Saturday, December 22, 2018

MISL Launch -- The Birth of Big Time Indoor Soccer

PETE ROSE HAD at least a dozen kids in 1978. There were Buzz and Gene, Tony and Mark, Ty, Mario, John, Krys, David, Doc and two guys named Keith.

They weren't literal kids but Cincinnati Kids, one of the original six franchises in the Major Indoor Soccer League, the MISL that launched 40 years ago today.

From volume 1, issue 2 of Missile, the official
magazine of the Major Indoor Soccer League
Rose -- part owner of the Kids -- kicked out the first ball in the league's inaugural game against the New York Arrows at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island on Dec. 22, 1978.

His star power wore off quickly though as the host Arrows downed der fussball kinder 7-2 before 10, 376 curious onlookers.

A week later and 120 miles south, the Philadelphia Fever opened to a sellout crowd of 16, 259 at the Spectrum arena. Game on!

Indoor soccer, the mutant spawn of outdoor soccer and ice hockey: six guys per side, five chasing a bright red ball around an astroturf-covered NHL-size rink, trying to slam it off the walls, off each other, and into a 6 1/2-foot high by 12-foot wide goal set into the end boards and guarded by the sixth.

Human pinball.

Briefly dubbed hoc-soc -- a hat tip to its genetics -- the concept was tried out in 1971 by the Division I outdoor North American Soccer League. In the winter of '74, the NASL tried it again with a series of exhibition matches against a touring Soviet squad, most famously one with the Philadelphia Atoms that drew 11,790 fans to the Spectrum. That contest begot another the next year against the league's glamour franchise, the New York Cosmos.

Shep Messing, cover boy and interviewee
One of those watching was Ed Tepper who, together with his friend attorney Earl Foreman, recognized that with some rejiggering -- a bigger goal than used in those early matches, and four 15-minute periods rather than three 20-minute intervals -- they could create a fast-paced, high scoring version of soccer for American sports fans.

Foreman would be the MISL's founding commissioner, with Tepper as his deputy. The league, wherever possible, would rely on American players, a commitment mostly honored in the breach.

Still, its first signee was ex-Cosmos star goalkeeper Shep Messing, who once posed for Viva magazine wearing nothing but a soccer ball and would soon publish an autobiography, The Education of An American Soccer Player. He'd play for the New York Arrows.

In addition to New York, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, the founding franchises of the MISL included the Cleveland Force, Pittsburgh Spirit and Houston Summit Soccer, named for a home arena that would one day become evangelist Joel Osteen's megachurch.

They'd play a 24-game season capped by a two-tiered playoff in March 1979. With rosters dominated by members of the NASL's Houston Hurricanes and Rochester Lancers, the Summit and Arrows quickly became the class of the league.

Opening night highlights...
... and headlines.

Houston's biggest star was Finnish forward Kai Haaskivi. New York countered with Yugoslavian Steve Zungul, available to the new league only because he'd defected from his homeland and, at that nation's insistence, was then banned from outdoor play by FIFA.

Zungul's uncanny scoring ability would make him the greatest player in MISL history, while earning the nickname "the Lord of All Indoors." His Arrows wingman was Canadian teen sensation Branko Segota.

Other notable players that first year included Philly forward Fred Grgurev, who won the scoring title, posting 46 goals and 28 assists; Cincinnati's Ty Keough -- whose father Harry represented the U.S. in the 1950 World Cup tourney -- and Cleveland's British-born Alan Hamlyn, who received the Bronze Star for his military service in Vietnam after being drafted while still just a green card-holding U.S. resident.

In February, each team played an exhibition match against the Soviet Union's touring club, Spartak Moscow, which rampaged to a 5-1 record. They lost only to Houston, 7-5, and closed out their visit with excessive force, crushing Cleveland 20-2.

Spartak Moscow, the red menace
Houston paced the league with an 18-6 record, followed by New York, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Pittsburgh and Cleveland didn't make the post-season dance. In round one, the fourth-seeded Fever brought down the Summit, while the Arrows beat the Kids, setting up a best of three final between New York and Philly.

The Arrows won, two games to none, capturing the MISL's first championship. Zungul was its first MVP.

