back-to-back championships. And I was sure it was the Dodgers' year.

So sure, I put money on it, making schoolyard bets right before the morning bell at our Long Island junior high school. L.A. rewarded my faith by winning the first two games out on the coast. Let the taunting begin.

My pal -- we'll call him J.D. -- scored us tickets to game 4. I've no idea how. Visions of a sweep danced in my head. What we saw was a different side of Mr. October, a savvy, heads up move that changed the course of the Series.

But about J.D... He was one of those guys who'd hit puberty sooner than the rest of us, looked a little older (or maybe he was), and had enough self-assurance to pull off a beer buy at the local dairy drive-in without being questioned.

He was that kid who sold contraband out of his school locker, the one your mother warned you about. For reasons not clear 40 years later, I was his wingman. Maybe I was part of his shtick, the artifice, the innocent who made him look less conniving. Or maybe he was the devil on my shoulder, urging me to do bad things.

In our brief friendship, he got me into all kinds of vices that forestalled my irretrievable descent into nerd-dom. Along with the aforementioned beer, porn and gunpowder, he impressed upon me the importance of baseball and its crude street cousin, stickball.

Johnny Oates, Steve Garvey, Steve Yeager, Reggie Smith, Jerry Grote, Ron Cey,
Manny Mota, Dusty Baker, Davey Lopes, Rick Monday, Bill Russell, Don Sutton,
Terry Forster, Tommy John, Bill North, Bob Welch, Doug Rau, Vic Davalillo, Lee Lacy,
Rick Rhoden, Lance Rautzhan, Burt Hooton, Charlie Hough, Teddy Martinez and
Manager Tommy Lasorda

The tickets were a major coup, even if the seats were in the right-centerfield bleachers next to that eerie blacked out section that formed the batters' eye at Yankee Stadium. We'd get to the Bronx by Long Island Rail Road and then the creepy late '70s NYC subway.

We were 13.

Somehow, I convinced my folks we could do this. I think I told them J.D.'s big sister was our chaperone. I don't recall if she went or not. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

But about the series... As noted, the Dodgers had taken the first two games out in La La Land, closing out the second with an epic, David vs. Goliath confrontation between Reggie and Dodgers rookie pitcher Bob Welch. Momentum was on their side as the series moved east.

But, once in the Big Apple, Mighty Mo' ditched the Dodgers.

Third baseman Graig Nettles single-glovedly won game 3 for the Yanks. Though the final was 5-1, his stellar defense at the hot corner kept two to six L.A. runs off the scoreboard.

Ken Clay, Jay Johnstone, Ed Figueroa, Ron Guidry, Rich Gossage, Catfish Hunter,
Reggie Jackson, Sparky Lyle, Dick Tidrow, Mike Heath, Gary Thomasson, Thurman Munson,
Cliff Johnson, Chris Chambliss, Bucky Dent, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Brian Doyle,
Jim Beattie, Paul Lindblad, Jim Spencer, Fred Stanley, Paul Blair, Lou Piniella,
Mickey Rivers, Roy White and Manager Bob Lemon

Game 4 was make or break for the Dodgers. J.D. and I made our way to the stadium and, after the obligatory souvenir stop, settled into our seats to watch the action. Tommy John started for Los Angeles, Ed Figueroa for New York.

After four scoreless frames, Dodgers right fielder Reggie Smith -- the other Reggie -- belted a three-run homer, bringing home Steve Yeager and Davey Lopes. 3-0, L.A. at the midpoint. That score held until the bottom of the sixth when, with one swing of his butt -- not his bat -- famous original Reggie changed everything.

With one out, John walked Roy White, then allowed singles to Thurman Munson and Jackson, the latter scoring White.

Then, with Munson on second and Reggie on first, Lou Piniella hit a line drive toward Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell who knocked the ball down instead of catching it. Jackson took a few steps off first base and stopped.

Russell picked up the live ball, stepped on second for the force on Reggie, then threw it to Steve Garvey at first to double-up Piniella. The ball never arrived.

Jackson, still the baseline, swung his right hip into the throw, deflecting it past Garvey and into foul territory. Munson rounded third and scored.

Russell's throw caroms off Jackson's hip
and past the waiting Steve Garvey
(screen shot from an MLB Youtube video)
Meanwhile, Jackson retreated to first, bumping into Piniella as Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda raced out of the dugout to protest Mr. October's interference with the would-be double play.

His argument, though epic, was to no avail. The umps ruled Reggie out on the force at second, but not out of line.

Munson's run stood and the inning ended with the Dodgers clinging to a 3-2 lead. It wouldn't last. The Yanks would tie it in the 8th and then win it against Welch in the 10th. Once again, the Dodger rookie faced Jackson with the game on the line. this time Reggie singled to prolong a rally. Piniella delivered the kill shot.

