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).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rod Carew: unparalleled with bat, chilly personality

Did you follow the career of Rod Carew? He's in that pantheon of top-tier Minnesota Twins. We remember him as flirting with that .400 batting average but never making it. He played in pre-Bill James times when batting average was the first thing we consulted when evaluating many players. By that indice, Carew was among the best ever.
His major league career began in the 1960s but it was after our 1965 American League pennant. He wasn't around for all the exhilaration of the Tom Kelly era. He was a Twin when the team teased us: it was very good much of the time but couldn't climb to another pennant. We don't have the full sense of gratification remembering Rodney. He was the man with the potentially .400 bat (we were continually told) but never did it.
People my age remember gnashing our teeth whenever Rod had to fulfill his National Guard requirement. Being in the Guard in those days meant you wouldn't get sent to Viet Nam.
The worst year of the war, 1967, was Rod's rookie year with the Twins. Legend has it Twins owner Calvin Griffith ordered Sam Mele to install Rodney as the starting second baseman, no questions asked. So on opening day, April 14, 1967, Rod stepped up to bat against the Detroit Tigers at our Metropolitan Stadium.
April 14 is an awfully early date to count on decent weather for baseball here. The temperature was 51 degrees and rain fell. The attendance was 21,347 - actually pretty decent. Twins baseball was still pretty fashionable here. Carew got one single in the Twins' 5-3 win over the Tigers.
The 1967 season would go down as intensely heartbreaking for the Twins. The pennant race went up to the very end. We could taste it - the pennant. Those were days when fans had a more emotional bond with their favorite team. There was no ESPN to spread exposure of all the big league teams. If you were a baseball fan in Minnesota, your bond was clearly with the Twins as if they were family.
Carew had a successful rookie season. But his Twins were edged out at the very end by the "impossible dream" Boston Red Sox with triple crown winner Carl Yastrzemski. The triple crown is based on batting average, home runs and RBIs. Like I said, those were pre-Bill James times. Frank Robinson of Baltimore won the triple crown in 1966.
Rod Carew was a delicate-looking man who seemed more to wave the bat as much as swing it. He had an open batting stance. He was masterful at simply getting hits. Occasionally he showed power to the extent we wondered why he couldn't do it more often. I wonder if he felt that batting average was simply his ticket.
I remember the scene from the movie "61*" in which the Yankees owner calls in Roger Maris and asks Roger if he might be too preoccupied with batting average. "We're paying you to swing for the fences."
Harmon Killebrew was to home runs what Carew was to batting average. Killebrew often had trouble keeping his average up. We wonder how Harmon would have done over the very long term if sports medicine had been more advanced, and if PEDs could have been slipped to him.
Of course we all frown on PEDs. Major League Baseball was belated in trying to clamp down on that. Baseball struggled to win fans back after the strike of 1994. A couple of guys hitting moon shots were a good cure for that. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa obliged. Billy Crystal made his "61*" movie that suggested McGwire was going to own the home run record for a long time. Barry Bonds came along and thrilled us a lot less. Home runs were becoming like touchdowns in Arena League football.
Carew, Killebrew and Oliva: an era
Carew played beside Killebew and Tony Oliva. The latter two were quite endearing to us while Carew had a personality not so endearing. He seemed cold and distant. He spoke in a programmed way in interviews. "Aloof" was a description I eventually heard from a leading media person.
I read about Carew repeatedly sending his eggs back in a restaurant. Take a hike, man. Fry your own. There was a plane flight incident when he was retired, when we at first wanted to sympathize with him, but as facts trickled out we realized he wasn't sympathetic.
We could have overlooked the negative traits had Rodney helped deliver a pennant for us. Other-worldly as he seemed with his talents, he never got into the glow of the World Series. The All-Star Game was no substitute.
The divisional system in big league ball began in 1969. Rod was in his prime. Our Twins won the division under the very popular, and then stable, manager Billy Martin. Maybe I should put an asterisk there. Billy did get into a storied fistfight with pitcher Dave Boswell. But fans loved how the Twins won the American League West in '69. We then bombed in the playoffs vs. the Baltimore Orioles. Martin was fired. Enthusiasm for the Twins dropped off.