For the most part, MISL hit its target audience and by season's end, though its league-wide average attendance per game was just below 4,500, plans were unveiled to expand to Buffalo, Detroit and perhaps two more cities.

Rose's Kids --  undermined by the free agent baseball star's decision to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies and by their junior leaseholder status at the city's Riverfront Coliseum, which they shared with the doomed World Hockey Association's Cincinnati Stingers -- would not return for year two.

Defector, FIFA outlaw and lord of all indoors
Still, MISL management pressed ahead, adding five teams for a net total of 10,  the Detroit Lightning, Buffalo Stallions, Hartford Hellions, St. Louis Steamer and Wichita Wings. A year later they'd be in 12 cities, adding Chicago, Denver and Phoenix, while losing Pittsburgh and shifting the Summit to Baltimore and Detroit to San Francisco.

All of this ramped up the pressure on the already shaky NASL, which committed ever more to meeting the MISL threat on its own ice-covering artificial turf. Its resources largely depleted, the outdoor league which once boasted 24 franchises across the continent collapsed after its 1984 season.

Four of its franchises found refuge with the all-indoor-all-the-time MISL and suddenly the mutant spawn, playing a bastardized version of the world's most popular sport, was the top soccer league in America.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, December 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

So why go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, October 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were 13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and my pal made it home alive.

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

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

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

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, October 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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


Well. Well. Well.

On July 6, the White Sox hosted Major League Baseball's All-Star game. Marking the event's 50th anniversary, it had returned to its point of origin on the city's south side, Comiskey Park.

The hosts' sole delegate was rookie slugger rookie Ron Kittle.

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

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

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

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

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

The hurlers

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

And but for Baltimore, it might have been.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Follow me on Twitter @papaerboyarchive

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Dynasty Denied -- The Stunning Fall of the 1988 Mets

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

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

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

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

The swagger was back.

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

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

They wouldn't fully recover for a decade.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

What could possibly go wrong? Plenty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pine tar.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1989 and Thereafter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Police Play Shea and Sting Decides to Quit

IT WAS ON THAT DAY, GORDON SUMNER SAID, he decided to quit The Police.

Performing with bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers before 70,000 delirious fans* at a giant municipal sports stadium, Sumner -- aka Sting -- decided he'd reached the summit of his professional life. He was not yet 32 years old.

Summers, Sting and Copeland
on their terminal world tour
The date: August 18, 1983. The place: Shea Stadium in the New York City neighborhood of Flushing, Queens, home of Major League Baseball's New York Mets and the National Football League's New York Jets, both of whom were irrelevant to The Police. 

Two months into a planned 10-month, 107-date world tour, the band's one-night stand at Shea was part performance, part pilgrimage and part homage to The Beatles, who'd famously played there 28 years earlier. 

"We'd like to thank the Beatles for lending us their stadium," Sting said from the stage.

The Beatles. The Fab Four. Simultaneously the best and most popular rock or pop group of their era, they'd split up 13 years earlier.  While many groups and artists had since attained and held the world's attention -- the Rolling Stones, the Who, Bruce Springsteen, the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson with and without his siblings, Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Beach Boys to name a few -- none had yet shown the chart-dominating staying power of those cheeky lads from Liverpool, England.

Enter the London-birthed Police, a trio featuring the charismatic front man Sting on lead vocals and bass, Summers on guitar and Copeland on drums. Their first four albums had produced a string of hits including Roxanne, Can't Stand Losing You, Don't Stand So Close to Me and Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.

A 7-inch plastic piece of rock history
All of that paled in comparison to what came next: Synchronicity, a 10-song LP full of jukebox hits: Synchronicity II, King of Pain, Wrapped Around Your Finger and the omnipresent smash Every Breath You Take.

Conceptualized by psychologist Carl Jung and amplified by author Arthur Koestler's The Roots of Coincidence, Synchronicity was the notion that sometimes things happening at the same moment appear to be related events even if there's no causal connection between them. 

Every Breath You Take was everyone's simultaneous event, it's creepy stalker lyrics set against an utterly irresistible beat. The biggest hit single of 1983, it spent eight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. And that was just in the US. It also topped the charts in Canada, Ireland and South Africa, reached number 2 in Australia, Norway and Sweden, number 3 in France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands and copped the Grammy Award for song of the year. King of Pain quickly followed it up the charts, reaching number three.

