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).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The epic fade (or choke) of 1964 Philadelphia Phillies

We're in the midst of the 2013 October Classic as I write this. Frankly I pay little attention to baseball today. The strike of 1994 severed the kind of attachment I once had to the game. ESPN ran a little PSA back then with the caption "Play ball. . .please."
Baseball has righted itself. I don't think it encourages the kind of emotions it once did. Boomers like me remember a time when the emotions connected to "your" team were intense. I'm reminded of this as I read reflections by a Phillies fan, name of Mike Walsh. Walsh is one of those poor souls who followed the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies.
1964! It's getting rather remote in time. I remember being in the local Punt, Pass and Kick on an autumn Saturday and hearing the P.A. announcer giving updates on the 1964 World Series game of that day. It was St. Louis versus the New York Yankees. Walsh's Phillies were out of the running.
It's amazing because the Phils had a lead of 6 1/2 games in the National League with 12 games left to play. Walsh like me had a part of himself invested in his team.
Remember that back then, there wasn't a wide choice of games to watch on TV through the summer. Watching baseball almost always involved watching "your" team. The rare exception was NBC's "Game of the Week" with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. Curt and Tony gave us the chance to watch some star players who only rarely showed up on live national broadcasts. The typical Twins fan, or in Walsh's case with the Phillies, would be fixated on that one team for all practical purposes. This is why I point out the bond was so emotional.
For the Phillies to collapse left young men like Walsh truly crestfallen. It wasn't as if the Phils could settle for a wild card slot in the playoffs. No such thing then. It's amazing to think we had two ten-team leagues in '64 but only two teams getting the nod for the post-season. I guess the money for media deals just wasn't on the table then, in that age of the "big three" TV networks in dominance. Extended playoffs weren't marketable then, not to the mass U.S. audience.
Today in the niche world of media, we are so spoiled. Boomers like me are apt to forget the quaint times. (Boomers conveniently forget a lot of things!)
The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies under manager Gene Mauch went into a tailspin, losing ten straight games. The first seven of those games were played at home: Connie Mack Stadium. Fans watched as if it was some sort of Halloween horror presentation.
 
Oh, to go back in time
So epic was this collapse, it led to a novel being written: " '64 Intruder," by Gregory T. Glading. The story has a fan going back in time and preventing Cincinnati Red Chico Ruiz from stealing home. By far this is the defining play of the skid, although it's hard to believe one play explains all the futility. Of course it doesn't. It guess it just seems symbolic. It came at the start of the skid, perhaps applying a hex?
Frank Robinson was at bat when Ruiz made his move from third base. The game was scoreless in the seventh inning and there were two outs. Ruiz was a backup infielder. On the mound for Philadelphia was Art Mahaffey. Walsh recalled in his online piece that Ruiz "should have been out by 20 feet." Walsh called it a "crazy stunt."
What possessed Ruiz to try this move? What ever possesses a runner at third to do this? It seems to defy the odds, as a normal delivery by the pitcher should get the would-be stealer retired. Rod Carew had an uncanny instinct of knowing how to steal home. Same with the great Jackie Robinson. There's something in the ether making certain players sense they can do it.
Because it's an unusual play, it can get the defensive players unnerved, jarred, losing focus etc. This seems to be the ingredient in many if not most steals of home. Sometimes the ball can get jarred from the catcher's glove. The catcher isn't anticipating having to make a play like this. Any time a tag is required, we can't assume the out.
Ruiz tore for home as if crazed, but he was crazy like a fox. The diminutive Ruiz arrived safely and his Reds won 1-0.
Of course, the Phils could have dusted themselves off and taken care of business in the following games. Instead the Phils dealt heartbreak to their emotionally invested fans like Mr. Walsh. It was the kind of heartbreak us Minnesota Twins fans felt at the end of the 1967 season, when we saw a highly achievable pennant slip away. I relate to the kind of heartbreak Walsh recalls.
"I was hurt," he wrote. "I was naive and vulnerable. We were shell-shocked. Forty years later it still hurts. I learned a lesson: Life isn't fair."
I could have written the same after '67.
We were also crestfallen when the Twins lost to the Dodgers in the 1965 World Series, and let's include the four Super Bowl losses by our football Vikings. All of this is why, when '87 and '91 unfolded and Minnesota won the baseball World Series, it felt like redemption, of reaching the Promised Land!
I'll repeat: Boomers grew up with an emotional attachment to their team. Today you can be a broad "baseball fan" and appreciate all that's going on in the two leagues, what with so many teams getting on TV all the time. In the '60s we penciled the televised Twins games onto our calendar, and the production standards could be crude. Let me remind that with many games, there was no center field camera position - something we take for granted today. There might be one camera positioned behind home plate.
Many boomer males loved Twins baseball despite the limitation. I feel guilty recalling the emotional nature of my attachment. The odds are so high for disappointment. It's not healthy. The baseball strike of '94 cured most of that for me.
 
