Saturday, July 22, 2017

Darkness on the Edge of (Dodger) Town -- Gone Cali 1987, Part II

BASEBALL'S TAJ MAHAL. It's meant to be a compliment.

The Silver Anniversary logo
When it opened in 1962, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles was the newest, nicest stadium in Major League Baseball, far outclassing San Francisco's wind-swept Candlestick Park completed just two years earlier. It was the privately-financed crown jewel of baseball's manifest destiny.

Searching for superlatives, scribes turned to Shah Jahan's edifice on the Yamuna River in India, perhaps forgetting the Taj Mahal was a tomb for his wife. Or maybe they didn't forget, for Dodger Stadium too is something of a monument, a grave marker for the poor mostly Mexican-American neighborhoods wiped from existence during a decade-long battle between liberal and conservative forces over what to do with acres upon acres of hilly land north of downtown, a place called Chavez Ravine.

Stadium construction wasn't how that story started, but that's how it ended, with an ironic coup de grace from the team that integrated baseball.

July 21, 1987, St. Louis Cardinals 6, L.A. Dodgers 1
Winning pitcher, Bob Forsch, Loser, Fernando Valenzuela

I knew none of this 30 years ago this week when I made my one and only visit to Dodger Stadium on the second stop of a two-week, six-ballpark road trip. (Read about stop one here.) Though it the stadium's 25th anniversary season, the commemorative program and yearbook made no mention of what transpired in the years before the stadium opened. It wasn't a story they had any incentive to publicize or perpetuate and, to be fair, for which they were largely not responsible.

Much has been written since about what came to be known as the Battle of Chavez Ravine, including a new book published just this year. It went something like this:

The Joe Friday ticket stub.
After World War II, the U.S. embarked on a rebuilding spree, in Europe under the Marshall Plan and at home in the form of urban renewal, clearing of slums and blighted areas in favor of public housing for the nation's destitute. Los Angeles was no exception and it was proposed that the Chavez Ravine area be redeveloped into something called Elysian Park Heights. The project would include two dozen high-rise apartment buildings and more than 160 two-story residences.

Though the communities there -- Palo Verde, Bishop and La Loma -- had homes, schools and at least one church, they wasn't seen as worthy of preservation. The city moved by force of eminent domain to begin clearing those so-called slums of the people and their dwellings. But before Elysian Park Heights construction could begin, in 1953, newly-elected conservative Mayor Norris Poulson -- with a push from a group called Citizens Against Socialized Housing (or CASH) -- canceled the project, leaving a handful of hold-out families living in a largely bulldozed region where they'd remain at loggerheads with L.A. for most of that decade.

In 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers -- after trying and failing to secure a new stadium in their home borough -- won permission to move west with the Giants. They had no home, but Los Angeles had an idea. The city would trade its Chavez Ravine land to the team in exchange for a Dodger-owned downtown minor league ballpark confusingly called Wrigley Field.

Giants' shortstop Jose Uribe
meets Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia
While the Dodgers played the next four seasons at the Los Angeles Coliseum, a gigantic oval built for the 1932 Olympic games, the city forcibly removed the last remaining Chavez Ravine residents to make way for the stadium amid a public referendum and, unsurprisingly, litigation that stopped only at the U.S. Supreme Court door. Among the casualties, the Palo Verde Elementary School, reportedly paved over for a parking lot.

The result: a baseball-only ballpark built into a hillside, facing the distant San Gabriel mountains visible beyond the twin outfield pavilions and scoreboards. Led by pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, in just their second season there the team swept the American League Champion New York Yankees to win the World Series before about 56,000 home town fans. They'd win the series in '65, '81 and '88 too.

In between, the team that gave America Jackie Robinson, its first black superstar, also gave the nation its first Japanese superstar, Hideo Nomo and -- perhaps in a bit of karmic payback -- its first Mexican one, Fernando Valenzuela.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Gone Cali 1987, Part I -- Baby Goose Cuts Loose

Lance McCullers... Baby Goose Cuts Loose
INTIMIDATION: the innate ability to strike fear in the hearts of opposing hitters. This Rich "Goose" Gossage had in greater abundance than any big league pitcher of his generation. At 6'3", cap pulled low over his glowering, mustachioed countenance, Gossage was a terrifying whirl of arms and legs from which emerged 100 mile-per-hour Hall of Fame-certified heat.