In between those events, The Police headlined at Shea. Opening for them were Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Opening for her was a little-known band out of Athens, Georgia, that had cut just a single album titled Murmur. They were R.E.M., and amid late afternoon drizzle that summer day, the big, echoey concrete and steel ballpark in Queens swallowed them up. 

A band in a box: Sting, Copeland and Summers from the '83 tour book
Their day as the world's biggest band was yet to come.

While the Jets would abandon Shea for New Jersey's Meadowlands after the 1983 season, the ballpark continued on as home of the Mets and an occasional concert venue for another 25 years before being torn down and replaced.

Long Island native Billy Joel's two-night run in July 2008 closed out its musical history. In The Last Play at Shea, a documentary film recounting the stadium's role in rock, Sting revealed what he was thinking that rainy evening now 35 years ago, up on stage where the Fab Four once thrilled.

"I realized that you can't get better than this, you can't climb a mountain higher than this. This is Everest," he said. "I made the decision on stage that ok, this is it, this is where this thing stops, right now."

Though the tour continued on, The Police never made another album. Based on their five-LP canon, they made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Four years later, they were joined by R.E.M. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts finally arrived in 2015.

* Including me and my pal, Eddie, whose idea it was to get tickets. Thanks Big Ed!

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Friday, August 10, 2018

From Rectitude to Rapscallion with Patrick Stewart

"TEA. EARL GREY HOT!" Jean Luc Picard is coming back!

The always engaging Patrick Stewart
live on Broadway, circa Spring 2000
Sir Patrick Stewart will reprise his role as the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation character, he and CBS announced last weekend. But it's not for a Star Trek: The Next Generation project. It's for something... beyond.

Word is that a new CBS All Access program will fast forward to Picard's life years after his epic seven-year voyage as captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC 1701-D, a sort of a Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Generation, and hopefully not one in which he's an elderly man stricken with Irumodic Syndrome.

The prospect of Picard: The Sequel, (eat your heart out William Shatner) is all the more breathtaking when looking back at how far we've come from the prospect of some unknown balding, British, Shakespearean actor becoming the most respected and, arguably, the most beloved of all the captains in Trekdom (and arguably, the best actor to ever regularly grace a Star Trek series.)*

Larger than life, Jean Luc Picard has eclipsed pretty much everything else Stewart has every done. And he's done quite a lot. Here's a look back at some of his other career highlights:
  • Vladimir Lenin in the TV mini-series, The Fall of Eagles, in 1974
  • Oedipus Rex in a made for television Oedipus Tyrannus, in 1977
  • Narrator of a one-man rendition of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, seasonally on Broadway from 1991-1995 and again in 2001, with a movie version in between
  • Richard I in Robinhood, Men in Tights, the motion picture, 1993
  • Professor Charles Xavier in the Marvel X-Men movies starting in 1995
  • MacBeth, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2008
  • A totally different Vladimir -- opposite Sir Ian McKellen's Estragon -- in Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot,
  • More than 60 Royal Shakespeare Company productions; and
  • The voice of Poop, in The Emoji Movie last year.
Plus, for about 145 Broadway performances in the Spring and Summer of 2000, he was the libidinous Lyman Felt, in Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mt. Morgan.


Well, if Jean Luc Picard was the moral north star of the ST:TNG universe, Felt was his polar opposite. Felt was so un-Picard that if the two characters ever met and shook hands, the energy released by their mutual annihilation might power a starship. Really.

A ticket to 'Ride"
Miller's play opens with Felt, an insurance agent and bigamist, hospitalized after crashing his Porsche on the snowy, titular mountain. He awakens to find Theo, his wife of 30 years, has arrived from New York City.

Leah, his younger, prettier wife from Elmira, is there too.

This from a playwright who had three wives over his 89 years, leaving the first one for Marilyn Monroe.

Now conscious -- and cornered -- Lyman must account for his behavior to the icy, waspish old spouse played by Frances Conroy, and to her passionate rival played by Katy Selverstone.

