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, @paperboyarchive.com

Saturday, June 17, 2017

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

HEY, DAD... WANNA HAVE A CATCH?

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.

Post-Game


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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

U2's Joshua Tree Turns 30 -- An Appreciation

IT STARTS WITH THE LOW METALLIC SOUND of something coming alive, dawning, surging with energy and with urgency. Over the first 1:46 it gains a rhythmic momentum. Then, at 1:47, it gains a voice:

"I wanna run, I want to hide.
 I wanna tear down the walls that hold me inside.
I wanna reach out,  and touch the flame,
where the streets have no name."


With that declaration -- 30 years ago this month -- U2's fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree, took off, catapulting the already-popular Irish rock group to global superstardom.

That cinematic first track, Where the Streets Have No Name, was a declaration of purpose. A sonic attack was coming, one aimed at the wide-open spaces of America.

U2 came, saw and kicked ass.

Four of the album's 11 tracks crashed the Billboard Hot 100. Two of them -- With or Without You and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For -- went all the way to the top, a pair of number one hits from a band that sounded nothing like other acts dominating the charts that decade.

They weren't synth pop like Michael Jackson, George Michael or Madonna. They weren't turn it up to 11 arena rockers like Asia, Journey or Bon Jovi or heartland rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seeger and John Mellencamp.

U2's sound was spare, almost martial, dominated by Bono's mournful voice alternately quiet and soaring, augmented by the reverb-heavy guitar play of a man called The Edge. They were backed by Adam Clayton on bass and Larry Mullen Jr. on drums. It was a classic Beatles-style line-up, but the output was otherworldly.

To be sure, this band hailing from Dublin, not Liverpool, hit singles and all was no singles act and the power of The Joshua Tree is in the sustained message and mood of its 51-minute run time. The magic was in its sequencing.

It plays like a great mix tape. For just what that means, we turn to an authority on that topic: Championship Vinyl used record store proprietor Rob Gordon:

"You've got to kick it off with a killer to grab attention, then you've got to take it up a notch, but you don't want to blow your wad, so then you've got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules."

High Fidelity, author Nick Hornby's ode to rock music and arrested development, wasn't published until 1995. The movie version, starring John Cusack as Gordon, wouldn't hit theaters until 2000, but by then the rules for track sequencing were already well established. And for whatever other conventions U2 may have discarded in their rise to planetary superstardom, they followed the mix tape formula to a tee on the Tree:

Side A:

Where the Streets Have No Name
I Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
With or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still

Side B:

Red Hill Mining Town
In God's Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Exit
Mothers of the Disappeared

Side A's first three tracks weave a kind of sonic spell, each song building on the one before it, until the discordant, wailing Bullet, (a song about the terrible might of American airpower) broke the spell. The side closes with an intimate ballad about a failing relationship -- or, some say, drug addiction -- or perhaps about anyone trapped by circumstance and losing ground, delivered in mostly hushed tones and quiet piano-led instrumentation, Running to Stand Still.

Side B is simultaneously more powerful and less cohesive, its emotional climax coming with the searing elegy One Tree Hill, reportedly recorded in a single take. The final cuts, Exit and Mothers of the Disappeared seem almost unworthy followers. Given all that came before them, what could?

The Joshua Tree album topped the charts in nine different nations including the U.S., U.K., Canada and New Zealand, but oddly stalled at number 3 in Australia, and won the 1987 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. An entire generation has been born, grown, gone through college, joined the workforce and started families since its release, yet it still sounds current. 

Now U2 is taking its timeless Tree back on tour.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, March 4, 2017

KISS Transformed! Marvel Comics Gives the Hard Rock Gods the Superhero Back Story They Deserve

 ALL THE GREAT SUPERHEROES have great back stories, origin stories: tales of blood and self-sacrifice and of science gone wrong.

Rock and roll heroes. Comic book heroes..

Superman was sent to Earth by his parents from the dying planet Krypton. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. Doc Bruce Banner, belted by gamma rays, turned into the Hulk and Bruce Wayne, eyewitness to his wealthy parents' murder, became the crime-fighting vigilante Donald Trump Batman.

But what about those heroes with mythic garb, great powers and guitars? What about KISS?

