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 1982 blockbuster 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.

-- Follow me on twitter @paperboyarchive