“A man can be faithful to himself or to other people, but not to both,” he declared, according to a contemporaneous Variety review. Later, according to the same article, Felt likens a man to a 14-room house. “In the bedroom he’s asleep with his intelligent wife, in his living room he’s rolling around with some bare-ass girl, in the library he’s paying his taxes, in the yard he’s raising tomatoes and in the cellar he’s making a bomb to blow it all up.”

Top billing
Unrepentant, he wrings admissions and concessions from those around him. By play's end, Felt's not the only one who's morally compromised.

Refreshing as it was to see Steward playing against Picard-type, shifting from rectitude to rapscallion, the critics were somewhat divided. The New York Times liked it. New York Magazine? NotAfter 23 previews and 121 performances, it closed on July 23, 2000, the day after I saw it.

Two months earlier, after shedding his Felt persona for a curtain call, Stewart went full Picard and staged an insurrection.

He called out the show's producers -- including the powerful Shubert Organization -- questioning their commitment to the production.

"There are many elements that go into making a Broadway play a success. The casting, the direction, the design, the acting, the play. And in The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, we know we have an extraordinary, provocative and vastly entertaining play," the actor said.  "What is also needed is promotion and publicity. People need to be told that a play is out there. Arthur Miller and I no longer have confidence in our producers commitment to this production (especially the Shubert organization) or their willingness to promote and publicize it." 

Their backers were not amused and issued a statement asserting their commitment, "could not be stronger." Dragged before Actor's Equity, our captain, oh captain, apologized, later explaining it was the right thing to do.

* Honorable mentions to Leonard Nimoy, Avery Brooks and Michelle Yeoh.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Ten Weeks Before Bucky 'Bleeping' Dent...

"THE TWO OF THEM DESERVE EACH OTHER. One's a born liar, the other's convicted." --  New York Yankees Manager Billy Martin, July 24, 1978.

Combative Billy Martin,
from the '78 Yanks yearbook
Manager, yes, but not for long. At least not in that instance. The subjects of Martin's airport bar alcohol-fueled ire were his star outfielder, Reggie Jackson, and team owner George Steinbrenner. An unholy trinity, a year earlier they'd collaborated to bring the Bronx Bombers their first championship since 1962. The star burnished his Mr. October legend by closing out the series with three consecutive first-pitch homers in its last game.

But now, just past the halfway mark of a flagging title defense effort, egos clashed, nerves frayed and tempers boiled over. Jackson, mad at Martin for batting him low in the Yankees lineup, ignored his manager's instructions to swing away and bunted into a costly out during an extra-inning game.

The Yanks lost that July 17 game to the Kansas City Royals, 9-7, dropping them a season-worst 14 games behind the arch-rival first-place Boston Red Sox.

But appearances were not as they seemed. Changes significant and petty were afoot in both organizations, harbingers of a dramatic reversal of fortune that made this season the stuff of legend.*

The talkative Eck went 20-8 in 1978...
(from the Sox' 2nd edition yearbook)
Mr. October was suspended five games for insubordination. Upon his return, the star professed his innocence to the press. That touched off a Martin tirade during which he threatened to bench Jackson indefinitely even if it meant his own dismissal.

Hours later, after the Yanks thumped the White Sox, 7-2 in Chicago, the manager offered his fateful unfiltered remarks at an O'Hare International Airport bar before a flight to KC.

Four years earlier, Steinbrenner had pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's '72 reelection campaign and to obstructing justice. Martin, having just stepped on the boss's third rail, was as good as dead. Forty years ago this Tuesday, he tearfully resigned.

On the day of Martin's demise, the Sox were 63-33, 30 games over .500, enjoying a 5.5 game lead over the second place Milwaukee Brewers, but a slimmer 10.5 game bulge over the Yankees. Portentously, Boston had lost five straight during Jackson's forced sabbatical. (Cue the third-person omniscient: little did they know...)

... while the low key Guidry went 25-3.
(from the Yankees' yearbook)
Three years earlier, led by gold dust rookies Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, the Olde Towne Team had won the American League pennant then lost an agonizing 7-game World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. While the Big Red Machine rolled over the Yankees in four straight the next year, the Bombers rebounded to win it all in '77. Now the pendulum appeared Boston-bound thanks in large part to Rice.