Bill Rigney, a capable hand but blasé with his personality, took over in 1970 and led the Twins to another West title. The playoffs were ditto from 1969: the Orioles with Frank Robinson dominated us. I remember that in both '69 and '70, enthusiasm for the Twins around the state was far beneath what we'd see today with similar accomplishments. My, what glee a division title would bring!
As we progressed through the 1970s, all that early sheen of the Minnesota Twins franchise waned, unfortunately. Was it a case of simply being spoiled? The team had given us so much success through the 1960s.
We realized in the '70s that Calvin Griffith couldn't keep up with his owner peers. Bowie Kuhn wrote that the Griffith family were "church mice." I really liked Bowie's autobiography. He was a lawyer and a good writer. He also came across as having much more heart than fandom generally ascribed to him. We must remember he worked for the owners. Those were turbulent times with the Curt Flood case transforming everything. We realize now all of that was necessary.
One thing the players didn't realize was how they could someday parlay their fame into great riches through card/memorabilia shows.
The '67 Twins were known to be a little demoralized, perhaps in the face of Calvin's austerity. It shouldn't have mattered. The players should have sought as much fame through success as possible. Fame would equate to great monetary reward down the road. Denny McLain didn't need to try to be a criminal! Being a criminal was strangely in his DNA, and I say strange because, as Kuhn pointed out in his book, the type of man with the skills and drive to become a major league baseball player isn't the type to show criminal tendencies. I remember seeing McLain pitch at the old "Met."
Baseball in the disco '70s
The Twins teased us with a bid for the pennant in 1977. Fans were still enthused enough to respond to that. We had to be the best. And we came close.
This was one of those seasons when Rodney teased us by coming close to that .400 average. He was never better than in June of 1977. He "waved" that bat and "sprayed" hits all over the place, remember? The Twins looked mighty promising so on Sunday, June 26, with the promotion of Jersey Day on, a total of 46,463 fans showed up at the Met! Remember, there were no casinos yet!
"The sky was azure, clear and high," Joe Soucheray wrote. "The temperature at game time was 87 degrees, rising to 92 later in the afternoon."
Many fans stripped down to only modest coverings. The Twins engaged in a game that was just as amazing as the turnout. It was as if God blessed the whole occasion. The game turned into an offensive explosion. The Twins won 19-12 and went a game up on Chicago, and three and a half over California and Kansas City.
Glenn Adams drove in eight runs. Rod produced four hits and upped his average to .403! He scored five runs. Four standing ovations showered down on Sir Rodney. He showed that power capability in the eighth, slamming a two-run home run.
Of course the Twins tapered off. By September it seemed they were off the radar screen altogether. As evidence I offer the fan turnout of the last home game that season: a mere 3,291. Dave Goltz was the Twins pitcher on that calm and quiet afternoon. He was seeking his 20th win. He would be the first A.L. 20-game winner that season.
The hopes were dashed all-around: Goltz was defeated, and later that day Jim Palmer of Baltimore got his 20th. Goltz was as uncharismatic as Palmer was charismatic. Goltz's pitching mechanics were minimalist.
Gene Mauch was our manager then. Mauch gained infamy before even taking the Twins' reins, by being manager for the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies in the biggest choke episode of all time. Mauch survived that, in terms of being albe to still get big league gigs. He's remembered as the Twins manager in that time when Minnesotans seemed to tire of their team and their seemingly stale Metropolitan Stadium.
A new stadium was going to have to be built to jump-start things. That in fact happened. Rod Carew's other-worldly batting averages faded into the history book with no pennant to show for this.
We can remember the glorious days at the Met when summer seemed so joy-filled. Remember the disco music too. The U.S. economy was turbulent. We were hung over from Viet Nam and the fall of Richard Nixon. Inflation roared, remember?
Burt Reynolds showed it was neat to defy the law (as "The Bandit"). Jackie Gleason represented the law in an eccentric and shameful way. I remember an op-ed scolding him for even taking that role.
Those were different times, to be sure. Rod Carew was at the apex of his hitting powers. We can remember fondly even if his personality never captivated us. His talent was up in the stratosphere. He needed a personality mentor. And, maybe a personal chef for breakfast.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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