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).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

1962 Minnesota Twins: Pinocchio becomes real boy

Image from The Trading Card Database
The image at left is of a baseball card from a breakfast cereal box! I most likely had this card in my collection. - B.W.
One of the missions of my online writing has been to remind people of the Met Stadium chapter of Twins' history.
Our baseball team has played outside, inside and then outside again. We're told today there's no substitute for outdoor baseball. And yet the Twins won their two world championships when playing under that Teflon roof. Who knows when we'll flirt with that accomplishment again.
It was an accomplishment just to have big league baseball here in 1961. The 1961 season was significant because it was the first. The 1965 season was significant because it brought us our first pennant. In between there was a season of note that has no automatic place in historical annals. I'd like to remind fans of the thrills brought in 1962. The Calvin Griffith organization climbed to great heights that season, having thoroughly escaped the lows seen when the organization was still in Washington D.C.
We were so fortunate to have such quality here.
Why is the '62 team not as well-remembered as it should be? Let's look at the structure of baseball. The American League had expanded from eight to ten teams. But alas, those were the days when only one team from each league went on to the post-season. We jumped from the regular season to the World Series. It hardly seemed fair to a number of high-quality teams. The New York Yankees still had their sheen of dynasty. They were getting older but they still had pennant-winning talent.
In 1962 we were just one year removed from Roger Maris' 61-homer season. Mickey Mantle was playing hard and drinking hard. Meanwhile our Minnesota Twins were surging, just not well enough to close the gap with the Yankees. But we were close. In 1962 the Twins won 91 games and lost 71. We were second in the new ten-team A.L., behind the Yankees by just five games. Our attendance was also second-best in the A.L., coming in at 1,433,116.
Second place teams were total bridesmaids in those days. We had no choice but to just celebrate our regular season success. The Twins still had their new-car smell in the perception of giddy Minnesotans. We had a manager, Sam Mele, who would lead us to that 1965 pennant.
Mele picks up from Lavagetto
Mele began as manager in June of 1961. He took over from the fired Cookie Lavagetto. Lavagetto had become manager in 1957 when the team was the Senators. The Senators were in last place and weren't about to escape that status soon. Griffith's organization finished last in 1957, 1958 and 1959. The atmosphere must have been like what we saw with the fictional "New York Knights" in the movie "The Natural" before "Roy Hobbs" (Robert Redford) showed up. Consider Lavagetto to be like Wilford Brimley.
Finally in 1960, the Senators made some strides under "Cookie," rising to fifth place in the then-eight-team league. The improvement came too late to save the franchise in Washington D.C. The Griffiths packed up and headed west to Minnesota, anointed as heroes, pushing Minnesota to big league status. 
We also welcomed the Vikings in 1961. I was kindergarten age. The oldest of the boomers were 15 years old. We were a demographic wave that would guarantee success for big league sports.
In 1961, the new-car smell was all that would matter. In that inaugural season, the Twins struggled with a 70-90 record and finished seventh. Our attendance was third of the ten teams. We were in ninth place when Lavagetto took a seven-game leave in early June. He would return but he was fired on June 23. The Twins were still in ninth, to be led henceforth by Mele.
Lavagetto was in that generation of players that had to sacrifice a portion of their career for World War II. Lavagetto missed four full seasons! Our nation pays tribute.
"Cookie" had a playing career highlighted by a double that ruined Bill Bevens' no-hit bid in game 4 of the 1947 World Series. That double, delivered as a pinch-hitter, helped give his Brooklyn Dodgers a win over the Yankees in a game that came to be remembered as "the Cookie game."
As manager with the Griffiths, Lavagetto languished with a 271-384 record (.414). Let's consider that a footnote under his wartime service. Stars like Ted Williams and Bob Feller made the same sacrifice. 
A trade fuels turnaround
Sam Mele guided our Twins through a turnaround from 1961 to 1962. The team announced its first major trade on April 2 of 1962. We said goodbye to pitcher Pedro Ramos. Ramos went to Cleveland in exchange for Vic Power and Dick Stigman.