Signed as a free agent by the World Champion New York Yankees in November 1977, he displaced incumbent, Cy Young-award winning closer Sparky Lyle, saved 27 games and helped the Bombers to repeat. While Lyle was traded to the Texas Rangers in November '78 -- famously going from Cy Young to Sayonara -- the Goose continued to roll up saves the old-fashioned three-inning, nine-out way until he too left the Bronx Zoo for one in San Diego.

There he paid immediate dividends, joining ex-Yankee Graig Nettles, ex-Los Angeles Dodger Steve Garvey and future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn in transforming the Padres from perennial also-rans to National League champs.

By 1987, Gossage -- then 35 -- had become something of an intimidator-emeritus, a role model for a young man audaciously burdened with the nickname "Baby Goose", up-and-coming Padres closer Lance McCullers.

A shade shorter than Gossage at 6'1", McCullers was still cut from the same basic template: big, hard-throwing right-handed relief pitcher. After making his Major League debut in 1985, at the tender age of 21, Baby Goose spent one full season as understudy -- logging 136 innings to Gossage's 64, saving 5 games to his mentor's 21 then took over as closer in 1987. He was just 23.

McCullers appeared in 78 games, finishing 41, as San Diego sank to the N.L. West cellar. While he went an unremarkable 8-10, he saved 16 games while whiffing 126 batters in 123 innings, fulfilling some of the weighty promise of his moniker. But it wasn't meant to be.

Baby Goose saved just 10 games in 1988, even as the team rebounded to third place after sophomore manager Larry Bowa was replaced by Jack McKeon. Four days after the Dodgers defeated the Oakland Athletics in the World Series, McCullers, fellow hurler Jimmy Jones and outfielder Stan Jefferson were traded to the Yankees for slugger Jack Clark and pitcher Pat Clement.

San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, July 20, 1987
Final score, Padres 7, Cubs 4
Winning pitcher: Lance McCullers, Loser: Bob Tewksbury

There he briefly teamed again with the aging Gossage, but in 1990, the Yankees bottomed out, finishing dead last for the first time since 1966. McCullers appeared in just 11 games for New York before being dealt to Detroit, where he pitched in 9 more. He missed the 1991 season before briefly resurfacing with the Rangers in 1992.

They too cut loose the Baby Goose and at the age of 28 -- after 306 games, 526.1 innings pitched, 442 strikeouts and 39 saves -- he was done.

Twenty-three years later, the Houston Astros recalled from the minor leagues pitcher Lance McCullers Jr.  A starter, Grand Baby Goose is now in his third season with the A.L. West leaders where his record is 7-2. His dad is appropriately proud.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Shell Gasoline and the Eternal Mix-Tape

SUMMER TIME, CONVERTIBLES, music and the open road: an irresistible, iconic and quintessentially American formula for fun. Naturally it was celebrated with enduring success by a hybrid British-Dutch oil company.

'Tis true.

In the summer of 1989, the U.S. affiliate of the multinational we now know as Royal Dutch Shell Plc conceived a sure-fire way to get people to stop in and fill up. Think tunes, not tune-ups. Shell stations became music stations, offering Crusin' Classics, a series of three generationally-targeted musical smart bombs, available for $1.99 with a tank of gas.

Bottom row: volumes I, II and III. Top row: volumes VI, V and VI.
So successful was the initial public offering that the next summer, Shell did it again, releasing volumes IV, V and VI (the Roman numerals being their choice, not mine). The six cassettes, released as that linear format was being eclipsed by the compact disc, proved so popular that they exist still as fan-assembled YouTube playlists (again, not mine).

Chronologically, the tapes spanned the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s. Sonically ranging from Jerry Lee Lewis and Ricky Nelson through the Motown era of the Supremes and Marvin Gaye and all the way to REO Speedwagon and Wham.