Me and my pal made it home alive.

Though the series was tied at two games a piece, for the shaken and demoralized Dodgers, it was over. Los Angeles took a two-run lead early in game 5, only to see New York storm back with 12 unanswered runs and the 3-2 series lead.

The Yanks would take the championship two days later in Los Angeles, winning 7-2. Reggie took Welch deep in the seventh, a two-run bomb that sealed the deal. My lunch money now belonged to my creditors.

J.D. and I soon drifted apart. I don't recall a specific rupture, it was more like a widening rift. He got me hooked on baseball and then faded away.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The '83 Sox: When Winning Ugly Was All The Rage

THEY WERE FUN and then they were done. Nowadays they're remembered mostly for what they wore.

But if you woke up in Chicago on this day in 1983 and picked up a copy of the Sun-Times or Tribune, you might have had the sense the hometown White Sox were on the cusp of something rarely seen in the Windy City, a championship.

A day earlier the White Sox had beaten the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, in game one of the best-of-five American League playoffs. On the way, they'd rolled up the best record in baseball, 99-63, largely after being dismissively insulted by Texas Rangers manager Doug Rader.

Champagne days on Chicago's South Side
At the time of his fateful utterance, Rader's Rangers were atop the AL West though the trailing Sox had mounted a modest hot streak. "They're not playing that well," he'd said of his squad's pursuers. "They're winning ugly."

Well.

Well. Well. Well.

On July 6, the White Sox hosted Major League Baseball's All-Star game. Marking the event's 50th anniversary, it had returned to its point of origin on the city's south side, Comiskey Park. The home team's sole delegate was their slugging rookie Ron Kittle.

At 40-37, Chicago occupied third place in the West, 3 1/2 games behind Texas, but in 1983 baseball had no fury like the White Sox scorned.  They went on a 59-26 tear -- a near .700 clip -- leaving the Texans in the dust, 22 games back and in third place behind the Kansas City Royals.

Clad in bold futuristic uniforms later likened to beach blankets, the '83 Sox bashed 157 homers and led the league with 800 runs scored, tallying 4.94 per game. They also topped the AL by striking out 888 times. Kittle slammed 35 homer and drove in 100 runs to lead the charge. The Bull -- Greg Luzinski -- pounded 32 round trippers, knocking in 95. Hall of Fame-bound catcher Carlton Fisk went 26/86/.289, while Sox legend Harold Baines went 20/99/.280.

A 1983 Topps power trio: combining for 78 homers and 280 runs batted in.

They also had one of the best pitching staffs in the game, one that allowed just 650 runs (589 of them earned) while fanning nearly 900 hitters. Their staff ERA of 3.67 was third best in the league.

Their ace was LaMarr Hoyt, whose 24 wins were the most by any starter in the bigs. Right behind him, Sox starter Richard Dotson won 22, while Floyd Bannister won 16 and struck out 193 batters. Rounding out the rotation, lefty Britt Burns, whose career was later cut short by a degenerative hip condition.

The hurlers

Their manager: Tony LaRussa. A year earlier, he'd led them to an 87-75 record, good for third in the competitive AL West, parked behind the division-winning California Angels and the 1980 AL champ Kansas City Royals. It looked like 1983 would be the White Sox year.

And but for Baltimore, it might have been.

The Orioles had had the majors' second best record, just a game worse than the Sox. They also had Most Valuable Player Cal Ripken Jr. and a cadre of talented starting pitchers, Scott McGregor, Storm Davis, Mike Boddicker and Mike Flanagan.

Their good pitching stifled the White Sox hitters. Chicago's 2-1 victory in game one of the ALCS was their high point. Over the ensuing three games, they added just one more run as the Orioles claimed the pennant.

Baltimore went on to defeat the Philadephia Phillies in the World Series, their last championship to date. Hoyt's 24-10 record won him the Cy Young Award. Kittle garnered Rookie of the Year honors. LaRussa was voted AL Manager of the Year. As a group though, these South Siders would never ride as high again.

From the Sox ALCS program: the skipper
LaRussa had two more winning seasons before a tailspin and friction with then-General Manager Ken Harrelson cost him his job midway through 1986. His interim replacement: Doug Rader.

LaRussa was quickly hired by the Oakland Athletics, whom he led to AL pennants in 1988 and '90 with a World Series victory in '89. After winning three more flags and two titles with the St. Louis Cardinals, he was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Hoyt faltered in 1984, falling to 13-18, losing the most games in the league. After that he was dealt to the San Diego Padres for a package of players including future White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen, He'd lead them to a Series title as manager in 2005.

While they didn't win it all, the Sox distinctive uniforms and typeface from that era have been part of their lore ever since. Winning ugly never looked so good.

