History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Powerful bat, passive demeanor of our Harmon Killebrew

Can you imagine Harmon Killebrew's fame if he had played in New York City? Even a guy like Joe Pepitone became at least a semi-celebrity playing in the Big Apple. Pepitone was a good fielding first baseman who could be a decent hitter, but he didn't seem household-name material.
Killebrew would have needed skills to deal with the east coast media. Given his upstanding lifestyle, he might have breezed through. The worst that could happen would be for him to be branded a Tommy Newsom type - boring, perhaps a rube etc.
The New York City press could be brazen. If you want background on this, there's one movie that tells all: "61*" (yes, with the asterisk) about the Roger Maris-Mickey Mantle home run race of 1961. Newspaper writers felt their oats then. Every starter with the New York Yankees seemed like a celebrity. Billy Crystal pays homage to this in "61*". It's obvious he feels the same love for that era as us Minnesotans feel when remembering Killebrew and his Twins.
Killebrew has gone to that great diamond in the sky. His Metropolitan Stadium is fading further into the ether of history. My, how majestic his power swing was there. He was Mickey Mantle without the booze. Mantle in the final analysis seemed a decent human being who got drawn into the cultural habits of his time. He was never groomed (prepped) to be a celebrity. He was famous because of baseball talents. Maris was even more unprepared for the scrutiny. Jim Bouton would later describe Maris as "(just) a high school graduate from Fargo, North Dakota." Yes, a little east coast chauvinism comes through there. (Bouton was from New Jersey.)
Boomers who grew up in Minnesota are filled with nostalgia with any mention of Killebrew. He had a career of 22 years in the era before we heard about performance-enhancing substances. Players of his era could drink to excess and some popped "greenies" (pills). But on the whole there was an innocent air. Our culture accepted alcohol consumption much more. I'm guessing Killebrew never drank to excess, if he drank at all.
I was five months old when he hit his first major league home run. He was a Washington Senator in the days before that franchise pulled up stakes and came to Minnesota.
Harmon's first majestic blast over the fence - all his homers were marked by majesty - was at Griffith Stadium, Washington D.C. The pitcher was Billy Hoeft. There's a little anecdote involving the catcher, Frank House. House is reported to have said to the young, still-unsung Killebrew as he stepped to the plate: "Kid, we're going to throw you a fastball." It wasn't fast enough to faze Harmon. He hit a homer that he recalled as one of his longest. House is then reported having said: "That's the last time I ever tell you what pitch is coming."
This little story could be woven right in, in the movie "the Natural" (Robert Redford). Redford's Roy Hobbs hits a homer that shatters a clock way above center field. We can see Harmon doing the same. We don't need a movie's imagining. 
Killebew was the first of four batters to hit a ball over the left field roof at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. He hit the longest measured home runs at our Met Stadium and Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. Harmon hit the most home runs of any player in the 1960s.
Boomers were enthralled by Killebrew and equally by Tony Oliva who came from Cuba. Oliva had power but he basically just sprayed hits all over the place. Power was Killebrew's stock in trade. Although he wasn't a great fielder - his mobility was a limitation - he was competent at three positions: first base, third base and left field.
Harmon wasn't ready to take the field when the Twins began their competition at Metropolitan Stadium in 1961. He had a pulled thigh muscle. He wouldn't take the field until April 30 of that inaugural year for our "Twinkies" in Minnesota. The White Sox were in town. The fan turnout nearly touched 30,000 - an early record. The Twins lost the game 5-3 in eleven innings. But Harmon was a terror at the plate. He may not have "knocked the cover off the ball" like Hobbs in "The Natural," but he did everything else. Fans saw a preview of what was to come with "Hammerin' Harmon." There were two singles and a double. In the fourth inning we saw the trademark Killebrew homer swing. Facing Bob Shaw, Harmon hit the ball 467 feet and went into his homer trot on this day with a temperature of 48 degrees and strong west winds. On that same day, a contemporary of Killebrew's, Willie Mays, who had played minor league ball in Minneapolis, hit four home runs in a game. Mays had played in that (very) old Nicollet Park in Minneapolis.
