morris mn - We're a community on the grand, seemingly endless prairie of the Upper Midwest. Empty, you might say? It's the epitome of richness, both in the overall environment and the hardy souls who populate. Morris is home to the University of Minnesota-Morris, a small public liberal arts college of distinction.
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).
In photo: a musical unit for the 1977 Donnelly Threshing Bee parade. No, we didn't play "disco." Your blog host, Brian Williams, is at right with trumpet. Joining me in the front row are Del Sarlette (left) and Doug Garberick (wearing helmet, a curious adornment and surely a conversation-starter). In the middle row, from left, are rock-solid UMMers Jeff Johnson, Marty Sarlette and Clyde Johnson. The gents in back are, l-r: Bruce Maus, John Woell (high school band director) and Jim Waage. I remember one year, a bright-eyed Harold Trost (RIP) drove past us as we were parked on the grounds and "compensated" us with a 12-pack or two of "brewskies." I actually preferred winning a liter of Pepsi at the ring-toss on the grounds. I warmly remember Darlene Awsumb (RIP) serving me some nice hot coffee. The ice cream shack was quite a temptation.
We're past the Donnelly Threshing Bee which means we're ushering out summer. The time between the county fair and Threshing Bee is an anticlimactic part of summer. Summer's glory most surely still reigns. We ought to relish it just as much as around July 4.
We seem to start getting distracted by anticipating the new school year. I was told many years ago: Don't schedule a class reunion for August because everyone will get back to you and say: "We can't come because we have to get ready for school." I'm not sure this statement is literally true. I just think people have fallen out of that state of mind where they do vacation-type things. That's reserved for earlier in summer.
Is it really so demanding to "get ready for school?" I told this story to Steve Dudding once and he said: "The ones who want to be there (at the reunion) will find a way to get there."
I have found that the older a class gets, the more likely it is to schedule a reunion for late in summer or even the fall. I think the 30-year reunion might be the hardest to organize. No longer do the alums have that naturally giddy feeling about reunions - they've been gone from school too long - and they are preoccupied with their own children, understandably I'm sure. They relax better when they get older.
Father Gerald Dalseth once shared interesting thoughts about reunions. He said the older we get, the more willing we are to open up with each other about our failures. Fr. Dalseth, a Morris native and quite wise individual, said that at the ten-year reunion, no matter what job we have, it sounds impressive. We become steadily more aware of our shortcomings as we get older. Humility grows. We smile at the brimming optimism that young people around us show - their naivete and occasional chutzpah. This is how God created us. We wouldn't have it any other way.
I was an organizer for our 10, 20 and 30-year reunions, then decided to take a pass for the 40th. I didn't attend last summer (in 2013). In response to a phone call, I did show up for a little informal gathering at the deck behind The Old No. 1. So, technically speaking, maybe you could say I attended. I didn't want to attend because I didn't want to end up in a photo that got published in the Morris newspaper. I was told that my services as a photographer would have been helpful.
I don't think any photos from the reunion got into the paper. The paper doesn't have as much room anymore for that kind of stuff. The paper contracted drastically between our 30 and 40-year reunions. It's a night-and-day difference. The Morris paper today is compact and only seems large because of that infernal pile of advertising circulars, many of them for Alexandria businesses.
I haven't been to the Donnelly Threshing Bee in about nine years, sorry. I may have been at the first-ever Threshing Bee. I began covering the Threshing Bee for the Morris paper in 1979. I believe the first queen I covered was Gayle Struck. I took a photo of Butch Ersted being dunked at the dunking booth. Way back when, I had a hard time getting over Butch's suspension from the high school basketball team. If he thinks people forget that kind of thing, he's wrong. I was in junior high and rather impressionable.
Nuggets of "Bee" memories
I remember a famous horseshoes player being a visiting dignitary for the Threshing Bee. Donnelly was associated with horseshoes for a time. I remember hot-air ballooning as an exciting exhibition for the Threshing Bee. I remember the Upper Mississippi Bluegrass Band supplying terrific folksy entertainment that fit right in with the atmosphere.
The royalty aspect was heartwarming on Saturday night. The emcee and candidates gathered on that stage in front of the depot building. I remember Mr. Sax starting out the dance at the town hall by dancing with his daughter, the queen.
