Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cali Coda: Kingman's Career Flickers Out in Phoenix

FOR DAVE KINGMAN, THE END CAME SUDDENLY, unceremoniously and ignominiously. When he played his last game for the Oakland Athletics in 1986, nobody eligible for baseball's Hall of Fame had hit as many home runs as him, 442, and been denied induction. And nobody had ever hit so many homers in a single season, 35, and not played again in the majors.

1979 -- Kingman's Peak
.288, 48 HRs, 115 RBIs
Surely, there would be another chance for the rangy slugger whose long-limbed upper-cut swing could seemingly send horsehide spheres rocketing into orbit. Besides, when he'd signed with the A's just two years earlier, Kingman had one of his best years, batting .268, blasting 35 homers and driving in a career-best 118 runs.

The home runs kept coming, precisely 100 over three seasons in the East Bay, but that's where the good news ended for the man variously known as Kong and Sky King. As the A's primary designated hitter in '86. he'd batted just .210 and, while he drove in 94 runs, he'd struck out 126 times and had an on-base percentage of just .255.

Kingman, who had a history of stormy press relations,  also sent a live rat, in a pink box, to a female sportswriter. Unamused, the A's fined him $3,500 and threatened to release him if he ever did something like that again. When his contract expired at season's end, Oakland opted to let Kong go, replacing him with another aging slugger, Reggie Jackson, who starred for the A's in the early 1970s.

Surely somebody was in the market for his occasionally electrifying displays of power. But Kingman -- turning 38 and just 58 homers shy of the 500 mark that could potentially punch his ticket to Cooperstown -- had no takers.

Before there were Arizona Diamondbacks...
His 16-year-career, bounding from the San Francisco Giants to the New York Mets, to the San Diego Padres, to the California Angels, to the New York Yankees, to the Chicago Cubs, back to the Mets then to the A's, appeared over.

But not quite yet.

In early July, he signed a minor league contract with his original team, the Giants. Sky King would DH and play first base for their AAA affiliate, the Phoenix Firebirds. There he'd try to rise from the ashes for one more shot at the bigs.

Kong's last call would last about three weeks, during which he'd bat just .203 -- against minor leaguers on the way up and retreads trying to prolong their careers just as he was -- with two homers and 11 RBIs. In 59 at bats, he fanned 12 times.

On Sunday night, Aug. 2, he played first base for the Firebirds as they took on the Los Angeles Dodgers' top farm club, the Albuquerque Dukes, losing 6-5. In what may have been his last at bat as a pro, against former big league reliever Pete Ladd, mighty Kingman struck out. Two days later, having not played again due to a toe injury, he exercised an escape clause in his contract and released himself.
No rising from the ashes on this night.


Except for this: It was later adjudged the the 86-87 off-season was one in a series where Major League Baseball's owners colluded to hold down salaries and deliberately avoided bidding against each other for free agents.

Though in retrospect, Kingman's career appeared to end on its merits, he was only in Phoenix because no big league team offered to sign a man who'd just finished second in the American League and third in the majors in home runs.

His Firebirds fadeout followed the conspiracy that consigned him there.

In 1995, eight years after his career was euthanized by Pete Ladd in the Arizona desert, arbitrator Thomas Roberts awarded Sky King $829,850 in damages.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Devon White, Breakfast of Champions

CANNIBALISM CAN RUN THE GAMUT from tribal to survival -- think the Donner Party, or Alive! by Piers Paul Read --  to the sci-fi horror of Soylent Green.* It seldom comes up** in conjunction with baseball.

Breakfast of A.L. West Champions
Leave it to the California Angels to fill that void.

In 1987, the defending American League West champs had a new star. His name was Devon White, and he played one of the virtuoso glamour positions in baseball: centerfield, that place rhapsodized in song by John Fogerty. Centerfield, that verdant expanse manned by men like Tris Speaker and Joe DiMaggio, by Willie, Mickey and the Duke.

And now White, a 24-year-old Jamaican-born switch-hitting blend of defense, speed and some offensive pop who grew up in New York City, cheering for Mays and the New York Mets

Going into action on July 31, the Angels' newfound phenom was hitting a solid .284, with 18 homers, 22 steals and 64 runs batted in. That night, against the visiting Seattle Mariners, White would bat clean-up just behind the prior year's phenom, Wally Joyner, who'd finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting to the Oakland Athletics' Jose Canseco.

