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, October 7, 2013

That amazing 1967 American League pennant race

Image from "Classic Minnesota Twins" blog
Once upon a time our Minnesota Twins played on the Bloomington prairie. We saw a billboard sign as we approached the stadium, proclaiming Bloomington "Minnesota's fourth largest city." A friend of mine sniffed at that, saying Bloomington wouldn't even exist were it not for Minneapolis-St. Paul. No point quibbling about that.
Metropolitan Stadium was originally the home of the AAA Minneapolis Millers, about the best minor league team you could find. But my, Minneapolis-St. Paul was oh so ready for the big leagues. The Twins were born and we won the pennant in 1965.
Boomers like me remember Sam Mele as the early manager. Technically he wasn't the first. Cookie Lavagetto is a trivia answer now.
Owner Calvin Griffith called on Mele to replace Lavagetto in mid-1961. It would be a long run. Mele had the reins for the Twins' storied World Series campaign of 1965. The Dodgers' Sandy Koufax stood in the way of the absolute summit.
Mele and football's Bud Grant became like father figures to us boomer males, pillars with their leadership.
But pro sports are a rough and tumble world with capriciousness. Griffith wasn't about to get out his checkbook just because the team had soared to great heights. We remember Calvin - often the reference was just with his first name - as a curmudgeonly throwback. Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, in his autobiography, described the Griffiths as "church mice" with their resources. It wasn't an atmosphere conducive to getting pro players to be totally happy and committed, much as us fans desperately wanted them to be.
Our hearts got broken.
In 1967 the Twins appeared to be at least as good as in 1965. Talent and reputation had no shortcomings.
But, there were chinks in the armor early in that season. Mele became sort of a fall guy. It comes with the territory in managing. Mele was fired in early June of 1967.
There were morale issues. One had to do with whether the venerable Mele would be eligible for a World Series share. The veterans were sympathetic to the guy, but their argument didn't carry the day.
Those were days when the owners could truly be nickel and diming. Players hadn't gained their empowerment yet. An analogous situation today might be NCAA Division I football players, who are steadily getting restless and turning to possible legal remedies. In baseball we had the Curt Flood case. The college football remedy appears inevitable.
It seems quaint to reflect on major league baseball as it existed in 1967. We were far from the tech revolution that would allow fans to follow sports through myriad media channels. Money didn't seem to be the be-all and end-all. For example, World Series games were played in daytime as a matter of principle. Principle? The word might not even cross the lips of the sports movers and shakers of today. It's a Machiavellian world. So let's step into the time machine and go back to 1967 and get a taste of a previous era.
It's not hard to feel nostalgia about 1967. But we have to blot out one thing: the Viet Nam War. The war was arguably at its worst in that year. Us boomers were ready to object to that war with every fiber of our energy. Still, ordinary life had to go on. We followed the Minnesota Twins as if they were going to follow the same route as in 1965: to the World Series. Without the extraneous issues brought about by ownership's penny-pinching, we could well have celebrated that summit. The Twins of '67 were boffo with their talent. They might as well have pulled away from other contenders. Instead we got one of the most suspenseful pennant races in history.
Had the Twins won, I'm sure whole books would be written for the Minnesota audience. I might not have to write this post as a reminder of that season. Pro sports are wild with the pendulum of fate. Can't we all imagine Gary Anderson's field goal try going through the uprights (vs. Atlanta)?
Meet Cal Ermer, man of (possible) destiny
We had a manager for the bulk of the '67 season, Cal Ermer, who is remembered today as a minor league fixture. The '67 summer was his big chance to find the limelight. He's a trivia answer today. He would not be a trivia item, had his Twins won just once over their final two games. The scene was Fenway Park, Boston. The Twins and Red Sox were two of the four teams scrapping desperately down the stretch. It was suspenseful but not artful. Chris Jaffe wrote that the four teams "fought like junkyard dogs."
With a week left, all were within a game of first. From September 15 until the last day of the season, all were within two games of each other.
"High noon" arrived at Fenway for those last two games. I remember.
Us boomers of Minnesota had an emotional tie with our Minnesota Twins. Being a fan seemed more emotional then than today. We rarely saw teams other than the Twins on TV. TV broadcasts could be crude, often with no center field camera position (which we take for granted today). The broadcasters weren't as analytical about baseball as they are today. You might call it vapid banter, the equivalent of what we saw on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The media tailored their products for a mass audience. Thus the "least common denominator" often ruled.
Halsey Hall entertained us as we followed that incredible '67 pennant race. Hall was as much a throwback as Griffith. We loved him. He came to Morris in 1969 to help honor our native son Jerry Koosman (pitcher with the Mets). He joked about whether Koosman's "key to the city" would open a certain establishment across the street which was of course the liquor store. We laughed about alcohol consumption in those days. I suspect Calvin Griffith enjoyed his afternoon cocktail.
"Yaz" vs. Kaat at the end
The stage was set with those final two games left in 1967: Twins vs. Red Sox.
Carl Yastrzemski, the iconic Red Sox star, was 28 years old and patrolling left field at Fenway. He was a total clutch performer in 1967.
It's now forgotten that Jim Kaat was a similarly clutch performer for the Twins in that stretch drive. Kaat had a super September with a 7-0 record, 65.7 innings pitched and a 1.51 ERA. His arm was overworked. He had to leave the game on Saturday when the first of those two fateful games were played. He injured his elbow and exited in the third inning. Minnesota took a 1-0 lead into the fifth inning. Boston plated a couple runs but Minnesota got the score tied in the sixth.
Ron Kline pitched in relief for the Twins. George Scott of the Red Sox homered to center on Kline's first pitch. Our great shortstop Zoilo Versalles committed a bad error in the seventh that resulted in two runners on for Boston. Boston's great Yastrzemski brought his lumber to the plate. He homered into the bullpen. We lost that game 6-4.