The Threshing Bee has touted its "big top tent." It's quite the asset as relief from an overbearing sun or impending rain. Morris' Prairie Pioneer Days could use such an asset.
Soaking in "celebration of community"
I wouldn't be surprised if the total size and turnout for the Threshing Bee has declined in recent years. This isn't to say it has less value for attending. Prairie Pioneer Days has shown signs of decline, yet we enjoy it. It's a simple celebration of community. It doesn't need all the bells and whistles.
There would be no fault assigned if the Threshing Bee is declining, it would simply reflect outstate rural demographics. This trend, or the seeds of it anyway, got started many years ago with the advent of the birth control pill. Singer Loretta Lynn once said "if the pill had been around when I was younger, I would've taken them like candy." The late Wally Behm told me about how people in education noticed the effects of the pill quite unmistakably, after a few years had gone by of course.
If you want to appreciate what life was like in the pre-pill times, watch the movie "Spencer's Mountain" and see Henry Fonda seated at the dinner table with something like nine kids seated around him, and his wife (Maureen O'Hara). Pity the O'Hara character. Or maybe she liked it - being beleaguered by so many hyper children. We can't assume it was all arduous. Many would argue that God wants us to multiply like this. I guess Catholics would lead the way, although their ranks include many who opt for the minimal child burden.
The Donnelly kids had a group identity when I was young. My class included at least a couple girls who your typical boy would describe as "cute." My elementary basketball team played a big "away game" at the Donnelly town hall. You know, that's an amazing little building. It seems so minimal and almost rather gloomy, yet so many festive community events have been held there - fish fries and the like.
Donnelly seemed to have more than its share of "characters" - interesting people. Were they eccentric or just intelligent and insightful? Take your pick. I'll never forget the genius artist Del Holdgrafer who left us too soon. I once asked him to do a custom drawing job and all he asked in return was "enough money to fill my gas tank." He resented how prices starting going up at the doctor's office. I'm sure he loved the days when doctors made "house calls." When he parodied the Morris doctors in a cartoon, he left out the name of Dr. Rossberg who was more the down-home type of doctor he preferred.
I have written before that Holdgrafer is one of the people I'll look up right away if I'm fortunate enough to get to heaven. I guess I've already committed to Willie Martin being the first. Arnie Hennen is on the list. I had better keep going to church.
The rumor today is that St. John's Lutheran of Donnelly could be on its last legs. I always used to smile when hearing St. John's described as the "town" church while Kongsvinger was the "country" church, as if either could really be considered "urban." I attended the ceremony of closure for St. Theresia's Catholic Church in Donnelly. I covered that solemn event for the newspaper, snapping a photo of the bishop (from St. Cloud) who offered consolation. "Maybe we could be a titular parish," he said.
It's no revelation that the small outstate rural communities aren't what they once were. The "Spencer's Mountain" model for families has dissipated. We can't expect the old small town atmosphere to ever be fully resurrected. We live in a world today that is too, shall we say, "efficient." Everyone behaves like they've had too much caffeine. (Holdgrafer would appreciate that statement.)
I remember playing in the band for the Donnelly ice cream social in the late 1960s. It was held outside, not in the town hall, and was most festive with a large number of attendees. Years later I played my horn in the Threshing Bee parade. Then my newspaper responsibilities took over for quite a few years.
Owen Heiberg and I did some judging for parade units. Each year Jan Greiner would ask us to do that. I wonder if Jan remembered that I was a very poor student of hers in junior high French class in Morris. Junior high French class! Horrors. Conjugating all those stupid verbs. And when we were all done with those classes, we couldn't speak French anyway.
A Sadie Hawkins "spectacular"
I was named coach of the "Donnelly Duds" basketball team for Sadie Hawkins week at MHS. This was the boys team. My opposing coach was Maureen Griffith who coached the "Crystal Lake Mud Hens." My gimmick was to have the boys line up for a "field goal attempt" using the basketball at game's end. These days I see Maureen at West Wind Village occasionally, on Sundays visiting. I guess if I had asked anyone to Prom, it would be her.