A tumble into second for Philly
The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies finished in a tie for second place with Cincinnati, each with a 92-70 record, one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals who would go on to win the World Series.
A pennant would have cured longstanding frustration for Phillies backers. From 1919 through '47, Philadelphia finished last 17 times and next to last on seven occasions. They really needed Roy Hobbs.
The Phils climbed to respectability in 1962 and '63. In '64 they assembled a cast that included the immensely talented Dick ("Don't call me Richie") Allen. Allen was in his rookie season. Jim Bunning, today a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, was obtained from Detroit at the start of the season. Bunning was a premier pitcher. This he showed on Fathers Day of '64 when he twirled a perfect game vs. the Mets, the first perfecto in the N.L. since the 1880s. Bunning's heroics were at New York's Shea Stadium where the crowd got on his side, roaring with cheers in the ninth inning. Bunning struck out John Stephenson for the last out.
The '64 Phillies had star John (or "Johnny") Callison in right field. "TV Guide" went to press with a World Series preview that had a photo of Connie Mack Stadium. Surely the Phils would enter the Fall Classic. It was "The Days of Wine and Rojas," as has been joked (takeoff on "Days of Wine and Roses"). Bobby Wine and Cookie Rojas were team members. Fielding whiz Wine is remembered as throwing out batters from shortstop while falling toward third.
We had Zoilo Versalles, Philly had Bobby Wine.
Other important Phils players included Chris Short, Tony Gonzalez and Tony Taylor. But our focus should maybe be on manager Mauch. He is well-known to Twins fans, having managed here in the late 1970s. Actually he also managed the Minneapolis Millers before the Twins came into existence. He had a long managing career in which his basic acumen was never questioned. In fact his acumen won raves to the point where one might theorize he "over-managed." This is a very easy theory to offer.
Mauch has been called the father of what came to be known as "small ball." The idea is to "manufacture" runs with such things as bunts, grounders to the right side, hit-and-runs etc. Mauch platooned liberally. This means batting righties vs. lefty pitchers and the other way around. It's controversial.
I don't think baseball science has ever really given a verdict on bunting. Yes, bunting can advance a runner into scoring position (although success isn't guaranteed). But you sacrifice an out. You're only allotted 27 outs in a game. You might remember that Brad Pitt in the movie "Moneyball" said his team simply wasn't going to bunt. And when the other team bunted, the play would only be made to first, no "trying to be a hero" by throwing to second.
Mauch's Phils won eight of their first ten games in 1964. They dueled with the San Francisco Giants (with Willie Mays) much of the time. The all-star break arrived with the Phils' red color looking brilliant indeed, the team in first place. It was a far cry from 1961 when the team lost 23 straight games! Dick Allen was headed for Rookie of the Year honors. (At that early time in his career, the name "Richie" prevailed with him.)
John Callison hit a three-run home run in the ninth to win the All-Star Game for the National League. The Phillies kept on winning. They returned home from a West Coast trip on September 20, up by those 6 1/2 games and with TV Guide anticipating their post-season entry. World Series tickets and programs were already printed!
"Go Phillies Go" bumper stickers were out and about. All that was needed, Walsh recalled, was "four or five measly wins."
The Reds of Cincinnati came to town. Ruiz did his trick of stealing home. Was this the dagger?
Mauch should have steadied things. Instead the venerated skipper panicked. He pitched Bunning and Short with too little rest. The clutch hitting vanished. The bullpen went haywire. Late-inning leads slipped away in several games. Boos began cascading down. Worse yet, Mauch became withdrawn and sullen.
The ten-game loss streak was followed by two wins but it was too late. Walsh wrote that "a crushing choke is an especially painful thing for a young sports fan." We never forget it.
I still try to imagine what it would have been like if the Twins had won just one of those last two games against the Red Sox in Boston in 1967. The only thing that would have made me happier, would be for the U.S. to get out of Viet Nam. Let's not forget that dark cloud of the 1960s and how the draft terrorized young men then, how we realized the war wasn't worth it. Baseball was escapist entertainment in troubled times. We can forget how troubled.
Dick or "Richie" Allen was the first African-American Phillies star. Collectors of baseball cards will remember he was from "Wampum, Pennsylvania." He was a controversial player in an age when edgy behavior and speech were frowned upon. He thrilled with home runs and overall power. He was assigned third base which he had never played before. He would later play first base.
Allen became a lightning rod when he got into a fight with Frank Thomas on July 3, and Thomas subsequently got released. Fans blamed Allen. Allen also grated on some people by writing messages in the dirt around the infield. He'd write "boo" or "trade me." The league ordered him to stop. Back in that Lawrence Welk era, there was a sense of decorum that was very important.
 
