1976: Rocky is released. The Italian Stallion, as written and portrayed by virtual unknown Sylvester Stallone, enters the lexicon. “Yo” is popularized as a greeting, often followed by “Adrian”. A glass of uncooked eggs is the new breakfast of challengers. Running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and lifting one’s arms in the air in triumph becomes accepted behavior. The movie is an unexpected smash. An Academy Award is earned. Even in a field that includes Network and All The President’s Men, it is not an insane choice, for Rocky is awesome.
Also, Lee Mazzilli makes his Major League debut with the New York Mets. Bats .195 in 24 games.
1979: Rocky II is released. Rocky Balboa can’t find anything to do with himself after getting his shot at the title, so despite telling Adrian otherwise, he accepts a rematch with champ Apollo Creed, a.k.a. The Master of Disaster. Mickey trains him like something out of the 1930s. It works. Rocky takes the title in a double knockout. The sequel is OK. Hope they don’t make a ton of these.
Also, Lee Mazzilli makes the National League All-Star team, hits a home run off of Ron Guidry and drives in the winning run with a walk. Bats .303 for the year. Is referred to in the tabloids as the Italian Stallion. The Mets finish last. Dale Murray pitches like the Master of Disaster.
1982: Rocky III is released. On the night it opens, several young men who have seen it shout to those waiting on line for the next show in Lynbrook that “Rocky wins and the old man dies!” Beyond the spoiler alert, Rocky is smacked around by Clubber Lang and requires the Eye of the Tiger to get back what he lost. Brother-in-law Paulie more annoying than ever. Frank Stallone and his band see screen time. Nevertheless, one critic calls it his favorite Rocky. That would be me.
Also, Lee Mazzilli is traded from the Mets to the Rangers for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell, then from the Rangers to the Yankees for Bucky Dent, then from the Yankees to the Pirates for Tim Burke.
1985: Rocky IV is released. Rocky serves as stand-in for America’s Reaganesque resiliency in the Cold War, as the champ with a Burning Heart flies to the Soviet Union to avenge the death of friend Creed at the hands of Ivan Drago in what was supposed to be an all-in-good-fun exhibition match. The Soviets, however, are not about good fun, not at all. Further details elude me as I’ve never been able to sit start-to-finish through this, hands down, the worst of the Rocky movies. The video for James Brown’s Living In America suffices plenty.
Also, Lee Mazzilli languishes as a last-place Pirate.
1990: Rocky V is released. While not much better than Rocky IV, it is mildly watchable. Rocky Balboa’s career is over and he’s managing young Tommy Gunn until his protégé turns resentful rival. Rocky teaches the punk and his Don King-like advisor a lesson while winning the love of his son after losing all his assets and rediscovering what really counts. Or something like that. Thus ends the saga of cinema’s longest-running heavyweight two sequels too late.
Also, Lee Mazzilli spends his first year as a retired Major Leaguer having enjoyed a late surge of success on three postseason teams, the ’89 Blue Jays, the ’88 Mets and the 1986 World Champion New York Mets. Mazz’s pinch-hits in Games Six and Seven are key to his original team — which reacquired him that August — winning their first World Series since Mazzilli was a 14-year-old fan in Sheepshead Bay.
Postscript: Sylvester Stallone spends the 1990s opening Planet Hollywood and movies like Judge Dredd. Neither is nearly as well-loved as the Rocky series. In the new century, he is absent from the local multiplex.
Also, Lee Mazzilli drifts from actor to restaurateur to minor league manager to coach for one his former teams, the New York Yankees where his biggest contribution is jobbing a fill-in umpire in an Interleague game versus the Mets, conning overmatched Robb Cook into calling Todd Zeile out at first base after an apparent double. His affiliation with the success of his employer gets him a job as Baltimore Orioles skipper in 2004. It’s over by 2005. A year later he lands back with the Yanks. He’s tossed out after the club is beaten by Detroit in the playoffs.
2006: Rocky Balboa opens December 22. He’s going to fight one more time. He’s 60. It’s not a comedy. He tells Newsweek, “everyone makes mistakes. I look around at people my age, and I can see it in their eyes — a kind of bittersweet reflection: ‘I didn’t live the life that I wanted, and now I’ve got all this stuff I want to say, but nobody wants to hear it.’ I was feeling that, and if you don’t get it out, it can become a beast that tears you apart.”
Also, Lee Mazzilli is hired to be in-studio analyst for Mets telecasts on SNY two months after an extended on-air audition by Zeile does not produce a regular gig for 2007. Lee’s presence frees up Darling to announce more games. Mazzilli is excited about joining the SNY team. “This is a great opportunity for me,” he says in a press release. “The Mets are a huge part of my life. I grew up with this organization.”