The Donnelly group of kids was most vibrant through school. There was Marv Stoneburg. Bob Van Zomeren. Chuck Kopel. The inscrutable Allen Anderson. Bob comes from a family with long lifespans. I was at his home once watching a basketball game in which Kareen Abdul-Jabbar still went by the name "Lew Alcindor" (at UCLA). Kareem was a long way from his role in the "Airplane" movie. I won't list any girls because you might wonder if these are the "cute" ones I cited earlier. I remember arguing with one of them over several weeks over whether there was such a thing as "moose meat loaf." Such are the quite insignificant memories that can stand out in our thoughts.
We get older and become more aware of our human failings. Will I be at our 50-year reunion? A whole lot is going to happen before then. I hope the Threshing Bee continues with a sufficient base of vitality, for a very long time.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org
was in that unpleasant maelstrom of adolescence for the year 1968. This
is the year pinpointed by so many of our intelligentsia as the ultimate
maelstrom for our nation. Books have been written on this very thesis.
My adolescence was a personal inconvenience. The maelstrom of the nation
was real but certainly was not confined to one calendar year. The
intelligentsia can point to certain specific disasters. North Viet Nam and the Viet
Cong launched the Tet Offensive. This is the conflict that "our side"
technically won, but it exacted such a toll, or created just the kind of
war weariness that the "aggressors" had sought. I put "aggressors" in
quotes because I'm not prepared to indict that side. We should have
stayed out of the messy affairs of Viet Nam. We were tragically lured into intervention by the boogeyman of "communism."
Mikhail Gorbachev would be puzzled by the term "communism," when asked
about it many years later. He groped for an interpretation and finally
decided to equate it with organized crime. Very astute. Any time a
nation's leaders are not elected, the argument is elementary that it's a
America was like a shining beacon with its democratic and
freedom-oriented institutions. But we sank to depraved levels when
thinking we could transform the rest of the world and bring it around to
our ideals. In recent times we discovered that the Iraq war was a
mistake. Those who don't learn from history, repeat it.
The 1968 Tet Offensive accomplished what the Army of Northern Virginia
was seeking to accomplish with its "invasion" of the north, into
Pennsylvania. The hellish confrontation in the countryside around the
pastoral town of Gettysburg PA was a result of Robert E. Lee wanting to
get the Union to capitulate, based on the pain of casualties. Lee never
had a chance, contrary to legend, of "marching into Washington" and
demanding peace terms. The Union had resources that could have coalesced
and contracted around that pathetic gray assemblage like a snake.
"War of the Rebellion" was the term promoted in northern circles, as if
it was just a reflexive matter of protest rather than a genuine effort
to create something new. Did the Confederacy ever have an idea of its own
borders? It didn't even have a strong central government - an
arrangement that surely worked against its interests. Hey, it was a lot
like the "tea party" of today. Sorry, Fox News. Sorry, Mike Huckabee. Regressive forces always get dragged along with the rest of us.
The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. I remember Eugene
McCarthy sort of being thrown on his heels by that. McCarthy was a
"dove." He cautioned against a visceral reaction to what was happening with
the Soviets. He felt there was too much hand-wringing here. He was
probably right, as we would eventually discover that "communism" would
implode on its own.
Would the Nazi system have imploded on its own? Would it break apart
under the sheer weight of the aggressive and combative nature of its
leaders? I have often thought it would have crumbled naturally, thus we
might not have had to launch that miserable D-Day attack and that
subsequent heart-wrenching conflict into Europe. In the movie "Kelly's
Heroes" (Clint Eastwood), we discover that Nazis could be persuaded by
money. That's in line with what Barack Obama does these days with
"sanctions." "Sanctions" are in lieu of armed conflict.
War protests became common through the western world in 1968. Why on
earth couldn't they make more headway? It's because the young people who
dominated those theatric events lacked money and power.
Us boomers can easily forget how powerless and penniless we were in an
earlier time. Many "name" music groups struggled to keep going
financially - Bill Chase was on the verge of disbanding his group at the
time he died in a plane crash - and man, if they had only realized that
years down the road, they could "rake it in" (the money) as "oldie"
attractions at casinos!
By the same token, baseball players who moaned about being underpaid -
they were - only needed three or four good seasons to someday be able to
"rake it in" at sports memorabilia shows. Denny McLain could have made a fortune as a former big star but he had a natural inclination to crime. We are so human an animal. McLain was such a unique person. A musician as well as athlete, McLain
gained note for endorsing the Hammond organ. The type of people who
develop talents like this, aren't likely to develop criminal tendencies.