Herewith some highlights. Want to hear 'em? Just click the "volume" links.

Volume I, the 60s & 70s box

Adorned with a chrome-trimmed, hand-tuned radio, Vol. I was aimed squarely at baby boomers, opening with the 1966 Billboard chart-topper You Can't Hurry Love by The Supremes and ending with the Byrd's timeless take on Ecclesiastes 3 via Pete Seeger, Turn Turn Turn. In between: Marvin Gaye's R&B smash I Heard it Through the Grapevine; Three Dog Night's Joy to the World and Hot Fun in the Summertime by Sly and the Family Stone.

Volume II, the 70s & 80s box

The next installment spun the wheel forward a decade, in a box decorated with a sly reference to that modern day automotive marvel, the car radio and cassette deck. Inside: Billy Joel's ode to wife-model/model-wife Christie Brinkley, Uptown GirlLove Train by the O'Jays; Loggins & Messina's Your Momma Don't DanceRock 'n Me by the Steve Miller Band and the Allman Brothers' open road ode, Ramblin' Man.

Volume III, the 50s & 60s box

Illustrated with an AM radio, this one was back to basics. From rockabilly to rhythm & blues, Vol. III opened with Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Good, chased by Jerry Lee Lewis' Great Balls of Fire, the Everly Brothers' All I Have To Do is Dream and Rick Nelson's wanderlustful, Travelin' Man before detouring to Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill and the Four Tops' emotive Reach Out, I'll Be There.

Volume IV, The '65 Ford Mustang box

A convertible on the beach, a blonde behind the wheel flirting with some dude holding a surf board. Time for some the Beach Boys or maybe Jan & Dean, but they're not here. Who is? Gladys Knight and the Pips singing Midnight Train to Georgia, the Foundations' Build Me Up, Buttercup, Marvin Gaye's How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and finally a nod to California from the Mommas and Pappas, (though not California Dreamin'), Monday Monday.

Volume V, The '73 Stingray Corvette box

Possibly the most musically consistent installment. The Doobie Brothers' Listen to the Music;  Linda Ronstadt's It's So Easy; Ventura Highway by America; Could it be I'm Falling In Love by the Spinners on Side One, Wham's Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, Hall and Oates' Kiss On My List and Earth Wind & Fire's September on Side Two. Listen to the music indeed.

Volume VI, The '57 Chevy Bel Air box

Bobby socks, white wall tires, poodle skirts and the drive-in restaurant. Shell's endless summer romance ended here in the 1950s and early '60s under the Marcel's Blue Moon, Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman, Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers' Why Do Fools Fall in Love and Yakety Yak by the Coasters.

Gone Cali.
CASSETTES weren't the only thing fading away in the summer of 1990. Gas station service soon followed. Forget about presidential coins, steak knives or collectible glassware, even checking the oil went from routine to relic. Want gas? Get it yourself (unless you're in New Jersey). 

But what if you could turn back time?

Gas? Check! Tunes? Check! Road atlas? Check! Put that GPS down, they don't exist where we're going.

It's time for a road trip! Next stop: San Diego, 1987.

Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Cosmos, Dips, Kicks, Bics, Quicks and 'Quakes: A Look Back at the 1977 North American Soccer League

"I DRINK DR. PEPPER AND I'M PROUD, I'm part of an original crowd..."

It was the Summer of 1977 and pre-An American Werewolf in London David Naughton was the singing, dancing, pitchman for "the most original soft drink ever," Dr. Pepper (not to be confused with it's evil twin, Mr. Pibb).

Steve Pecher, 20, an American-born soccer star
We were young. We were carefree. America was 201 years old, Jimmy Carter was president and disco was still cool. With that catchy, ear worm commercial ditty in heavy rotation, we drank.

"Be a Pepper!" Naughton said.
So, Peppers we were.

For some, part of being a Pepper meant cutting out a couple of proofs-of-purchase from the plastic six-pack carrier and redeeming them for membership in the Dr. Pepper Rookie Soccer Club.

The most original soft drink had partnered with the most original North American Soccer League and its target audience, the young American fan.