But how best to market the multi-talented Mr. White? The Angels solution was to make him a commodity. Big league slugger Dave Kingman once said athletes were pieces of meat. California went to a different trading pit and came back with cereal. On the cover of the Halo Magazine game program, they would sell their outfielder not as an image on a box, but as the food itself. White as Wheaties, breakfast of A.L. West champions.

Friday night, lights.
"The crunchy whole wheat flakes breakfast of the Angels," boasted the box-mocking magazine cover. "Power, speed, defense from 100 percent whole wheat."

Start your day right, with a bowl of Devon White.

Net weight, 170 lbs. Kind of big to lug home from the Kroger or Safeway, but a good fit for the fully-enclosed Anaheim Stadium shared in that era by the National Football League's Rams.

That night the Angels tattooed the Mariners, 8-2, before 32,471 people. White and Joyner hit back-to-back homers off Seattle starter Scott Bankhead in the third inning and after a Mark McLemore sacrifice fly scored Bob Boone in the fourth, Bankhead exited with Anaheim ahead, 4-0.

The Angels' nutritious outfielder finished the night 1-4, with that round-tripper and two runs batted in. He was also caught stealing because, well... it happens.

Allowed to play out the season without being devoured by teammates, opponents or fans, White finished with slightly soggier stats than that end of July snapshot: a .263 average with 33 doubles, 24 homers, 87 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. He finished fifth in A.L. rookie of the year balloting won by the A's Mark McGwire.
The original scoreboard,
exiled to the parking lot post-enclosure

California would tumble to 6th place in the seven-team division, finishing 75-87, ending the career of veteran manager Gene Mauch.

White played three more years in Anaheim, winning two gold gloves for defensive excellence and being selected to the A.L. all star team once before being traded to Toronto in a lopsided trade where the primary return was outfielder Junior Felix, who'd be out of the majors by 1995.

White won five more gold gloves with the Blue Jays while making the remarkable seem routine, qualify for the all star team again and be part of two World Series winners, proving more champion than breakfast.

He won another title in 1997 as a member of the National League's Florida Marlins and retired in 2001 after spending his last year with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was 38. Today, he's the hitting coach for the Blue Jays' AAA affiliate Buffalo Bisons.

* Spoiler alert!
**Seldom, but not never.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Go Ahead... Make My Sundae - Gone Cali '87, Part VI

TWO YEARS AFTER MAKING "CITY HEAT," Clint Eastwood told an entire town to cool it.

Clint Eastwood: mayor. ice cream vigilante
The place was Carmel by the Sea, on the south shore of California's Monterrey Peninsula, a berg famous for its setting, its arts scene and -- for a time -- its prohibition on the sale of ice cream cones on its streets.

Eastwood -- an actor, director and Carmel resident -- changed all that in 1986 when he ran for mayor of the tiny coastal municipality and won. Then the man famous for playing Dirty Harry, decided to mess up the town.

He'd take out the ice cream ban.


To be sure, the reason behind the rule wasn't just some case of absurd nanny-state fastidiousness run amok. According to a contemporaneous Los Angeles Times story, the denial of an ice cream stand permit -- and all of the resultant publicity it occasioned -- was prompted by concerns about water consumption in a time of drought.

But that wasn't all Eastwood did. Sixteen months into his term, the New York Times reported, the actor-turned-mayor had, "provided more public toilets, built new stairways to the town beach and expedited previously stalled efforts to expand Carmel's library."

Still, Eastwood served just a single two-year term as mayor of the mile-square city, population 4,000 or so, before returning to the serious work of acting and directing.

During his tenure though, local artist Jim Miller had made up a commemorative poster, which then became the cover of the Carmel tourist guide. The poster's tagline, not included on the guide's version, promised, "Law, Order and Ice Cream."