Born out of the New York City glam rock scene in 1973, the quartet -- Gene Simons on bass, on rhythm guitar Paul Stanley, on lead guitar Ace Frehley and the drummer, Peter Criss -- adopted outlandish on-stage persona: silver-trimmed black platform shoes, skin-tight costumes and full facial makeup that transformed them into the fire-spewing Demon, Starchild, Space Ace and Catman.

Within three years, the band released six albums with dynamic titles like "Hotter Than Hell," "Dressed to Kill," "Destroyer" (which included a love song called "Beth," their first top 10 hit), and "Rock and Roll Over."  But it was in in-concert double-LP "Alive!" -- featuring the timeless anthemic "Rock and Roll All Night" -- that launched them into the stratosphere.

Stanley, Criss, Frehley
and Simmons give blood
for the cause.
Membership in the Kiss Army fan club exploded. There were t-shirts to be worn, posters to be hung, lunch boxes to brandish, but something was missing: a backstory worthy of their renown.

Enter Marvel Comics.

While not yet the multi-media behemoth it became as part of the Disney empire, the 1970s saw Marvel's superhero stable ascendant. While the more staid DC comics universe still heavily relied on its Batman/Superman - Gotham/Metropolis polarity, Marvel's marvels were flawed, quirky, quarrelsome, sarcastic and self-deprecating. Some came from places you could actually visit, like Queens.

Now, the real life NYC denizens known as KISS would become part of that fantastical world. Their birthplace: a photo booth in the authentic Times Square arcade, Playland.

"A Marval Comics Super Special!" a first-of-its-kind magazine-sized publication, hit the news stands early in 1977. "Forty pages of full-color comics. Plus never-before-published photos and features. Printed in real KISS blood." Shout it out loud, indeed.

Inside, the story.

``Heads up Flaming Youth! Hither cometh they destiny!" an old blind man being attacked by sidewalk thugs shouted at the passing Stanley and Simmons before hurling to them an cube later identified as the Box of Khyscz.

Pursued into Playland, where they were already headed to meet Frehley and Criss, the foursome ducked into the booth to pry open the box. Inside were three wood-carved figures and black star -- the Talismans of Khyscz -- that instantly transformed whoever held them. Moments later... "in a paroxysm of thunder and lightening"... BOOM!*


And there they were.

Catman pouncing, Demon spitting flames, Star Child searing a man's soul and Space Ace teleporting them all to the momentary safety of Battery Park. There they soon meet the man claiming ownership of the Box of Khyscz, the Monarch of Latveria: Dr. Victor Von Doom.

The Wrath of Dr. Doom.
Through time and space they traveled, across pages and pages of adventure studded with cameos by Marvel A-list-ers: Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, plus the devil himself and a thuggish, jealous feline gangster, before their climactic confrontation with Dr. Doom in Chapter IV: "See Latveria and Die!"**

Forty years later, amid line-up changes and reformations, in make-up and not, KISS endures.

In 2014, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Their comic book debut: a keeper.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

* For those who dispute the educational value of comic books, I note the vocabulary-building word choice.

** Vaguely Baltic-sounding, Latveria may or may not have been an amalgam of Latvia and one of its neighbors, Lithuania or Estonia and may not have been under Soviet rule.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Girls! Girls! Girls! -- A special S.I. Swimsuit edition

Cover girl Carol Alt from the Feb. 8, 1982 issue
IN A WORLD WITHOUT the Internet, a dark time known as the '80s, there were only a couple of ways a clean-cut teenage boy could see pictures of beautiful, yet scantily-clad women.

You could find a sympathetic news stand cashier, willing to let you buy skin mags before you were old enough to shave. You could sneak a peak at your dad's stash of porn, or your big brother's or your degenerate friends, or your friends' dads and brothers, or you could wait patiently for that annual edition of Sports Illustrated issue that they too wanted to see: the Swimsuit Issue.

This was, back then, kind of a big deal... and a big departure from the magazine's steady winter diet of basketball and hockey, football and whatnot.. and for a teenage boy freed from not having to skulk around with contraband copies of Playboy, Penthouse and their smuttier kin, almost as good.