We tuned in for Sunday's game with some unease. Many of us felt the baseball gods just weren't going to be kind to us. Just like on Saturday, Minnesota got an early lead. "Yaz" committed an error that helped us go up 2-0. But in the sixth, "Yaz" singled with the bases loaded, getting the score tied. The rally continued. Minnesota was down 5-2 at the end of the rally, and the forces of destiny seemed not on our side.
Then Yastrzemski made a perfect throw in the seventh to nail Bob Allison at second.
Ermer in pre-game had made an unusual comment, that the moment of truth in bullfighting arrives at 4 p.m. Indeed, late-afternoon at Fenway Park brought resolution to a degree, although four more hours would pass before Bostonians could truly break out the champagne. Bobby Knoop of the Angels fielded a grounder 700 miles west of Fenway, at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, and started a double play that knocked the Tigers out of a possible tie. Boston had achieved what came to be known as "the impossible dream."
Boston's Sunday win over the Twins was by a score of 5-3. Fenway had a crowd of 35,770 which was beyond capacity. The fans had been starved for success. Yastrzemski had seven hits in eight plate appearances over those last two games. He had two infield hits, a double, three solid singles and a dramatic three-run homer.
Yes, there were four teams scrapping down the stretch and although it was undoubtedly exciting, the teams were not playing what you would call artful baseball. That's easy for us to say. Let's see us try to go out there and do it.
Yes, teams were fumbling away opportunities. The White Sox were a half-game out with five games left vs. weak sisters Kansas City and Washington, and had their best pitches rested. The door was open for them. Chris Berman of ESPN always proclaims "That's why. . .they play. . .the game." The White Sox got shut out three times in the last five games, and lost all five. That's why they play the game, indeed.
Detroit kept challenging but was erratic. Meanwhile our Twins gamely held on to first, sole or shared, for nearly all the stretch beginning on September 2 up to that "high noon" time. We can reflect on one pivotal series. We dropped three to the White Sox and in the middle game, we collapsed in the ninth, allowing a four-run rally and losing 5-4. Were the baseball gods at work? 
Ermer, Kaat and Chance - can they win?
This was Cal Ermer's time to try to carve out a niche in baseball history. He entered those last two games ready to deploy his best two pitchers: Kaat and Dean Chance. The Twins had a history of doing well at Fenway. In '65 they beat the Red Sox in eight of nine games there, and 17 of 18 overall! Where did that magic go in 1967? One writer suggested "bad luck and bad morale" for the Twins. A veteran Twin said of the thumbs-down on a World Series share for Mele: "I was never so ashamed of anything in my life, and we had enough problems even before that came up."
Today the issue of an extra World Series share would seem like pocket change. Mountains of money accumulate around big league sports today. Griffith cut his teeth as owner when concessions sold at games was a big part of the team's financial fortunes. No ESPN.
Bowie Kuhn called the baseball owners of that time "sportsmen." Their motivations went beyond money. World Series games stayed in the afternoon time slot, until that finally ended with Kuhn famously wearing his long underwear to stay warm, sans jacket, at night World Series games. He was pooh-poohed for that. Call Kuhn a fall guy.
Dave Barry has joked that the baseball post-season games of today are played "after everyone has gone to bed." When the Twins played in the '65 Series, I'd get all the details when getting home from school. I was in the fifth grade.
I was in junior high (that awful phase of life) for that '67 campaign. We saw those disturbing headlines about the Viet Nam War. Seeking to put that aside, we enjoyed songs like "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum. We ate up the Monkees and their songs like "I'm a Believer." Oh, the Beatles were still together and they produced "All You Need is Love," "Hello Goodbye" and "Penny Lane." We'd turn on our transistor radio and hear "San Francisco (Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)." The dark Doors gave us "Light My Fire." Frank Sinatra and daughter Nancy sang "Somethin' Stupid."
But the war loomed, even invading our supposedly escapist entertainment world. Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys was indicted for draft evasion. The draft board of Louisville KY refused an exemption for Muhammad Ali.
On TV we followed the shows on the big three broadcast networks. "The Newlywed Game" premiered on ABC. The Rolling Stones appeared on Ed Sullivan. Super Bowl I was played in 1967! Green Bay beat Kansas City 35-10 in Los Angeles. Verne Gagne beat Mad Dog Vachon in St. Paul to become NWA champion. Wilt Chamberlain of hoops made 35 straight field goals.
Ermer became Twins manager as a promotion from Denver of the Pacific Coast League. Baseball was his life, at least professionally speaking. He was married to a former Miss Chattanooga (TN) and Miss Tennessee! As a player Cal was in just one major league game. Post-1967 he would manage the Twins' AAA affiliate in Toledo OH. As Twins manager he won 66 of 112 games. One more win would have put him in Minnesota history annals in an indelible way.
But the baseball vagaries would send glory in another direction. It seemed capricious, or was it a matter of Griffith's skinflint reputation? I think the latter. Pitcher "Mudcat" Grant, in protest, considered going full-time with his entertainment pursuits ("Mudcat and the Kittens"). In retrospect, these guys should have gone all-out to win, undistracted, not because of the money they'd make then, but because of the fortune they could make down the road as famous former big leaguers, going to card shows etc. Denny McLain could have done that but he evidently found crime more attractive.
Cal Ermer served with the U.S. Marines in World War Two. He left us for that diamond in the sky in 2009. Cal Ermer, RIP. You didn't deserve such heartbreak as what came down in 1967. Why not a world in which the Twins could win and there was no war? "Imagine," as John Lennon prodded us.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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