Membership had its privileges, limited privileges, but privileges nonetheless. Among them was an iridescent club logo sticker, a full-color poster of reigning NASL rookie of the year Steve Pecher, plus the pocket-sized 96-page Dr Pepper 1977 Pro Soccer Guide.

This was the NASL (relatively) ascendant. America's Division I soccer league formed in 1967 from the remnants of two other struggling organizations. In 1975 they'd added a bona fide international star, Pele.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele had starred for his native Brazil as a 17-year-old in 1958. Though he retired in 1974, "the lure of a new adventure and a three-year contract estimated at $7 million changed all that in June of 1975 when Pele, despite criticism from the press in his country, signed to play with for the New York Cosmos," according to the Dr. Pepper guide.

96-pages and still pocket-sized
"His impact was felt immediately," it said.

Despite losing two franchises -- the Philadelphia Atoms and Boston Minute Men -- the 1977 season brimmed with continental ambition. Eighteen teams would compete from Vancouver to Fort Lauderdale, from Pecher's Dallas Tornado to the defending champion Toronto Metros-Croatia. There was even a team in Hawaii, called -- perhaps unimaginatively -- Team Hawaii. Hartford had a franchise. Las Vegas too.

The Pepper guide was stuffed with stats, facts, rosters and recaps. It even offered critical instruction on How to Play Soccer. But the real prize, retrospectively, was that Pecher poster.

The 20-year-old was a St. Louis native, a rising star, "the best American center back there is, without question," Tornados coach Al Miller attested.

Plus the poster featured full-color logos of every active NASL team. Suitable for framing. Or not.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 1977 North American Soccer League:
top - Los Angeles Aztecs, Connecticut Bicentennials, The Cosmos, Washington Diplomats
2nd row - San Jose Earthquakes, Team Hawaii, Minnesota Kicks, Rochester Lancers
3rd row -- Toronto Metros, Las Vegas Quicksilvers, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Seattle Sounders, St. Louis Stars
bottom - Chicago Sting, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Portland Timbers, Dallas Tornado, Vancouver Whitecaps

Pecher had a 22-year pro-soccer career, playing outdoors and in, as well as for the U.S. national team, which he captained from 1978 to '80. The NASL was less fortunate. The signing of Pele and other stars by the Warner Communications-backed Cosmos was part of a league-wide spree to land international stars who would ideally garner publicity, improve the level of play and put more bodies in seats. It didn't last.

The NASL topped out at 24 franchises in 1979 amid both a rising tide of red ink and competition from the Major Indoor Soccer League, which began play in 1978. The NASL tried vainly to fight the upstart MISL on its own astroturf, then folded after the 1984 season.

Footwork and teamwork
Playing at Giants Stadium in what was truly Pele's last year -- where they drew crowds in excess of 70,000 -- the Cosmos won the NASL championship during that Dr. Pepper-infused summer of '77.

They also won league titles in 1972, '78, '80 and'82, then lingered on the edge of the public consciousness for decades after their demise.

In 2006, they were the subject of a feature-length documentary, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos. For years later, they were revived as part of a new NASL that began play as a Division II league in 2011.

While it failed as a business enterprise, the NASL and Dr. Pepper accomplished their more subliminal, yet more lasting task: imprinting the sport on the minds of American kids. Major League Soccer, a more durable Division I enterprise, began play in 1996. Twenty-one seasons later it features 22 teams, including four bearing the names of their NASL forebears.

Steve Pecher, now 61, coaches girls' soccer in St. Louis.

-- Follow me on twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Goose Gets Cooked, a Father's Day Goes Bust

I COME FROM A dysfunctional family... baseball-wise.

My grandfather was a New York Yankees fan. His rebellious son, my dad, rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers until they moved west and broke his heart in 1958. Resignedly, he later adopted -- or perhaps merely adapted to -- the Mets.

In 1970, grandpa moved to Florida. About a year later, I went to my first ballgame, at Shea Stadium, cementing my allegiance to the Boys of Flushing for better or worse, mostly worst.

By June 1982, I was a somewhat gainfully employed high school junior, earning enough money bussing tables at a local deli for the Big Idea: I'd take my dad and visiting grandfather to a ballgame for Father's Day: a Yankees game. We would all be Bronx Bombers fans for a day. What could possibly go wrong?

Grandpa was 77 and hadn't been to The Stadium since Mickey Mantle manned centerfield. He was old enough to have first-hand memories of Lou Gehrig, who even I admired, and the peerless Joe DiMaggio.

"He didn't run after fly balls," gramps told me. "He proceeded."

With dad's acquiescence, needed because he was our driver, we piled into his Oldsmobile and rode to the Bronx, where I bought three Upper Box seats for $8 a piece, about half a week's wages. Veteran Tommy John was starting for the Yanks. His opponent was Mike Flanagan, who'd edged John for the American League Cy Young Award three years earlier.

To be sure, these weren't grandpa's Yankees. Aside from Dave Winfield, who was crushing home runs over that part of left-centerfield known as Death Valley -- on his way to a career-high 37 -- nobody was playing particularly well.

George Steinbrenner was at the height of his intolerance. Having apologized to fans for losing the previous year's World Series, he'd already fired one manager, Bob Lemon, and would soon fire another, Gene Michael. Three managers in one season was a career high for the boss too.

Graig Nettles: captain, coverboy
 Still, the pitching match-up promised a good game and the hurlers didn't disappoint.

Orioles' 2B Rich Dauer, singled with one out in the first inning, went to third on a base hit by outfielder Dan Ford, then scored on a ground out. Baltimore 1, New York 0.

In inning three, the Bombers struck back. Shortstop Andre Robertson singled. Willie Randolph's double moved him to third. Ken Griffey Sr. walked, loading the bases for Winfield, whose sacrifice fly tied the game.

Next, Lou Piniella walked, reloading the bases for 1B John Mayberry. Flanagan hit him with a pitch, forcing in Randolph with the go-ahead run and moving Griffey to third. He scored on a sac fly by catcher Barry Foote. Baltimore 1, New York 3.

The Orioles clawed back in the seventh on hits by left fielder Gary Roenicke and rookie 3B Cal Ripken Jr.. Aided by a wild pitch, a throwing error and a Lenn Sakata sac fly, both men would come around to knot the score at 3-3.

There it would stay through the end of regulation. John gave way to Shane Rawley after 6 2/3 innings. Tim Stoddard relieved Flanagan with an out in 10th and continued to keep the Yanks off the scoreboard.

Rawley, fading, left the game with two on and two out in the top of that frame, in favor of future Hall of Famer Rich "Goose " Gossage, who got Roenicke on a flyout to Griffey in center.

Ten innings in the book and the score was still tied.

It was about to become untied.

The rookie Ripken led off the 11th and skied to Winfield in left. DH Ken Singleton singled, then left for pinch runner Floyd Rayford, whose base running prowess was about to be rendered moot.

Neatness counts, but so do results
Lefty-hitting catcher Joe Nolan was sent up to bat for starter Rick Dempsey against the right-handed Gossage. A day earlier, the Goose had pitched more than three of the 16 innings it took for the Yanks to beat the birds, 4-3. He was tiring.

Nolan was a career understudy, a man whose glasses gave him the appearance of someone who might fix your appliances, sell you insurance or do your taxes. He certainly didn't look like the guy who would ruin your Father's Day.

Nonetheless, he slugged a two-run homer off the Yankee closer. Suddenly, it was 5-3 Baltimore. The Bombers, who had mustered just a single hit since their third inning outburst, were in trouble. This was not what I'd had in mind.

Mayberry led off the bottom of the 11th by coaxing a walk from ex-Yankee lefty Tippy Martinez. Catcher Butch Wynegar, who replaced Foote in the 8th, grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. Two out, bases empty.

Third-baseman Roy Smalley Jr. walked. Speedy right-fielder Dave Collins followed with a hit and suddenly the Yankees. had the tying runs on base for Robertson. They were alive and threatening.