The Boston left fielder was on fire. After 96 games, he was batting .322 with 24 homers and 81 runs batted in. He had a .606 slugging percentage and an OPS of .982. Bolstering his presence in the lineup, Lynn, perennial all star catcher Carlton Fisk and aging icon Carl Yastrzemski.

Dennis Eckersley led a starting rotation that included Luis Tiant, Bill "Spaceman" Lee and free agent signee Mike Torrez.

Playing .696 ball -- on pace to win 112 games -- on June 23, the Red Sox fatefully issued a revised 1978 yearbook, swapping out its original cover boy, Fisk, for one celebrating Rice. The second-edition Sox won just 51 more games, a .543 clip. The Yankees from that point played at a .627 clip. The race was on.

A revised yearbook, a reversal of fortune
They had replaced Martin with soft spoken Bob Lemon, who'd led the White Sox to a 90-win season in '77, only to be cashiered in early '78 when the South Side Hitmen got off to a bad start. Bill Veeck's loss was the Boss's gain.

Steinbrenner had his man. Freed from the Jackson-Martin power struggle, the Bombers reverted to championship form, with one notable exception who far exceeded those expectations.

Starter Ron Guidry, who'd gone 16-7 with a 2.82 earned run average and 176 strikeouts in 1977, was now almost unhittable. Amid all the tumult, he'd gone 14-1, with a 2.11 ERA before Martin's departure. He'd finish at 25-3, with a 1.74 ERA and 248 Ks, winning the American League Cy Young Award in a walk and nearly copping league Most Valuable Player honors too.

That MVP award went to Mr. Rice of Boston, who'd hit .315 with 46 homers and 139 RBIs. It was no consolation for what ensued after the yearbook was revised, the star suspended, the manager resigned.

Signed away from the Yankees
only to play a big role in their comeback
(from the Sox' 1st edition yearbook)
Sox fans had long been accustomed to seeing their team swoon. Seventy years removed from their last championship, they'd already endured Enos Slaughter's mad dash in '46, Bob Gibson's dominance in '67 and Ed Armbrister's interference in '75. None of that was adequate preparation for what was to come.

Swoon not withstanding, Boston enjoyed a nine-game lead over New York as late as Aug. 13. But, by Sept. 10, it was gone. Days later the Red Sox were 3 1/2 back with 15 games to play. Then, led by a pair of future hall-of-famers, Yastrzemski and Eckersley, they rallied while the Yanks faltered.

On Oct. 1, the season ended with both teams holding identical 99-63 records, setting up a one-game playoff to determine the AL East division champion. If you're a Sox fan, this is probably your stop. For the rest of you, it went like this:

That game was held on Oct. 2 at Fenway Park in Boston. Guidry, with 24 wins on the year, started for New York, while Torrez -- a 16-game winner who'd been a Yankee 12 months earlier -- went for Boston. After six innings, the Red Sox clung to a 2-0 lead on built on a Yastrzemski homer and an run-scoring single by Rice.

The mild-mannered nightmare of Red Sox nation
(from the Yankees' yearbook)
With one gone in the seventh, Torrez yielded back to back singles, as many as he'd allowed all game. He got pinch-hitter Jim Spencer on a fly to left for the second out, bringing up Yanks' light-hitting, ninth-hitting shortstop Bucky Dent.

Dent hammered a 1-0 pitch off his instep, tumbling to the ground in pain, pausing the game and any momentum Torrez might have carried into that moment for a full minute while New York's trainer applied a numbing agent.

The shortstop stepped back in the box, choked up on his bat and swatted the next pitch he saw into the screen above Fenway's 37-foot high left field wall for just his fifth homer of the year. It gave the Yankees a lead they'd never relinquish and made him persona non grata in New England forever.

* Supplanted as the Yankees' top reliever when the Yankees signed Goose Gossage, reigning Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle poured his ire into a best-selling tell-all about the '78, titled The Bronx Zoo.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Last Time the Stars Came Out in Washington D.C.

NOW A DECAYING HULK, the ballpark was then just eight years old. It's summer residents, the Washington Senators, were winning at last. Two days earlier, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had walked on the moon. It was party time in the nation's capital and Major League Baseball's best and brightest were coming.
You gotta have balls to play in the nation's capital

The date: July 23, 1969. The event: MLB's 40th All Star Game.  It would be Washington's fourth such affair and its last for nearly half a century. And it couldn't have come at a worse time for the host American League.