But McLain had it in his DNA. Bowie Kuhn would write about how perplexed he felt by this.
Our Minnesota Twins baseball team was in its first decade of existence
in 1968. I think the honeymoon was still going, not to end until about
1971. Or maybe it ended abruptly with the firing of Billy Martin after
the 1969 season. How strange we seemed "wedded" to a certain manager.
Martin would unravel years later. He literally shriveled up physically.
He was the classic example of an unstable person who rode the coattails
of past fame. Might fame be some sort of disease?
The 1968 baseball season stands out as unique in baseball history. The
defensive side completely took over. It was called "the year of the
pitcher." The Twins had a 79-83 record and finished seventh in the
American League. Tony Oliva was right up there in the batting race, finishing third, but this was with a mere .289 average.
It was a curious year for Harmon Killebrew. "The Killer"
was pretty passive in May and June, hitting below .200 in both months.
He barely crept over .200 for the all-star break. Still, so solidified
was his reputation, he was named starting first baseman for the all-star
game. He confessed to being a little embarrassed. He would have been
better off missing that all-star game. In the third inning, he stretched
for a ball thrown by Jim Fregosi, his foot slipped and he
did the "splits." He ruptured his left medial hamstring and was carried
from the field on a stretcher. After seven months of rehab, he was still
in pain but had his best season in 1969.
The major league powers-that-be took actions helping the hitters for the '69 season.
Killebrew, Oliva and Rod Carew
were all-stars from the Twins in '68. It was the last year before the divisional alignment. We had the fourth highest
attendance in the league, at our beloved old Metropolitan Stadium.
Lyndon Johnson announced in '68 that he wouldn't seek re-election. Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis. RFK was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. I saw the movie "Bobby" at the cineplex
in Alexandria and was emotionally affected by it. It's an underrated
movie in my view. Is it possible that the fatal shot or shots came not
from the assassin but from a security guard (by accident of course)?
It was in 1968 that U.S. soldiers massacred men, women and children in My lai, Viet
Nam. I remember following the steady news coverage of that. War
protesters argued that the alleged U.S. perpetrators of that tragedy were
merely "scapegoats," in effect victims who had gotten lost or deluded in
the fog of war. I'm inclined to agree.
The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. led to violence and race riots in 1968.
me? My biggest problem was being an adolescent, a junior high student
at the public school here. Adolescence can be like a disease. A lot of
these kids need help. Perhaps our systems of today have solved that.
Remember those "junior high dances" at the old elementary auditorium in Morris? "Count Floyd" of SCTV would say "Brrrrr, scary!"
attended church at First Lutheran Sunday (8/10), which prompts me to
share the following passage from the Maurice Faust book, "Remember, no
We did not go to church as a family because of the younger
siblings in the family. Mama did not believe in taking a baby to church -
they gained nothing from the service and kept others from total
participation. Another big reason was that Father from the pulpit or
altar would not hesitate to look at a frustrated mother and say, "Can't
you keep that child quiet?"
These infants are a wonderful gift from God, no doubt, and I
don't blame anyone for wanting to celebrate their presence. However,
some people are in church to try to be enriched by what is said from the
front of the sanctuary. Those needs and desires need to be respected
I faintly remember that as a preschool child, in St. Paul, we attended a
church with accommodations for families with potentially noisy kids. I
was probably one of them. There was a section at the back of the
sanctuary with a glass panel in front. First Lutheran in Morris would
benefit from this.
First Lutheran would seem to have drawbacks with its design. Obviously
it was designed in the days before "handicapped accessibility." So was
our old school, the one torn down not long ago. It's not that our
society didn't care about handicapped people. I suppose we felt that
special, separate accommodations could be made for them. Eventually the
philosophy took hold that we must help those individuals feel like part
of the mainstream. Instead of family or friends lifting a wheelchair up
over a curb, the curb could be sloped so the handicapped person could
handle it alone.