Fitting expected mold
I would argue that players weren't even expected to sound very educated when they were interviewed. Remember when ESPN showed re-runs of all those "Home Run Derby" shows? The host was Mark Brandt. Players were wooden with their disposition and speech as they stood there, answering Mark's banal questions. I mentioned this to a friend once who said "The players were scared of the owners."
I remember Minnesota Twin Jim Kaat coming across as a player with better than average education, or he was at least very articulate and not hesitant about showing it. We'd think nothing of this today - nothing. In the '60s it could come across as untoward.
So you can realize that Dick Allen's behavior went sharply against the grain, especially in those times of inflamed race relations.
Two non-fiction books have been inspired by the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies and their collapse. One has Allen's name in the title and gives a lot of attention to integration (of the races).
Allen stuck with the Phils and in 1966 batted .317 with 112 RBIs. He later played with St. Louis, Los Angeles, the Chicago White Sox and Oakland, before returning to Philadelphia for 1975 and '76. He had 351 career home runs and a .292 average. Folk singer Chuck Brodsky wrote a song inspired by Allen, called "Letters in the Dirt."
 
Bred in Oklahoma: two stars
John Callison was a native of Oklahoma like Mickey Mantle. Callison isn't remembered as well as he should be. Oh, if he'd only played in New York! He was second in the MVP voting to Cardinal Ken Boyer in 1964. Callison hit 226 home runs in ten years with Philadelphia. He was a native of Qualls OK, while Mantle was a native of Spavinaw and moved to Commerce. Callison led the National League in outfield assists four straight times. He had 840 career RBIs.
If Gene Mauch is calling for the "double switch" today, he's doing it from heaven. He left us in 2005, having never won a pennant despite his genius and longevity. He managed four big league teams from 1960 to 1987. His tenure with Philadelphia was from 1960 to 1968. Yes, he kept the reins even in the wake of the epic 1964 collapse. 
Mauch would later be the inaugural manager of the Montreal Expos. He managed our Minnesota Twins in disco (and inflation) times of 1976 through 1980. He had a reputation for provoking opposing teams with taunting. He had a strong temperament but he sure couldn't will that '64 Phillies team out of its funk. He had the nickname "Little General." He got close to the World Series on three occasions. He was the manager for two of the longest losing streaks in history: 23 with the 1961 Phillies and 20 with those '69 Expos.
The Expos' streak caused the media to remind everyone of the '64 Phillies collapse.
 
Mauch with our Twins
Mauch had a winning record with the 1976 Minnesota Twins, when Calvin Griffith was still the owner. The '76 Twins went 85-77 and were third in the A.L. West. However, the Twins inspired little enthusiasm among the populace. Our fan turnout of 715,394 was the lowest total in the American League. It was the third straight year for Minnesota to have the fewest fans. Amazing.
Frankly, the Twins had become passe in the eyes of the state's boomer fans, who were giddy about the Vikings and made the soccer Kicks a part of their trend-conscious lifestyle. But the Twins? We seemed to yawn, inexplicably, I'd argue.
Our Metropolitan Stadium was always a wonderful place to enjoy baseball. We had gotten spoiled. We had so much success with our Twins in the 1960s. The euphoria of 1961 when the Twins began, was gone. We were so fortunate having the Twins. And we were still a winner in 1976. In 1979 we went 82-80 for fourth in the A.L. West but we were only six games behind champion California.
But in 1980 we faded to 19 1/2 games behind Kansas City. Bring on the Metrodome! Metropolitan Stadium's history was about to conclude. And today we have Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, a state of the art place. We have gone light years from the Minneapolis Millers (Triple-A) days. Dave Moore may have waxed nostalgic about those Millers but I doubt many others did. Nicollet Park! I'd venture to say it was a dump.
The Twins and Vikings came into existence in 1961 and the rest is history for us doted-upon boomers.
How we loved the Twins in the '60s, just like Walsh loved his Phillies. The table was set for heartbreak. We lost in Game 7 of the '65 World Series vs. Sandy Koufax, who had to keep an eye on the calendar for Jewish holidays. We lost at the end of the '67 regular season and felt crushed, exactly how Phils fans felt at the end of '64.
Walsh wrote that "1964 ingrained something insidious in my brain - something defeatist."
It's too bad a mere sport can have such a hold on us. The '94 strike cured a lot of that for me. But we never become detached from our childhood.
Perhaps a novel could be written about the '65 World Series in which the Twins heroically get to Koufax at the end of Game 7.
"And the crowd goes wild." But it didn't happen. Life goes on.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

No comments:

Post a Comment