And so it was, in February 1982, that my treasured copy of S.I. arrived in the mail, with a cover photo devoted to lovely, one-piece-wearing Carol Alt, a supermodel who was, coincidentally, then married to star New York Rangers defenseman Ron Greschner. Joining Alt inside the covers was another future hockey wife, Kim Alexis, along with models Charissa Craig and Kathryn Redding, all cavorting in Kenya. 

The photos were inspiring, and even educational as I learned the French word for bathing suit is maillot (something my high school French teacher should have illustrated this way for mnemonic purposes). I also learned there are people who's job it was to design those barely-there outfits, among them Leah Gottlieb of Gottex fame and someone named Norma Kamali.
Charissa Craig in a Cole of California
Red-head Kathryn Redding in a
Marcia Friedman-designed
Le Bag maillot.

I also learned, as did S.I. editors, that not everybody appreciated the magazine's departure from its more standard fare, for sure as pitchers and catchers would soon arrive at Arizona and Florida spring training sites, Sports Illustrated's letters page would soon be populated with angry missives from folks expecting more wholesome, less immodest content.

Kim Alexis wearing Norma Kamali
But life moves on for teenagers and for supermodels, none of us being the static moments of our best selves for very long. Plus the web, being what it is, has effectively blunted whatever shock/moral outrage value accompanied a high bare skin-to-swim suit ratio of some S.I. photos.

Alexis, according to Wikipedia, was for a time married to Greschner's one-time Rangers teammate, Ron Duguay. Now she is a blogger at www.kimalexis.com. Alt too is writing at www.carolalt.com/blog. Charissa Craig is a real estate agent in northern New Jersey. Kathryn Redding was briefly an actress, featured in the 1981 Albert Finney/Susan Dey modeling-meets-sci-fi movie ``Looker.'' Beyond that, the readily-available public trail goes cold.

Duguay and Greschner, had their own modeling gigs of a sort.

Both men appeared in TV commercials for Sassoon jeans with Rangers teammates Phil Esposito, Anders Hedberg and Don Maloney. Duguay suited up for a 1979 spot, while the Alt spouse displaced him a year later.

But you didn't come here to read this or to see them. You came to look at the pictures.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Grit and Guts, Determination and Dominance: The 1981-82 Islanders' Record 15-Game Win Streak

THEY WON 15 STRAIGHT GAMES. Fifteen straight, with no overtime, no three-on-three cuteness and absolutely no shootouts. They were 15 wins earned the old fashioned way, with 60 minutes of grit and guts, dominance and determination. And it was, for a time, a National Hockey League record.

The Islanders 1981-82 Official Yearbook
That record-setting team was the 1981-82 New York Islanders, then in the midst of a four-year period when they were the best hockey team on earth.

They won four consecutive Stanley Cups -- a run of championships unequaled since by any North American major league sports franchise -- and bracketed that run with a year in which they had the league's best record but missed the finals and one where they made the finals for a fifth time, and lost to the rising Edmonton Oilers they'd beaten a year earlier.

As a franchise, they were never better than 35 years ago right now, when they were in the midst of that streak, which started Jan. 21 with a 6-1 drubbing of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two nights later, they beat the New York Rangers by the same score. Two more games followed against the Patrick Division rival Penguins, one at home, won 9-2, then one in Pittsburgh's Civic Center, affectionately known as the Igloo, where they won 6-3.

Over that four game skein, they'd outscored their opponents (mostly the flightless waterfowl), 27-7. And they were just getting started. Then:
  • a 4-2 win over the Minnesota North Stars at the Nassau Coliseum
  • a 7-6 triumph over the Washington Capitals at home, followed by
  • 5-2 over the Capitals at the Cap Center in Landover, Maryland, then
  • 6-2 over the Detroit Red Wings at home
  • 7-3 over the Buffalo Sabres at the Memorial Auditorium
  • 8-2 over the Chicago Blackhawks at the venerable Chicago Stadium
  • 8-2 over the Philadelphia Flyers back home
  • 9-1 over the Whalers at the Hartford Civic Center
  • 6-2 over the Penguins at the coliseum, and
  • 7-4 over the Flyers at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
With that Feb. 18 win in Philly, their 14th in a row, the Islanders tied an NHL record set by the 1929-30 Boston Bruins. Two nights later, they'd get the chance to break it at home against the lowly Colorado Rockies and their goalie, ex-Islander Glenn "Chico" Resch.

