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).

Monday, September 30, 2013

1962 New York Mets had their place amidst Camelot

I had a plastic Mets helmet like this.
The ways of the business world puzzle me sometimes. How can Los Angeles be without an NFL team? I remember when both the Rams and Raiders made L.A. home.
Let's look back to a previous era when New York City of all places had a void. How was that possible? So much romance surrounded the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.
The West Coast was beckoning. The days when a trip to St. Louis was "a trip west" would begin looking quaint. Quaint, too, was the image of teams traveling by train.
Change is as irresistible as the flow of a river. Major league baseball would plant itself firmly west of the Mississippi. Two of the New York teams pulled up stakes. The New York Giants with Willie Mays got settled in San Francisco. We have heard rumors in Minnesota that those Giants almost re-located to Minnesota. Our Metropolitan Stadium got built in 1956. It wasn't until 1961 that the big leagues came here in the form of Calvin Griffith's Washington Senators. But big league baseball waited not a moment to see that Washington D.C. kept its presence. A new "Senators" franchise was created although that, too, would not be permanent.
The Giants and Dodgers headed west in the late '50s. The Dodgers who had ushered in integration of the races, settled in Los Angeles.
New York City had been the home for three big league teams for over 50 years. "The cheese stands alone," indeed, and this was with the grandiose New York Yankees franchise and "The House that Ruth Built." The movie "61+" was set in that period when the Yankees were the lone team in the Big Apple.
Los Angeles has gotten along for some time without pro football. But New York City wasn't going to tolerate its baseball void for very long. We even saw the prospect of a new league which would naturally tap into New York City. William Shea, a New York City attorney, was pushing this vision. It would be called the Continental League with teams in NYC and seven other cities. No games were ever played.
Major league baseball reached a compromise with the would-be fledgling league. Certain cities that were ready for big league ball would have their wish granted, so our Minnesota Twins were born. Calvin Griffith was the hero owner in our eyes. The young baby boomers of Minnesota would be able to grow up with not only the Twins but also the Minnesota Vikings. It all started in 1961. The people who built Metropolitan Stadium were visionaries. Could we imagine the last 50-plus years without the Twins and Vikings?
New York City was smarting with emptiness and betrayal after the Giants and Dodgers left. These were storied franchises. Jackie Robinson is an icon out of U.S. history. New York City wanted the National League back. The dream was fulfilled in 1962. It was the time of JFK and Camelot. The Peace Corps presented our vision. John Glenn orbited the Earth. 
Who to don the Mets' uniforms?
The 1962 New York Mets were not the kind of team that Brad Pitt (OK, Brad Pitt as Billy Beane) would have put together. Assembling an expansion team is never easy, although we learned with the birth of the NFL's Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars that the road needn't be entirely futile. Perhaps the thinking has changed some. It's not written in stone that an expansion team must be an abject failure.
It's almost as if the fans are supposed to pay dues. "Wait your turn" (to be a contender).
The puppetmasters behind the '62 New York Mets were not carefully calculating to maximize wins, it appears. Marketing was a big aim. Or, let's say drawing fans was a big aim. This was done by stocking the roster with cast-offs and has-beens from the former Giants and Dodgers plus the Yankees. Nostalgia was tapped.
Pitcher Al Jackson would say years later: "They wanted names, especially ones that identified with New York, so fans would come out."
Of the nine starters on opening day, only one, shortstop Felix Mantilla, was under age 30. That seems utterly shocking for an expansion team. One might think that veterans would be sought to promote stability. Alas, stability was not an attribute of the 1962 New York Mets. It has been written that America could "take a joke" at the time of Camelot. The '62 Mets indeed became the butt of jokes. But history has judged that team to be charming with its futility.
Jimmy Breslin wrote a book about the team called "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?" The title is a Casey Stengel quote. The fatherly, or should we say grandfatherly, Stengel was the manager of the '62 Mets. He carried himself as a promoter which was what the team needed. He bantered with fans. After a loss he said "the attendance and Mrs. Payson got robbed." The Mets owner was Joan Whitney Payson. The general manager was George Weiss. One of the radio voices was Ralph Kiner who is associated with malaprops on the air. Also at the microphone were Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. What a spectacle these three described.
The Mets played in the old Polo Grounds in Manhattan while Shea Stadium was being built. Shea Stadium would be very close to the New York World's Fair grounds. I remember being in NYC with my family for the World's Fair in 1964, and we almost worked in a Mets game. The Mets still had their image of futility. We didn't see a game but we had a wonderful time at the Fair. My father Ralph directed the University of Minnesota-Morris men's chorus which performed on the fairgrounds. In 1962 the UMM men's chorus performed at the Seattle World's Fair.
Those 1962 New York Mets at the Polo Grounds became the poster boys for abject failure. So what? This was not a winning cast that was assembled. But they were pro players who were doing the best they could. They only won 40 times. But I'm sure there's an interesting story behind each of those 40 wins. The Mets were a way for NYC fans to enjoy the National League again.
Stengel, known as the "Old Professor," deflected attention from the futility with his antics and quotes. Supposedly he had been fired two years earlier for "being too old." America didn't have its grasp of political correctness yet. The boomer youth probably equated "old" with anyone over, say, age 45. Stengel turned age 72 during that maiden voyage of the Mets. He managed his first big league team in 1934. He led the Yankees to seven World Series titles.