-- Follow me on Twitter @papaerboyarchive

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Dynasty Denied -- The Stunning Fall of the 1988 Mets

DAVID CONE WAS UNBEATABLE. Rookie Gregg Jefferies was knocking the cover off the ball. The 1988 New York Mets came roaring down the stretch, winning 24 of their last 32 games and opening a 15-game lead over the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates.

Clockwise from top left: stars Keith Hernandez,
Kevin McReynolds, Howard Johnson, Gary Carter,
Darryl Strawberry and Dwight  Gooden
Seemingly invincible, they ran away with the National League East title.

This after a calamitous '87 season that started with ace Dwight Gooden checking into rehab and effectively ended with St. Louis Cardinal Terry Pendleton's devastating home run off Roger McDowell, a blown Sept. 11 save that kept them from moving within a half-game of the first place Cards.

They were playing like the squad that won the 1986 World Series.

The swagger was back.

Their 100-60 record was the best in the league. Armed with good pitching, good hitting and a rich farm system, the Mets had the makings of a dynasty.

The sky was the limit and then they flamed out, done in by hype, hubris and human frailty.

They wouldn't fully recover for a decade.

Resurrection


Their '88 starters included the in-recovery Gooden, who went 18-9, and Ron Darling, who won a career best 17 games. Cone, a reliever at the season's outset, joined the rotation in May when veteran Rick Aguilera got hurt. He went 20-3, winning his last eight decisions. The streak tied Tom' Seaver's franchise record.

Lineup mainstays Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez both had subpar years, but they no longer needed to lead the way as they did two years earlier. Outfielders Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds combined for 66 homers and 200 runs batted in. Third baseman Howard Johnson, who brightened '87 with 36 taters and 32 stolen bases, bashed 24 more round-trippers while swiping 23 more sacks.

Light-hitting, good fielding Kevin Elster supplanted World Series shortstop Rafael Santana. Fellow farm system grads Dave Magadan and Keith Miller also vied for infield playing time. Reliever Randy Myers came up from AAA to stay in '87. A year later, he was a dominant 26-save closer. Highly-touted pitching prospect David West and others awaited their chance.

Out of the yearbook -- The almost great Mets of 1988, orange, white and blue all over. 

And then there was Jefferies, a switch-hitting 21-year-old prodigy -- twice named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year -- who arrived Aug. 28 and immediately began spraying line drives to all fields. In 29 games, he batted .321 with 35 hits in 109 at bats. Nearly half of them went for extra bases: eight doubles, two triples, six homers. He struck out 10 times, walked eight, scored 19 runs and drove in 17 more.

He ignited the Mets, who were 76-53 and 6 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh before his recall. They finished 40 games over .500, compiling the second best winning percentage in franchise history. They're still the last Mets team to win 100 games.

Conceit


The '88 Mets seemed to restore order to a universe knocked helter skelter by the prior year's disappointment, if one can call winning 92 games and finishing three games out of first disappointing. Five years earlier, they'd endured the last of six straight last- or next-to-last place finishes while new owners revamped the farm system and rebuilt the parent club.

They won 90 games in 1984, 98 the next and in 1986 a championship. Being contenders was a given. Titles were expected now. And, for a while, every move paid off. They could do no wrong. Aforitiori, if they made a move, it was bound to be right. Right?

Securing their second division title in three years, New York turned to the NL championship series where they'd face the West Division-winning Los Angeles Dodgers. The Mets had taken 10 of 11* from the ex-Brooklynites during the season.

What could possibly go wrong? Plenty.

The phenomenal Dr. K, Dwight Gooden, from the 1988 Mets yearbook

Before game 1 on Oct. 4, the Los Angeles Times published an article quoting Strawberry as saying he'd like to play for the Dodgers someday.

That evening, Gooden faced off against Orel Hershiser, who'd tossed a record 59 consecutive scoreless innings that summer. The Mets ace outdueled his counterpart, yielding just four hits and striking out 10, but the Dodgers scratched out two runs and led 2-0 going into the ninth.

Jefferies led off the top of the last with a hit, a Hernandez groundout moved him to second. Strawberry's double brought him home. Exit Hershiser. Reliever Jay Howell walked McReynolds, then fanned Johnson. With any other man due up, the Dodgers might have been home free, but the next man was Carter.

Two years earlier, he refused to be the final out of the '86 Series, keying a legendary extra-inning, two-out game 6 comeback. Now the future Hall of Fame catcher doubled off LA's reliever, scoring Strawberry and McReynolds, giving the Mets a 3-2 lead. Myers threw two scoreless frames for the win. Howell took the loss.