Vic Power! The flashy first baseman had a lot to do with the Twins' early success. You might think Harmon Killebrew set the pace in that regard. You might think Hammerin' Harmon was the Roy Hobbs of the early days of the Twins franchise. The stats show the then-young Harmon definitely had impact. But you'll be startled to know that of the four all-stars from the Twins in '62, Harmon wasn't one of them! Instead we had Rich Rollins, Earl Battey, Jim Kaat and Camilo Pascual getting the nod.
Killebrew had a slow start in '62. He struck out a career-high 142 times that season. Trade rumors circulated. Some fans dismissed him as "Harmless Harmon." Never known to hit for a high average, Harmon batted .243 in 1962, in that pre-Bill James time when batting average got great emphasis relative to other stats.
Killebrew definitely got his homer bat going as the 1962 summer progressed. He hit 31 home runs over the last 81 games and finished with 48 total. Hardly harmless. Certainly all-star material. Harmon drove in 126 runs. He was tops in the A.L. in homers and RBIs. Not Mickey Mantle, rather Harmon Killebrew. The Twins were on their way.
"The Killer's" homer blasts had fans awestruck, but the first base playing style of Vic Power had as much to do with the team's success as anything. He was flamboyant. His trademark was to field the ball one-handed. It was a style that optimized flexibility. Eventually it would be used widely.
We were fortunate to be part of Power's playing history. He was a significant and unique figure, the second Puerto Rican of African descent to play in Major League Baseball. He was signed by the Yankees in 1951. Players of dark skin had to advance in fits and starts. Power dealt with this climate and was hurt by it. As a member of the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in 1952, Power batted .331 and led the league in doubles and triples. He batted .349 the next season in the same league. But Power didn't even get a spring training invite in either '52 or '53.
Power had style, personality and character, "character" being defined the way the bartender did in "It's a Wonderful Life," speaking to the angel. Power had a sharp wit and deadpan humor, much of it directed at racism and segregation. Baseball was hesitant about promoting a black man with these qualities. Power would be no more welcome than that angel at the bar counter. The bartender, played by Sheldon Leonard, said "we serve customers here who want to get drunk fast." And Major League Baseball was looking for dark-skinned players who carried themselves in a conservative, unobtrusive way.
Sensing the roadblock for Vic Power, blacks and Puerto Ricans protested in front of Yankee Stadium. How fun it would have been to see Power show that flashy style as a younger man, his whole career ahead of him, at Yankee Stadium - the pinnacle of baseball accomplishment. What a story it could have been.
We still got a heckuva story out of Vic Power. But he would come to be associated with backwater baseball places, which, honestly, Minnesota was in its early history. The Yankees opted to have the mild Elston Howard as their first black player. We wrinkle our foreheads as we reflect today. 
Vic Power: Twins' MVP in '62
The Gold Glove award was created in 1958. Power won this award for first base from '58 to 1964. He was an all-star for Kansas City (then the Athletics) in 1955 and '56, and for Cleveland in '59 and '60. He was one of eleven players to steal home twice in a game. He made two unassisted double plays in a game. He struck out only 247 times in 6,046 at-bats. He was the Twins' Most Valuable Player in that important 1962 season.
I wrote during my print media career that it was a shame Power wasn't around for that pennant year of '65. He was a Twin from '62 to '64 and then became an Angel of Los Angeles, an expansion team.
Power was one of three Gold Glove honorees with the '62 Twins. Catcher Earl Battey and pitcher Jim Kaat were the other two.
On August 26, Jack Kralick pitched the first no-hitter for the Twins, beating Kansas City 1-0. 
We turned to a former Purdue University quarterback, Bernie Allen, to play second base. Alas, his rookie season ended up being his best. Third baseman Rich Rollins also faded after a terrific start to his career. He's remembered for his red hair as much as anything. The unforgettable Zoilo Versalles played shortstop. Mele considered it important to obtain Vic Power as a way of helping the young infielders whose throws could be erratic.