It was a time of National League dominance, the likes of which the mid-summer classic had never known. The so-called senior circuit had won each of the last six contests, 12 of the previous 15 and held an overall 21-17-1 advantage since the event's inception in 1933.

This sides for this outing at recently rechristened Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium were decidedly lop. Thirteen NL players were destined for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, five were in the starting lineup including pitcher Steve Carlton and catcher Johnny Bench. The AL squad had just six, battery not included.

Rain had postponed the match for a day. Now, with Richard Nixon off to welcome the astronauts home from Tranquility Base, Vice President Spiro Agnew thew out the first ball. Maybe they should have left him in.

The New York Yankees' Mel Stottlemyre started for the Americans. He immediately yielded a single to the Pittsburgh Pirates' Matty Alou, who'd bat .331 that year. Alou moved to second on ground out by the Chicago Cubs' Don Kessinger. He went to third on a wild pitch, then scored when hometown hero Frank Howard misplayed Hank Aaron's shot to left.

One hot dog and two Franks
The bottom of the first saw the AL send up a gold-plated trio: Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Frank Robinson. Hall of Famers all. Carlton set them down in order.

Cleon Jones of the New York Mets led off the second with a single. Bench's two-run belt brought him home. In the bottom of the frame, the 6'7" Howard -- aka the Washington Monument, aka The Capital Punisher -- took Lefty deep for shot of redemption. NL 3, AL 1 after two.

Any good feeling in the home dugout quickly dissipated.

Aaron started the third with a hit off the Oakland A's Blue Moon Odom. Then Cooperstown-bound Willie McCovey homered. An out, an error, a single and two doubles later, the National League had three more runs. Though Detroit Tigers catcher Bill Freehan replied with a solo shot, McCovey cracked his second round-tripper an inning later, this one served up by the Tigers' Denny McLain.

When Freehan's single -- off the peerless Bob Gibson -- drove in pinch runner Reggie Smith in the 4th, the game still had the look of slugfest. The Nationals had three homers and nine runs. The Americans had two taters and three runs. And the game wasn't half over.

Except that it was.

Both sides combined for just three hits the rest of the way, no more than one in any single frame. The Cleveland Indian's Sam McDowell, aka Sudden Sam, fanned four in two innings of work. He was one of three AL hurlers to hold the NL at bay.

Baseball and a tax break
The game ended with that same 4th inning score, 9-3. Knucksie Phil Niekro, he of 318 career wins, got the save.

Some of the senior circuit's gaudiest stars were relegated to just bit parts. Willie Mays pinch hit and skied to right. Ernie Banks pinch hit and lined out. In his lone plate appearance, Roberto Clemente fanned. Pete Rose, destined to be baseball's all-time hits leader and then a Hall of Fame pariah, popped out.

Tom Seaver, in the midst of a 25-win Cy Young Award season, never pitched.

Each of the junior circuit's future Hall inductees, including Carl YastrzemskiHarmon Killebrew and Brooks Robinson, went hitless.

McCovey, with his two homers and three runs batted in, was the game's most valuable player. By season's end, with a .320 average, 45 homers and 126 RBIs was the league's MVP too.

Cleon Jones hit .340 -- third best in the NL behind Rose, .348 and Clemente, .345 -- and caught the final out as the Miracle Mets won the World Series, 5 games to 1, over the Baltimore Orioles. It was their first winning season since their birth in 1962.

Bench and McCovey - two for the Hall
In between the mid-summer classic and the miracle, there would be "Vietnamization" of the war in southeast Asia, the Manson Family murdersHurricane Camille and Woodstock.

The host Senators, managed by Ted Williams -- aka the Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame and Ted Fucking Williams -- were never better, posting an 86-76 record. It would be their only winning season in 11 Washington campaigns.

By 1972, they were gone, relocated to Arlington, Texas, as the Rangers.

Having previously lost the original Senators franchise (sometimes confusingly called the Nationals) to Minnesota, the District of Columbia was left pining for a team to call it's own for 34 years.

In 2005 it got one, the Montreal Expos. They called RFK Stadium their home for three years before moving into the brand new Nationals Park. There the stars will come out again on Tuesday night.

Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive