Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Two of my favorite athletes: the NY Islanders' Pat LaFontaine and the NY Yankees' Don Mattingly

Pat LaFontaine with the NY Islanders.
I hear news that people are moving to end the NHL lockout. I hope it's not just a rumor but a reality because this is just insane. No one wins in a lockout. While waiting for this to end, I was visiting my favorite New York Islanders blog, Lighthouse Hockey, when I got nostalgic watching Bob Nystrom score the winning goal for the Isles' fourth straight Stanley Cup in 1983. I have made no bones about cribbing Ateneo's The Drive for Five theme from the Isles' ill-fated 1984 campaign where they lost to the Edmonton Oilers who began their own four-peat. My favorite Islander is and will always be Pat LaFontaine. This 5'10" center played for New York from 1983-1991; literally through my high school and college life. When the Isles' Drive for Five ended in a Game 5 5-2 loss, I wept as I watched the Oilers lift the Stanley Cup. I thought that after the Isles won Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals 6-1 that they were going to steamroll Edmonton after all they only lost Game One 1-0. But that was it. The Oilers dominated them the rest of the way although LaFontaine shone in those final matches. 

I guess that is the way a dynasty should end with everyone who helped win those four titles back for one last fling. But LaFontaine carried those Isles and I will not forget New York's drive for another Stanley Cup during the 1986-87 season. That of course, will be remembered for the Easter Epic; a Game 7 played between New York and the Washington Capitals. The Isles won Game 7 when LaFontaine's slapshot hit the back of the net against Caps netminder Bob Mason who did not see the shot as he was screened following an earlier Isles' attempt. The 3-2 win in four overtimes took six hours and 18 minutes to complete. 

LaFontaine would leave the Isles after the 1991 season where he would play for New York's two other teams -- the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers -- making him one of four players to to do with the others being Martin Biron, Jason Dawe, and Mike Donnelly. He only played in one Stanley Cup Finals during the course of his career and when I think of LaFontaine, I also remember the Yankees' Don Mattingly who also played at the same time.

Mattingly was a part of those New York teams that won more games than any other MLB club in the 1980s without winning a World Series title. Those years were painful to follow as well (just as the Isles slid into mediocrity). Donnie Baseball finally made the playoffs in what would be his final season in 1995. That year, the Yankees finally made it to baseball's second season, their first since the 1981 loss to the LA Dodgers. Mattingly played well in his only post-season series against the Seattle Mariners but New York lost in five games after Edgar Martinez lined a double to left field that scored Joey Cora and Ken Griffey Jr. for a 6-5 win. 
Don Mattingly played 1B for the Yankees.

Donnie Baseball mulled retirement all the way to spring training of the following season where he decided to not play. And he missed out on the Yankees' incredible season as they came back from a 0-2 hole to beat the Atlanta Braves 4-2 in the World Series. 

How ironic is it when Mattingly missed out on a championship when he could still clearly play. When he joined Joe Torre on the bench as a coach for the Yankees in 2004, they were already removed from their title days. That season was when the Boston Red Sox finally reversed the Curse and won the World Series. When Mattingly left New York when Joe Girardi was chosen over him to succeed Torre as Yankees' manager in 2008, the Bronx Bombers won the title again in 2009. I was happy for the Yanks but felt sad for Donnie who missed out again. 

Donnie will always be one of my favorite New York Yankees while LaFontaine is tops (Rick DiPietro is second). Interestingly, my two fave Isles never won a Stanley Cup. How about that? But win or lose, you root for them, right? Amazing how I thought about these two icons of the Big Apple on a day I think of the NHL lockout.

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