Cone, who once aspired to be a sportswriter, penned a New York Daily News column published the next day comparing the flame-throwing Myers with the curve-ball-reliant Howell, whom he likened to a high school pitcher. The Dodgers, who'd won 94 games in the regular season, responded by ripping Cone for five runs, driving him from Game 2 after just two innings. With a 6-3 win, LA evened the series.
When two was greater than five.

Game 3, in New York, brought a measure of revenge. Stifled by Hershiser for five innings, the Mets battled back to tie the game in the sixth, 3-3.

LA broke that tie with a bases-loaded walk in the 8th, then handed the ball to Howell. As the Dodger closer ran the count full on McReynolds, Mets manager Davey Johnson asked umpires to inspect the pitcher's glove.

Pine tar.

Howell was summarily ejected and later suspended. The Mets erupted for five runs off a string of Los Angeles relievers then brought in Cone to close it out. The chastened author set his opponents down in order.

New York now led the series, 2-1, with Dwight Gooden -- alias Dr. K -- on tap for game four.

Failure


The doctor delivered, holding the Dodgers to two runs on three hits while the Mets scored four, two on back-to-back homers by Strawberry and McReynolds.

Johnson allowed his ace to pitch into the ninth where Gooden walked centerfielder John Shelby, then grooved his first pitch to Mike Scioscia. The LA catcher belted it into the NY bullpen. The Mets' potential 3-1 series lead vanished. Shea Stadium fell silent.

Scioscia, interviewed years later, said he could hear his cleats crunching the infield dirt as he rounded the bases.

Like Pendleton's blast off McDowell a year earlier, the Gothamites were stricken. The Mets reliever would re-live the horror again in the 12th, yielding a two-out homer to outfielder Kirk Gibson. LA 5, NY 4. Though the Mets loaded the bases in the bottom of the frame, Hershiser came out of the pen to lock it down, tying the series at two wins a piece.

Los Angeles carried its momentum into game 5, thwacking their onetime prospect, Sid Fernandez, for six runs in four innings en route to a 7-4 win. New York had dropped two of three at home. They returned to LA facing elimination.

Pitcher, author, provocateur
from the '88 NLCS program, Mets' edition
There, backed by McReynold's four hits and three RBIs, Cone tossed a complete game gem, winning a stay of execution. He allowed just one run on five hits, struck out six and walked three.

Game 7 pitted Hershiser against Darling. The Mets starter didn't make it past the second, surrendering six runs -- four earned -- on six hits. Hershiser scattered five hits and two walks en route to a complete game shutout.

By the time he'd frozen the Mets' last batter, Howard Johnson, with a late breaking curve, the outcome had long been clear. The Mets' season was over. Though it wasn't immediately clear, so too was their era of dominance. There would be no dynasty.

LA won the World Series, beating the Oakland A's, 4 games to 1. Kirk Gibson was named NL MVP. Strawberry finished second. McReynolds, third.

Hershiser won the NL Cy Young Award. Cincinnati Reds hurler Danny Jackson was runner-up. Cone came in third.

1989 and Thereafter


From 1984 through 1988, New York had had the best overall record in the majors but little to show for it. Efforts grand and small to retool and reset failed to slow the decline. It started gradually in 1989 and accelerated to full-blown catastrophe in 1993 when they lost more than 100 games for the first time in 26 years.

Reigning American League Cy Young winner Frank Viola was acquired for Aguilera, West and minor leaguer Kevin Tapani. Fan favorites Wally Backman, Mookie Wilson, Len Dykstra and McDowell were traded away. Their replacements underwhelmed, as did Jefferies.

In his first full season, the wunderkind struggled to hit just .258 after replacing Backman at second base and earned the lasting enmity of teammates who believed he should have been sent back to the minors. In time, he'd fulfill some of his immense promise, but mostly as an ex-Met.

Wonderboy Gregg Jefferies,
from the Mets' edition '88 NLCS program
Hernandez and Carter were let go at season's end. Davey Johnson was retained, but not for long. With the team sputtering at 20-22, he was fired midway through 1990. They played better for his replacement, longtime player and coach Bud Harrelson, but only well enough to finish second for the fifth time in seven years. It would be their last winning season until 1997.

In November 1990, Strawberry departed for the Dodgers as he'd said he would. A year later, Jefferies, McReynolds and Miller were traded to the Kansas City Royals for one-time Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen and utility man Bill Pecota. Soon after, Viola signed with the Boston Red Sox.

Cone, who'd solidified his ace status by leading the NL in strikeouts in 1990 and 1991, was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in August 1992, and helped them win the World Series. He won the AL Cy Young Award in 1994 as a member of the Royals. In 1998, 10 years after he burst to prominence, he won 20 games again, this time as a New York Yankee.

He returned to the Mets for a cup of coffee in 2003, then called it career.

* An earlier version of this entry said it was 11 of 12.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

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