He couldn't have been as absent-minded as many of his quotes suggested. Quotes like: "Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice versa." And: "I don't know if he throws a spitball but he sure spits on the ball." Let's keep going: "If anyone wants me, tell them I'm being embalmed."
Between Stengel and Kiner, the language got abused to no small degree. Oh, it's no matter. The '62 Mets were "a lovable loser." The team reflected American optimism in the face of hurdles. Pitcher Jay Hook would say "the beauty of baseball is that it's a new game every day." This is the quote I would place front and center in connection to the 1962 New York Mets.
The team was like "The Little Engine That Could" even though success seemed stuck in the distance. But success would prove to be in the not-so-distant future. In 1969 we saw the Mets with Jerry Koosman, a player with West Central Minnesota connections, win the World Series (over the Baltimore Orioles). This is likely the most fondly remembered World Series in the minds of the boomers. The Mets! Winning it all! Those "Amazin' Mets." 
Players of limited skills
If the Mets were a poster child on a team basis, Marv Throneberry was probably the individual. The first baseman was called "Marvelous." It was wishful thinking. He had been a backup with the Yankees. He hit 16 home runs with the '62 Mets but committed 17 errors in 116 games. He once hit a drive into the gap, extra bases for sure, but he was declared out despite arriving at third with no tag attempted. Alas, he had failed to touch either first or second bases! The legend grew. Eventually "Marvelous Marv" could make a beer commercial.
Such episodes weave an image that seemed to invite fondness and not scorn. The Mets were "a flawed but embraceable option to the imperial New York Yankees," Mike Tomasik wrote.
Gil Hodges was Throneberry's backup at first base. Former Dodger Hodges was 38 years old. Hodges would become manager for the Mets' 1969 World Series run. The braintrust of the original Mets felt veterans like Hodges would give the team a patina of respectability. Richie Ashburn was a former "Whiz Kid" with the Philadelphia Phillies. But he was a kid no more. He played in 135 games with the '62 Mets and batted a quite fine .306, but this season would be his last.
Ashburn played outfield in the vast Polo Grounds where the center field fence was over 500 feet away! And to think that our Metrodome would be decried as the "homer dome" (i.e. flawed). It's harder to impress when you're in the Midwest. Defects in East Coast stadiums exude charm, whereas here they demonstrate we're bush (but not so much anymore).
Frank Thomas joined Ashburn in the Mets' outfield. He'd have his last good year in 1962, homering 34 times and driving in 94 runs. Jim Hickman was the other main outfielder and he lasted with the Mets until 1967. He had an aberrational year with the 1970 Chicago Cubs, when he drove in 115 runs. His previous high was 57 and his next best total after 1970 was 64.
The three outfielders had 22 errors among them. Alas, the infield didn't offer any relief. There was the "Marvelous" man at first. At second we had Charlie Neal and Rod Kanehl booting the ball around (35 errors between them). At shortstop there was Elio Chacon, a good name for a shortstop I might add, doing the best he could but committing 22 errors while batting .236. Neal was the backup at short and struggled similarly.
The former Milwaukee Brave Felix Mantilla pulled his weight pretty well at third, supplying offense with his .275 average, eleven home runs and nearly 60 RBIs. Former Dodger Don Zimmer, a future manager of note, was a backup and offered no relief defensively.
Catcher Chris Cannizzaro was homerless in 59 games. Choo Choo Coleman offered a neat name at catcher, where he plied the glove for 44 games.
Pitchers paid their dues with this kind of backdrop. Roger Craig, one of those former Dodgers, is jokingly described as the staff "ace" and he did win ten games. But alas, ol' Rodg lost 24! Four Mets pitchers lost 17 or more games. Craig hung in there, going on to post a 5-22 record with the '63 version of the Mets.
I have heard it said "it takes a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games." What's meant, I guess, is that you have to show the tools in order to be sent out to the mound so often. You have to be a gamer. Roger Craig had 13 complete games among his 33 starts in '62.
The staff ERA was 5.04. Al Jackson had an 8-20 record and would eventually end his career in a timely way, one loss shy of a hundred. Jay Hook went 8-19. Bob Miller hung in there through a 1-12 record. Reliever Craig Anderson lost 17 games but somehow managed to pick up four saves.
The Mets' team batting average was .240. They were able to out-homer four other National League squads. But the record shows these Mets were in the shackles of futility, posting a 40-120 record and finishing in tenth and last, 60 1/2 games behind the champion Giants, and 18 games behind the ninth place Cubs.
It was the Cubs who the Mets chased down and surpassed in the 1969 divisional race, in the first year of East/West divisions. Leo Durocher managed the collapsing Chicago Cubs of 1969. Us boomers sat mesmerized as the Mets ascended to the top of baseball in '69, boosted in no small way by our Mr. Koosman, a graduate of the West Central School of Agriculture in Morris. Koosman was the big lefty, complementing the righty Tom Seaver. Seaver was the celebrity and Koosman the big, stable quiet man.
Hodges was the skipper in '69, probably looking on in wide-eyed fashion, perhaps wanting to pinch himself once in a while. Hodges had the success but Stengel had his niche carved out as the first, guiding his team of guys who were either on the way down or (possibly) on the way up - the classic state of affairs for expansion teams.
Stengel understood the role of failure in setting the stage for ultimate success. He once said: "You have to go broke three times to learn how to make a living."
"Make a living" the Mets did. The rest is history. It all started during Camelot.
In closing:
"The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided."
- Casey Stengel
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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