Pinch hitting for the shortstop -- whose career would be ended by a spectacular car accident on New York's West Side Highway a year later -- was regular 3B Graig Nettles. We hunched forward and watched: three generations of Harris men rooting for the Yankees.

Win one for grandpa.

But the Yankee captain, whose likeness adorned the game program, struck out. Game over. United in disappointment, we piled back into the old '98 Regency and went home.

The loss dropped the Yanks to 30-31, on their way to an unsightly final record of 79-83. Clyde King, the last of Steinbrenner's three managers, couldn't stanch the bleeding as the New Yorkers finished in 5th place, 16 games behind the division winning Milwaukee Brewers. It was their worst season in 15 years.

-- Follow me on Twitter,

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Hey... Dad, Wanna Have a Catch... With Your Limited-Edition Non-Baseball Souvenir Baseball?"


Imagine a boy -- any boy -- flexing a new baseball glove while offering his father a well-worn mitt, the kind embossed with the autograph of some big league player long since retired and enshrined.

In that picture-perfect moment, the boy makes the Field of Dreams request that made grown men cry. If the scene follows the script, dad replies, "I'd like that," and off they go to some sun-splashed field.

There the boy uncorks his first throw, but, the flight of the ball is odd, its rotation exaggerated, discernible not just in spinning seams but in splotches of color all over. Dad snags the toss, examines what he's caught and stops.

Mazel-tov, Jake! Mazel-tov!
There's silence, a dawning recognition and then a question.

"How did you get this ball?" Dad asks.

More silence.

"This is not a ball we use," he adds. "We don't play with this ball."

Son screws up his courage to respond, "but it's a baseball."

"It's not a baseball baseball," dad replies, sending son back inside to find a suitable replacement. Son grumbles about the general unfairness of life and wonders, "Why would anyone want a baseball that's not meant to be batted, thrown or caught?"

Why indeed? But people do, and so baseballs have joined key rings, t-shirts, caps and coffee cups as one of those ubiquitous souvenirs that often have little or nothing to do with where they came from. They've left the field of play and graduated to that semi-useless realm of things we just buy to look at, to have and to hold, forever and ever. At least I do. And if you're still reading this, so do you.

Time was that a "souvenir baseball" was one you caught at a ballpark, perhaps at the cost of bruised or broken finger. Or maybe you took the easy way out, ponied up a couple of bucks at the souvenir stand for an "official" one with the league president's signature on it, then waited for some ballplayer to autograph it.

And now they're everywhere. All purpose and no purpose, except for display. Ballgame not included.

For a famous former prison
Below the sidewalks of NY

For politicians
For presidents
For Chicago residents
For theme parks...
... and their rivals
And, inevitably, for new ballparks too
Which brings us back to baseball... and baseballs that celebrate baseball, even as they're not meant to be used for playing baseball.

The NY-Penn League's Cyclones
The Atlantic League's Ducks
The Frontier League's Thunderbolts
Washington's Nats...
The Astros of Houston
... and White Sox of Chicago
And finally one for outfielder Jay Davis of the 1993 Binghamton Mets. Thanks for the autograph, Jay.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day '82: Mets Blast Braves, Bambi Bests Torre, Then I keep Ed Lynch From the Men's Room

SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION, the men from the boys, the contenders from the pretenders.

The 162-game Major League season is really good at sifting and culling, parsing the real and the fake as any team can ride a hot streak and look for a time like a force to be reckoned with.

"Bring the kiddies, bring the wife.
Guaranteed to have the time of your life..." 
Since the advent of wild cards in 1995, a mediocre team can sometimes sneak into the post-season party and -- though unworthy -- wreak havoc. But back in 1982, the only way to prolong the campaign was to outlast division rivals, making the regular season a proving ground, a cruel crucible where hopes and dreams melt away in bitter disappointment.

And so it was on Memorial Day of that year that the New York Mets, occupying second place in the National League East under new manager George Bamberger, met the NL West Division-leading Atlanta Braves led by former Mets skipper Joe Torre.