Killebrew is associated with the 1960s, a decade in which America fell into tremendous tumult due to the Viet Nam War. The year 1967 may have been the most tragic war year. Killebrew dutifully plied his trade, at the top of his game, while unrest bubbled all around him. The Twins and Killebrew forged ahead.
The '67 summer was the most heartbreaking of that era for Twins fans. We were edged out for the pennant at the very end. Boston and Carl Yastrzemski prevailed. Historical annals show Harmon hitting tape measure blasts at his very best then. He came to bat on an early summer day, looking out to the mound and pitcher Lew Burdette of the Los Angeles Angels. It was early summer but the temperature felt like midsummer, making the atmosphere perfect at our beloved "Met." The wind was gusting in the 25-35 MPH range. Legend has it Harmon may have caught a jet stream. Burdette vainly tried to fool "the Killer" with a knuckler. Killebrew launched the ball on a ride of 520 feet. The ball came down in the upper deck of the Met's left field pavilion. Burdette was quoted saying "I threw him a knuckle ball that started out high. And all it did was get higher."
Killebrew retired as the A.L. career leader in home runs by a right hander. He hit 40 or more home runs in a season eight times in an era when pitching was strong. The year 1968 in particular stands out as a time when pitching ruled, to an extent I found puzzling. The powers that be in baseball can control this. The size of the strike zone can be adjusted. Sandy Koufax became a great pitcher not because he adjusted his mechanics, rather it was because umpires started calling the high fastball a strike.
In 1969 the pitching mound was lowered to help hitters.
It's puzzling why the game of baseball was allowed to stagnate in 1968 with suppression of the offensive phase. Then again, soccer is quite the rage in many parts of the world despite minimal scoring in many games. Football has been adjusted to become more offense-friendly. There's a risk though, in the sense scoring can become too cheap. Football has much bigger problems than that now. Football has an existential problem (with head injuries). Baseball is clear of that.
But baseball has fought for years to escape the effects of the 1994 strike. Personally I have never felt the same about baseball since 1994. I pay some passing interest only. Until 1994 I had some emotional investment in the game and in our Twins. That's gone now. Boomers in the 1960s and up through the mid 1970s may have felt too much of an emotional attachment to the Twins and Vikings. We saw these teams as extensions of us, representing Minnesota in a sort of provincial way against the big, bad "big market teams" who were lionized by the media.
Of course, the nature of "the media" has changed much since the days of "the chipmunks," the name coined for the aggressive breed of east coast sportswriters in the 1960s. The breed is portrayed so accurately in that movie "61*". Today the media are everywhere and we are in fact part of the media. Leonard Shecter was a "chipmunk" and he worked with Bouton to develop "Ball Four." That book shattered myths. We saw Mantle as a true, flawed human being.
Killebrew seemed to have negligible human flaws. He converted to Mormonism while still playing. He never smoked. Asked once what he did for fun, he gave an answer that would have given the New York City writers a field day: "I like to wash dishes I guess." Yes, Tommy Newsom all the way. (You remember bandleader Newsom, don't you? He was the butt of Johnny Carson's jokes as a "boring" person.)
Killebrew was named to eleven all-star teams. The Idaho native came from a bloodline of athletic prowess. His grandfather was an awesome wrestler known as "the strongest man in the Union army." Wow!
Harmon was known as lumbering with his gait but it didn't have to be that way. He was held back by a quadriceps pull in 1962 and a knee injury about a year later. Harmon and the Twins were spectacular in 1962, fashioning a 91-71 record and trailing those darn Yankees by just five games. In '65 the Twins finally overcame the Yankees with the help of a most dramatic Killebrew homer just before the all-star break. What a setting: The Twins were trailing the Yankees by one run going into the bottom of the ninth in that pivotal game, here at the Met. Killebrew sank the Yanks with a two-run homer, whereupon we could all see that the longstanding sheen of the Yankees was indeed fading. The Twins went on to win the pennant but we lost in the World Series in seven games to Koufax and the L.A. Dodgers (the old Brooklyn Dodgers).
Killebrew joined the Hall of Fame with two very classy fellow inductees: Don Drysdale and Luis Aparicio.
What a career and what special memories Harmon and the Twins gave us all.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

No comments:

Post a Comment