From the 1981-82
Official Islanders Yearbook

Tied at two late in the game, the Rockies would not yield and with only a minute left, the streak -- and the Islanders' chance to set a new record -- were in jeopardy. What happened next became, simultaneously, a part of team lore and a preview of post-season heroism.

New York defenseman Mike McEwen, acquired from Colorado a year earlier in for Resch and forward Steve Tambellini, picked up the puck in the Islanders' zone, passing it to star center Bryan Trottier, who carried it up ice with linemates Mike Bossy and John Tonelli both on his left flank.

Crossing the Colorado blue line, Trottier slid the puck left, to Tonelli, who fired a shot past two former teammates -- defenseman Bob Lorimer and a partially screened Resch, into the net at 19:13 of the third period.
John Tonelli takes flight
From an 82-83 season Islanders game program 

New York 3, Colorado 2.

Tonelli leaped with joy. He'd saved the streak and put the Islanders into the NHL record book. Though their skein would end with a 4-3 defeat to Pittsburgh the next night, two months later, the heroic and hard working left wing would save the Islanders season and their dynasty at the expense of those waddling birds.

But more on that another time.

The Islanders 15-game winning streak remained the NHL record for 11 years before being bested in 1992-93 by those same Penguins the Islanders had beaten so often during their run. Led by the legendary Mario Lemieux and a 21-year-old Czech forward named Jaromir Jagr, the Igloo 's inhabitants won 17 in a row to set a standard that endures to this day.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, February 12, 2017

"By George, We've Got It!" Not. Looking back at the '82 blockbuster that didn't make the Mets contenders

HE WAS AN ALL-STAR, a perennial MVP candidate and he was available.

Thirty-five years ago this month, the New York Mets made what was then the biggest -- and costliest -- acquisition in their history: left fielder George Foster, a man with such impressive power that he audaciously warned La Guardia Airport jet traffic not to fly too close to Shea Stadium when he was up, at his introductory press conference.

George Foster, with Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday, plus general manager Frank Cashen,
from the 1982 Mets yearbook.
Hyperbole? Sure. But not by much. In 1977, Foster walloped 52 round-trippers for the Cincinnati Reds -- a feat not accomplished since the legendary Willie Mays in 1965 -- hit .320 and drove in 149 runs, winning the National League Most Valuable Player award a year after finishing second to teammate Joe Morgan.

He finished sixth in MVP balloting in 1978, 12th in '79 and fell from consideration completely during a pedestrian 1980 when he still hit 25 homers and drove in 93 runs, but batted just .273.

Portrait in blue and orange
No matter.

In strike shortened 1981, Foster slammed 22 home runs, drove in 90 and hit .295 in 108 games for the shortchanged Reds, who had the misfortune to compile baseball's best record in a year when that didn't mean a guaranteed post-season playoff spot. He finished third in MVP voting behind future Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Andre Dawson. The 33-year-old seemed sure join them some day in Cooperstown.

If the '81 season was a cruel one for the Reds, the off-season was worse. The always bountiful New York Yankees signed away two thirds of Cincinnati's starting outfield, center fielder Ken Griffey and right fielder Dave Collins, and Foster was due for a raise. Two years earlier, they'd seen spark plug Pete Rose leave for a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

After being the NL's dominant team during the 1970s -- accruing two championships, four pennants and six division titles -- the Reds were in the unaccustomed position of being desperate.

Karmic payback is a bitch.

Five years earlier the Mets had maneuvered themselves into a corner with superstar pitcher Tom Seaver, who sought a three-year, $600,000 contract the team wasn't willing to offer. At an impasse, they dealt him to the Reds on June 15, 1977 for reigning rookie-of-the-year pitcher Pat Zachry, infielder Doug Flynn and outfield prospects Steve Henderson and Dan Norman.

Now it was Cincinnati's turn to beg for a fair return, albeit with a catch. The Mets also had to make a deal with Foster. He would not come cheaply.

Briefly happy new manager George Bamberger
with g.m. Cashen, from the '82 yearbook
The Seaver trade, plus another made the same day off-loading moody slugger Dave Kingman, had heralded the start of a string of last place and near last finishes and the end of the franchise's original ownership.