The image of a bearded, six-gun wielding, western hat-wearing Eastwood, was apparently inspired by promotional art for films like A Fist Full of DollarsHigh Plains Drifter, and The Outlaw Josey Wales, but with a twist -- or more appropriately, a triple scoop -- vanilla or perhaps butter pecan ice cream cone in his left hand.

Do you feel like sprinkles today, punk?

Inside, the publication promising directions, maps and essential information, included not one but two articles on where to find ice cream, together with a conspicuously placed ad to underscore the point.

As the man said, "go ahead, make my sundae."

-- Follow me on Twitter

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Reggie, The Original Bash Brother, Comes Home

REGGIE JACKSON CAME HOME in the summer of 1987. Not to Wyncote, PA, where he was born 41 years earlier and grew into a prodigal multi-sport star at nearby Cheltenham High School, but to Oakland, CA, where that star became one the biggest, brightest and brashest in the nation, while playin' for the Swingin' A's.

Between 1971 and 1975, he'd led them to five straight first place finishes, and from '72 to ''74, three consecutive championships, then he was gone, traded just before opening day 1976.
Reggie Jackson of the 1987 Oakland Athletics.

Now he was back, at the end of a career that saw him play for a total of 12 division winners, six pennant winners and five World Series winners (though an injury kept him out of action in the 1972 tilt against the Cincinnati Reds).

Home, after four American League home run titles and the 1973 AL Most Valuable Player award.

Home, after 14 All Star Game selections and two World Series MVP awards, the second of which came after he crushed the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting three round trippers in three swings to close out the 1977 fall classic.

Home after a year in Baltimore, five in the Bronx and five more in Anaheim, playing for the argumentative Earl Weaver, the tempestuous Billy Martin, the calming Bob Lemon, the defiant Dick Howser and the luckless Gene Mauch. Home after playing for Charlie Finley, George Steinbrenner and Gene Autry.

Home as Mr. October, as the self-proclaimed "Straw that Stirs the Drink." Home as a candy bar.   "When you unwrap a Reggie Bar, it tells you how good it is," his Hall of Fame teammate Catfish Hunter once said. Now, in his final season, Reggie no longer needed to be the bonbon, the straw or even a main ingredient in the Oakland Athletic's potent cocktail, he just needed to be in the mix.

Managed by future Hall member Tony La Russa, the A's franchise was on one if it's periodic upswings, if not yet at its peak. First-baseman Mark McGwire, 23, was in the midst of a freshman campaign that would see him hit .289 with 49 homers and 118 runs batted in, winning Rookie of the Year honors. Behind him, 1986 AL Rookie of the Year Jose Canseco, just 21 and on his way to belting 31 round-trippers and driving in 113. Together they were The Bash Brothers.

McGwire, Canseco and Reggie, men who would combine for 1,608 home runs over their careers, together in one Athletics line up. Surely somewhere Jimmie Foxx was lacing his cleats.

Joining them: 1979 co-RotY shortstop Alfredo Griffin and 1981 AL batting champ Carney Lansford, starting pitcher Dave Stewart -- embarking on the first of his four consecutive 20-win seasons -- and Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley.

"I think the ingredients are all here for me to have a good year," Jackson, bash brother emeritus, said in one of two features about him in the game program for July 27, 1987, when his team hosted the California Angels at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum.

The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum,
July 27, 1987

The A's, behind Stewart, cruised to a 6-1 win that night. Only catcher Terry Steinbach homered for the home team. Shortstop Gus Polidor struck a blow for the visitors.

Jackson -- batting sixth -- struck out four times (a drop in his MLB-record bucket of 2597 Ks, which still stands today). He ended the night hitting a discouraging .203. For the year, he batted .220 with 15 homers and 43 RBIs. In 336 at bats over 115 games, he struck out 97 times.

Though La Russa's squad would go just 81-81 that year, the table had been set, the appetite whet. Starting in 1988, the franchise strung together three straight pennants, repeating the feat accomplished by Jackson's A's of the '70s, and win the 1989 World Series.

Reggie finished his illustrious career with a .262 batting average, 563 homers and 1,702 runs batted in. He also had 18 round-trippers and 48 RBIs in 77 post-season games, 10 of those clouts in the series. He made the Hall in 1993.

