On the way up Interstate 95, Bullard fantasized that he was a big-time businessman, calling his own shots, traveling in luxury. When the fantasy faded, the anger set in. How could St. Louis give up on him after just 20 games? Nobody could be expected to turn a club around in such a ridiculously short period of time. Traded. It wasn't so bad for him. He could live anywhere. But this was going to be hard on Linda, who had expected to be in her own house in St. Louis by the new year.
By 3 p.m. he was in Philly. He just had time to get something to eat before heading over to the Spectrum to meet Paul Holmgren, his new coach. They started going over the system that the Flyers were playing. "Hey, I know that system," Bullard said, brightening. For here, at last, was a silver lining to the cloud of being well traveled. The Flyers were using the same setup Bullard had played under in '86-87, when Bob Johnson was coach of the Flames.
Bullard centered for Rick Tocchet and Brian Propp, two of the Flyers' top wingers. "I was very nervous," he says. "I had the grenade hands there for a while." But in the third period, with the Flyers leading 3-1, Bullard picked up a drop pass from Propp, cut past Bruin defenseman Glen Wesley and put a forehand into the top shelf over sprawling goalie Andy Moog.
The Spectrum, which was packed as usual, erupted. Bullard was now the recipient of a standing ovation. Chills ran up his back as his new teammates mobbed him, and he thought, Now this is hockey. The Flyers won 5-1.
Two nights later the honeymoon took on the air of a lasting love affair. The Flyers fell behind a strong Montreal Canadiens club 2-0, but Bullard started a second-period comeback by swatting his sixth goal of the season, past goalie Patrick Roy. The fans rose again to give Bullard an ovation. A few minutes later he set up Propp for the tying goal with a pretty feed on a two-on-one break. Then with 47 seconds left in the game Bullard took a high stick in the face, receiving a two-stitch cut from Bob Gainey, which left the Canadiens shorthanded for nearly all the five-minute overtime. The Flyers couldn't score, and settled for the tie—the first time they had gone two games without a loss since Nov. 4 and 6—but every time Bullard touched the puck, a roar went up from the stands.
"In not too many places do you hear music like the fans play here," said Bullard, who was named the game's first star. "It's great. Everything's happened so fast. I'm playing with confidence again. It's like a new life."
HOUSTON ASTROS: Named Rick Sweet manager of Osceola of the Florida State League.
Rick Sweet was a catcher. He was an uncommonly aggressive player, blessed with intelligence and what baseball scouts call "desire," but he was definitely not Hall of Fame material. He made the most of what he had, though, and by 1983, when his playing time was up, he had spent three of his nine seasons in the big leagues, 1978 with San Diego, the beginning of 1982 with the New York Mets and the rest of '82 and '83 with Seattle.
Sweet loved baseball, and admitting that he was finished as a player was painful. In fact, two years passed before he accepted the truth in his own mind: He would never play again. Winding up his career in Seattle made his passage a little smoother than it might have been elsewhere. He had grown up in Longview, Wash., a paper mill town near the mouth of the Columbia River, and the Northwest was always his home, wherever else he roamed in order to play ball. Rather than leave Seattle when he was released during spring training in 1984, Sweet went to work for the Mariners, first as a bullpen coach, then for two years as their major league advance scout, a job that paid fairly well but kept him on the road for a month at a time and, worse than that, kept him sitting in the stands.
In 1987, with the approval of his wife, Molly, Sweet returned to the minors, this time as a manager. It was starting over, but being on the field again made the economic hardships and the separations from Molly and his then three-year-old daughter, Mary, worthwhile. His first managing assignment was the Mariners' rookie league team in Bellingham. Wash. Last season he was sent to an A club in Wausau, Wis. Neither team won much, Bellingham finishing 30-46 and Wausau 52-88, but Sweet's job was teaching and developing young players for advancement to AA ball, and he did that job pretty well. Furthermore, he was an organization man who bled Mariner blue; he took a $6,000 pay cut, to $30,000, to manage. For seven years, as a player and a front-office man, he had committed himself to the club, working in ticket sales and public relations in the off-season, speaking to community groups without pay whenever he was asked.