Vic Power didn't have the kind of power bat that teams normally seek for first basemen. But the Twins had plenty of power from elsewhere on the diamond. Killebrew was transitioned to outfield for the '62 season and would stay there two more seasons, playing in left which would be logical for someone of his limited acceleration. Center field was patrolled by Lenny Green who might be considered an underrated Twin.
A peer of mine in the Morris school, Gary Rose, reportedly traded away many of his valuable baseball cards to get a Lenny Green card, only to see Green get traded soon thereafter. A lesson in vagaries of the marketplace.
Many of us bought baseball cards, a nickel a pack, at the old Stark's Grocery, a neighborhood store located down the hill from the old East Elementary.
Bob Allison played right field. On July 18 he and Killebrew hit grand slam home runs in the same inning vs. Cleveland, making Minnesota the first team in the 20th Century to do this. Pinocchio, you're a real boy now. Long gone were the Minneapolis Millers of AAA.
Journeyman Bill Tuttle was an outfield hand with the '62 Twins. I remember him as looking sad on his baseball cards. Don Mincher was a first baseman showing power potential.
Dick Stigman was a valuable pitcher in 1962 and '63. Camilo Pascual's 206 strikeouts led the A.L. He became the first 20-game winner for the Twins in '62. Power's Gold Glove was his fifth. For catcher Earl Battey it was his third, and for up-and-comer Jim Kaat, his first. On April 3 of '62, Billy Martin got his release as a player from the Twins. Joe Bonikowski and Lee Stange were pitchers to watch.
Team MVP Power batted a nifty .290 with 16 home runs, 28 doubles and two triples. Undoubtedly that '62 season was bittersweet, with so many wins but only a bridesmaid's role in the American League race. Those Yankees finished 96-66 while Minnesota was 91-71.
Our AAA team in those days was the Vancouver Mounties.
A 1962 Twins yearbook today, with its picture of "the Met" on the cover, is reportedly worth $100 to $125. 
A dangerous world in 1962
I guess we were all lucky to even survive the year 1962. The Cuban missile crisis gripped us from October 22 to the 28th. 
Culturally the year was more of an extension of the '50s than the dawn of anything new. Remember the song "Duke of Earl?" This hit was heard on the radio in '62, given us by Gene Chandler.
We also heard "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (the Tokens) as a hit that year. Oh, and it was the year of "The Twist" with Chubby Checker. Also, of "Soldier Boy" (the Shirelles) and "Sherry" (the Four Seasons).
The female sex symbols were Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Doris Day, Annette Funicello and Kim Novak. (My friends would say I'm true to form in reporting that.)
Monroe's death that year would end up ensnarled in stories of the mob, JFK and RFK; and it was a baseball icon, Joe DiMaggio, who handled her funeral arrangements even though he and Marilyn were divorced in 1954.
The year 1962 saw the first Taco Bell restaurant open in Downey CA. The first computer video game, "Spacewar," was invented. Audio cassettes were born.
My father, the recently-deceased Ralph E. Williams, took the University of Minnesota-Morris men's chorus to the Seattle World's Fair (a.k.a. the Century 21 Exposition) to perform. The UMM chorus opened the "Minnesota Day" festivities there.
As a seven-year-old I was just beginning to discover lots of things including our Minnesota Twins.
Let's not forget Vic Power's role in our state's big league sports history. Let's not forget the 1962 Twins who today would be a highly-placed playoff team. Five games behind the dynastic Yankees? It was the stuff for a real toast in 1962, that time of Camelot.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

1 comment:

  1. Vic Power 1962 Twins MVP ? You can't be serious. Rich Rollins, killebrew, alison, kaat and pascual had better years. Power only had a .316 on base percentage which is very bad. Power was known for his glove not his bat.