The Coup

Two weeks before my visit, stop four on my California/ballpark tour, the Coliseum had hosted Major League Baseball's All Star Game, further proof the sometimes moribund A's, whose attendance had dipped to 306,763 for the entire 1979 season, were on the rebound. For those of us who care, the All Star Game program -- in this era before eBay -- was a trophy worth hunting.

The trophy
Mid-game, I chatted up one of the souvenir stand vendors about the ballpark -- better than its reputation -- and the stadium food -- more adventurous than I'd seen elsewhere -- and finally rounded to the subject of the A-S program.

He said he had none and directed me down the concourse, past the first aid station and through a door where I found myself in a souvenir stock room.

"Hi. Mike sent me," I told a woman behind the counter, feigning a casualness I didn't feel. "I'm looking for an All Star Game program."

She dropped back into the steel shelving behind her and reappeared moments later, program in hand.

"Do you work here?" she asked, looking me over.

"No," I replied.

"Five dollars," she said. I handed over the money, suppressed a smile and walked out. Quickly.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Humm... Baby," The Thrill and One Flap Down... Then "Where's Our Car?" -- Gone Cali 1987, Part IV

WILL "THE THRILL" CLARK never made baseball's Hall of Fame. Neither did Jeffrey Leonard, he of the notorious home run trot, "one flap down."

But those men,  a white southerner and black northerner who openly clashed with each other in 1987 made the San Francisco Giants into a team to be reckoned with.

Humm, baby. Humm, baby? Yes. Humm, baby.

A mid-summer day's twin-bill.
It had been 16 years since the Giants made the post season, a quarter century since their last World Series appearance, a seven-game loss to the New York Yankees.

Despite the presence, at various times, of Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, of Garry Maddox and
Gary Matthews, of Dave Kingman, of Bobby Bonds then Bobby Murcer, of  John Montefusco and Vida Blue, the Giants had long languished in baseball's shadows.

Across San Francisco Bay, the Oakland A's had a string of five straight playoff appearances and three consecutive championships. Within the National League West, the Giants had been totally eclipsed by the long-time rival Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds. In fact, every NL West team had finished first at least once since the San Franciscans had last managed the feat: the Reds in '72, '73, '75, '76 and '79,  the Dodgers in '74, '77, 78, '81,'83 and '85, the Houston Astros in '80 and '86, the Atlanta Braves in '82 and the San Diego Padres in '84.

The title merry-go-round was spinning and the Giants weren't on it.

Change came midway through the disastrous 1985 season when a 62-100 record landed them in the NL West basement. After 144 games, they fired manager Jim Davenport and hired sagacious Roger Craig. The pitching anchor of the original and terrible New York Mets, Craig suffered through back-to-back 20-loss campaigns. He knew about adversity. His approach: stay positive.

Candlestick Park, July 26, 1987. Announced attendance: 41,256

At spring training 1986, he called journeyman catcher Brad Gulden "humm baby," for still giving 110 percent effort in a career nearing its end. According to legend, the phrase was a contraction and corruption of the sandlot shout of encouragement, "C'mon, baby!"

By 1987, the Giants had a team full of humm babies led by the veteran outfielder Leonard, 31, and Clark, 23, who'd starred at Mississippi State and -- as the Giants were bottoming out in '85 -- won the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur ballplayer in America.

Humm, baby indeed.

By July 26, though just one game over .500, the 49-48 Giants trailed the first place Reds by just a single game. On that day's schedule: a double-header with the NL East-leading St. Louis Cardinals at windswept Candlestick Park.

They were about to ignite.

Rallying back from a blown 2-1 lead, the Giants took the opener in 10 innings on a walk-off, three-run homer by The Thrill. Then, though the Cards struck first in game two, they were decked, 5-2, with Clark clubbing his second round-tripper of the afternoon.

From there, the team went 39-24, overtaking the Reds by six games to win the West. Awaiting them in the NL Championship Series: the Cardinals. Now it was Jeffrey Leonard's turn to shine.

The Pride of the Giants, until he wasn't.
Leonard, like Clark, was blunt-spoken. If you liked it, fine. If not? Too bad. The Cardinals were not fans. The St. Louis fans were not fans.