Both teams finished poorly during the strike-torn 1981 season. The Mets landed in composite fifth place in the six-team NL East, at 41-62, prompting Torre's ouster. Atlanta too finished fifth, still competing however illogically in the NL West. Their 50-56 overall record led to Bobby Cox's firing by Braves owner Ted Turner, who then hired Torre.

Now the Braves would meet the Mets for the first time since their mutual shakeups. The 26-21 Mets sent Charlie Puleo to the mound. Bob Walk started for the 27-19 Braves, who began Torre's tenure by going 13-0.

With a John Stearns single, a stolen base and a Rusty Staub double, New York drew first blood, 1-0 after one. Jerry Royster walked and scored on Rafael Ramirez's doubled to tie it in the top of the second. Consecutive singles by Staub, Ellis Valentine and Hubie Brooks untied it the bottom of the third.

From there, the Mets were off the races, tallying twice in the fourth and four times in the sixth when Wally Backman doubled, Tom Veryzer singled him home, Mookie Wilson reached on an error, a Stearns double plated two, then George Foster singled him home.

A good day for the Mets offense.
Walk quickly yielded to Rick Camp, followed by Al Hrabosky and finally Preston Hannah.

Puleo pitched into the eighth inning before coming undone. He surrendered a single to ex-Met Claudell Washington, walked Glenn Hubbard and, after recording an out, walked Dale Murphy. A Larry Whisenton sac fly followed by a Biff Pocoroba double plated two runs and drove the Mets starter from the game. Craig Swan, rehabbing from a rotator cuff injury, finished up.

But by then in was New York 8, Atlanta 3. Valentine's two-run homer and a Washington solo shot made the final 10-4. Over and out.

The Mets' record stood at 27-21, the Braves at 27-20. After their 13-0 start, Atlanta' had won just 14 games while losing 20. The Mets, who started May at 10-11, had since gone 17-10.

Still, the arc of a baseball season is long and it bends towards talent, something Atlanta had in far greater abundance than New York.

Led by 1982 NL Most Valuable Player Murphy and a supporting cast that included Bob Horner, Chris Chambliss and 43-year-old knuckleballer Phil Niekro, who went 17-4, the Braves won the West with an 89-73 record.

The Mets finished a desultory 67-95, last in the East. Dave Kingman's 37 homers led the league, but his .204 batting average was the lowest ever for anyone who accomplished that feat.


The Memorial Day game was a full-blown father, mother, sister, brother nuclear family outing after which my parents -- in keeping with the theme of the day -- drove from Queens into Manhattan for dinner at Staub's restaurant, Rusty's.

Until we arrived, it hadn't occurred to me the ribs joint wasn't just popular with New Yorkers, but with the Mets themselves. The place was full of them. Pitchers Mike Scott, Tom Hausman, Jesse Orosco and Ed Lynch occupied a single table. I couldn't help but sneak glances in their direction, while a voice inside my head -- or maybe it was my mother -- reminded me that staring was impolite.

Waiting patiently outside the men's room...
Eventually, nature called and I made my way downstairs to the surprisingly small, single-occupancy men's room to take care of business. Once finished, I unlatched the door and found myself at eye level with the mid buttons of a silk shirt. I no longer recall if it was pink or gray, but it had an unmistakable sheen. Atop its buttons, above its collar was a familiar face, one I'd seen in that day's game program. It was the 6'-6" Lynch.

I stood, startled, staring, transfixed. "You're Ed Lynch," I stammered.

"That's right, I am." he replied.

"I was at the game today! You guys were great! I'm such a big fan! I..." Frankly, I've no idea what I actually said. At some point I stopped. At least I hope I did.

Then Lynch patiently asked, "Um... Can I get in there?"

Spell broken, we traded places. He shut the door and I scrambled back up the stairs to breathlessly tell my family about the encounter. I consciously avoid even furtive glances at Lynch's table. Finally, the check came, the bill was settled and my mother, my sister and I waited outside for dad while he got the car.

There we were, on the sidewalk, in front of the restaurant, in front of its big plate glass window, in full view of the pitchers.

"They're pointing at you and talking," my big sister said, maybe just teasing me. I didn't dare look.

-- Follow me on twitter @paperboyarchive