Upon acquiring the team in 1980, Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon promised fans they'd make it a winning one.
In exchange for relief pitcher Jim Kern (acquired for Flynn in an earlier off-season trade), catcher Alex Trevino and ambidextrous pitcher Greg Harris, the downtrodden Mets acquired in Foster, a star player still in his prime, something they'd needed and lacked since Seaver left.

Wilpon and Doubleday agreed to pay him $10 million over five years.

Comic strip author-philosopher Charles M. Schulz once observed there was no greater burden than a great potential.

Foster was a man so burdened.

He would be the backbone of a batting order that was to include Kingman, reacquired a year earlier from the Chicago Cubs for Seaver-trade acquisition Steve Henderson, plus cannon-armed right-fielder Ellis Valentine, also acquired in 1981 for Seaver deal piece Dan Norman, and reliever Jeff Reardon. They'd bolster a lineup that included speedsters Mookie Wilson and Wally Backman, plus sophomore third-baseman Hubie Brooks, who hit .307 as a rookie.

The enigmatic Ellis Valentine.
From the Mets 1982 Team Photo Album
Veteran Craig Swan would lead a starting rotation that included a former Cy Young award winner Randy Jones, and a future winner, Mike Scott. Young relievers Neil Allen and Jesse Orosco would anchor the bullpen.

Their manager would be Staten Island native George Bamberger, a former Milwaukee Brewers manager coaxed out of retirement by General Manager Frank Cashen after suffering a heart attack.

In time, the Mets would make Bamberger suffer too.

Swan won 11 games and Allen saved 19, but the pitching staff suffered from a lack of the one thing the Mets looked to have in abundance: offensive support

Valentine, who never regained his form after a 1980 beaning, batted a punchless .288 with just 23 extra-base hits including eight homers and 48 rbis. Brooks trailed off to .249 while Kingman performed the rare feat of leading the NL in home runs with 37, while batting just .204, worse than NL Cy Young winner Steve Carlton of the Phillies, who hit .218. Kong also drove in 99 runs.

Foster, in his first season as the Mets main man, batted a paltry .247, with just 13 home runs, 25 more extra-base hits and only 70 runs batted in, making him the team's second-best power hitter behind Kingman. Valentine's eight round-trippers placed him third. No other Mets batter had more than five homers, though Wilson set a team record with 58 stolen bases.

As a team they won 65 games and lost 97, finishing dead last in the NL East, eight games behind the fifth-place Cubs.
Dave Kingman, aka Kong, aka Sky King,
from the Mets 1982 Team Photo Album
In perhaps the highlight of a lost season, utility man Joel Youngblood started in centerfield for the Mets' August 4 day game in Chicago, got one hit in two at bats before being pulled, mid-game, because he'd been traded to the Montreal Expos. The erstwhile outfielder jetted to Philadelphia in time to join that night's game where he had a pinch single, becoming the first player in big league history to have hits for two different teams in two different cities on the same day.

Foster's power numbers improved in '83, as he stroked 28 homers and drove in 90 runs, though his average fell to .241. Talent around him improved too as rookie right fielder Darryl Strawberry arrived from the minors and Allen was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for first baseman Keith Hernandez. Seaver was reacquired from Cincinnati after a career-worst 5-13 season.

That help arrived too late for the other George, Bamberger, who stayed just 46 games -- long enough to pencil in a line-up that included Foster, Kingman and Strawberry, but not Hernandez -- before quitting with the team at 16-30 and again mired in last place. He told the press he'd had enough.

Foster lasted until mid-1986, the year the Mets finally fulfilled the Wilpon/Doubleday promise and won it all, by which time he'd become an unhappy spare part in an offensive machine. Batting .227 with 13 homers and 38 rbis, he was released on August 7. Signed by the Chicago White Sox, he appeared in 15 more games before his career ended that year at age 37.

In 1984, his most complete Mets season, Foster batted .269 with 24 home runs and 86 runs batted in, helping the team to win 90 games and lose just 72 for new skipper Davey Johnson, but he was never was the menacing all-star offensive presence he'd been while with the Reds.

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