Over the 7-game series, the Giants outfielder torched Cardinals pitchers for four home runs, each punctuated by a somewhat leisurely tour of the bases, his left arm at times deliberately slack at his side. One Flap Down, again and again and again. For the series, Leonard batted .417 with 10 hits in 24 at bats, including those round-trippers. He walked three times, scored five runs and drove in five.

While Leonard's efforts earned him series most valuable player honors, it wasn't enough to carry the Giants past the Cards. They lost in seven games. In mid June of the next season, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for utility man Ernie Riles.

Clark would lead the Giants to the pennant in 1989, where they were swept by the A's in a series mostly remembered for the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that interrupted it. Leonard, by then, had migrated to the Seattle Mariners, but the former teammates' enmity remained.

Long since retired, both men have found other causes for which to fight. Leonard and his wife Karen founded the One Flap Down charity, now known as One Fabulous Day, dedicated to helping single parents battling cancer. Clark and his wife Lisa are combatting autism.

The Giants finally won the series in 2010 and again in 2012 and 2014.

First Person

Where did we park?
That first game of the July 26 twin-bill was the third stop on my 1987 California/ballpark tour. Me and my pal, photographer Chris Stanley, had been running at breakneck speed, seeing everything we could see in between scheduled ballgames. This day was no exception. 

We arrived at the 'stick just before game time and after Will thrilled, we left, only to realize we'd no idea where we'd parked. With most attendees staying put for game two, we roamed the wind-swept asphalt for 45 minutes, searching for our rental car, a gold Chevrolet Corsica. 

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Gone Cali 1987, Part III -- In Which Two Kids Drive Up to a Nuclear Missile Base and Ask for the Tour

STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND had a pretty awesome logo. It was a shield featuring an iron-gloved hand clutching three lightening bolts and an olive branch, set against a blue sky with white clouds. Everything about it says "might."

Nothing about it suggests "Welcome."

Naturally, when my buddy Chris and I -- a couple of recently-certified college graduate geniuses -- happened across that symbol of American power affixed to a fieldstone wall near an entrance to the Vandenberg Air Force Base, we had to visit.

It was a sunny July day in 1987. Turning off California's Highway 1 just north of Lompoc, we pulled up to the guardhouse.

"Hi, we're here for the tour," one of us announced cheerfully to a uniformed guard.

"Tour?" came the predicable response (predictable to anyone but me and Chris). "We don't have a tour."

"Oh." Came the reply, "Can we just look around?"

"No," the guard said. "But you can have this map."


Oh clueless innocence. How does one react, 30 years later, to the dawning realization we'd been quickly sized up as rubes too naive to pose any sort of threat to national security? I guess it's better than being surrounded by armed MPs and taken into custody for questioning.

Strategic Air Command -- or SAC, for short -- was the U.S. Air Force Command responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles and its strategic bomber fleet. Remember Atari's Missile Command? Remember that cute Matthew Broderick/Ally Sheedy movie WarGames? This was a combination of those things (minus the WOPR) but real.

Global thermonuclear warfare. The only way to win was not to play. The very existence of SAC -- its effective deterrence -- made that strategy a winning one.

Vandenberg AFB was a key element of SAC and of deterrence, and was used as a testing site for Thor, Atlas and Titan missies, the later two later doing double-duty as launch vehicles for NASA's Project Mercury solo orbital space flights and its two-man Gemini missions.

Vandenberg was also the proving ground for the Minute Man and Peace Keeper ICBMs.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, target audience for all that might and deterrence prompted a reordering of the U.S. Air Force command structure and, in 1992, SAC was dissolved. Vandenberg remains, now primarily used for military space launches.

Barred from admission that July day, Chris and I took our handout map (I'm guessing we weren't the only ones to get them), took a few snapshots at the gate and went on our way.

Now, perhaps, its time to go back. Apparently they have a tour.

--  Follow me on Twitter

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, Quicksilvers and EarthQuakes: Looking Back at the 1977 NASL

"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.

Still, the pitching match-up promised a good game and the hurlers didn't disappoint.

Graig Nettles: captain, coverboy
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 one hit since their third inning outburst, were in trouble. This wasn't 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