First Lutheran has steps and stairs all over the place. It's essentially
split-level. You enter in front and have to decide: go up or down? The
only ground floor place is the entry on the east where the elevator is
located. The elevator was added when handicapped awareness reached a
point where it was a necessity. It was a problem for First Lutheran
because I guess it could not be installed close to the sanctuary. First
Lutheran had no choice, I'm told, but to install it way over on the east
end, next to the parking lot. This leaves a considerable distance
between the elevator and sanctuary, whereas at Assumption Church (the
Catholic church), you're in the sanctuary, the front in fact, when you
step out of the elevator.
Faith Lutheran Church on the west side of town is 180 degrees from First
in terms of its accessibility for people who are either handicapped or
challenged for walking. Remember, we have an aging population. Medical
science has given us this miracle, but it comes with the rather
substantial challenge of seeing that people are accommodated for their
limitations or weaknesses. Heck, I'll be 60 years old next year! It's a
myth that us boomers never age.
Faith Lutheran has no steps or stairs whatsoever, not even at the
entrance. Logically it should be our church, given that my mother is 90
years of age, but she has belonged to First Lutheran since we came to
Morris over 50 years ago.
At First Lutheran, the men's restroom is on one floor, the women's on the other! I guess they've added a unisex restroom also.
can be hard for people seated toward the back of the sanctuary to see
what's going on in front. One might suggest that a sanctuary be designed
so that seats in back are higher than those in front.
I'm not sure a full-fledged pipe organ is needed in our new tech age, an
age that would have a simple electronic keyboard and a couple tiny
speakers produce a very full sound.
When I was a kid, an usher would
greet you at the sanctuary entrance and guide you to a suggested
seating spot. The usher would be a male pillar of the community, dressed
in suit and tie. Today you are merely handed some literature for that
day, then you simply choose a spot. Lots of seating is usually
Author Maurice Faust remembers from his youth how families actually had
reserved spots among the pews, for which specific payment was made. BTW
his memories are concentrated from the '30s and '40s, and originated
from Pierz MN. The book was written some time ago. I'll quote again:
Before starting first grade, we always sat with a parent and
always in the same pew. Parishioners were assigned a specific bench and
therefore were expected to use it. Rent charged for the assigned bench
was based on the number of adults in the family and the desirability of
the reserved spot for worship. Pews with a post were cheaper than those
without. In our church there are two benches that have a post at each
end. Our pew, because it had an obstruction at each end, was one of the
cheaper ones. It was also far from the front under the choir loft.
Being this far from the front of the big church, I could only see
the backs of people in front of me. I could not understand the liturgy -
it was in Latin. I did, however, enjoy hearing the big choir. Trying to
figure out how the ceiling over the nave of the church was held in
place was my primary concern.
The passing of the offering plates bothers me a little. The
practice seems a little archaic. Why can't church members just be
expected to make a quarterly contribution? The plates seem akin to
groveling. The church picks up some spare change from people who may not
be regular members. There is nothing to prevent non-members from
attending a service. Even if they aren't paying, they are probably
helping the church by filling space to give the
impression of vitality for the church. There are some Sundays when we
need it. Such "freeloaders" are thus like "shills" in a casino (playing
with house money).
I'll share some more from Faust's book:
Taking up the offertory collection was a bit of a break during
Mass. Our church at that time did not have ushers, so the collecting of
offerings was done by the parish trustees. Because trustees were
elected to an indefinite term we saw the same two men pass the
collection basket Sunday after Sunday for many years. Weekly offerings
by the faithful during those hard times were very meager. The primary
sources of income for the parish came from pew rent. People took their
obligation seriously and responded with almost total compliance. The
financial report of the Church of St. Joseph, Pierz,
Minnesota for the year of 1934 showed $1,510.80 total plate collections.
The amount for pew rent in 1934 showed receipts of $6,183.25.
All the parish buildings at that time were heated with wood.
Parishioners hard-pressed financially were given the option of bringing
in firewood in lieu of hard cash. In 1934, $386.75 worth of wood was
brought in, and this was the total spent for the year to heat the
church, school, parish house and convent.
I don't know if Faust's book, "Remember, No Electricity!" is
still available, but I recommend it. His approach toward journalism is
just like mine. We think it's important to remember all the little
things. We think it's important to note generational contrasts, the
different ways each generation responds to stimuli around it. I will
quote once more from the book, this time a passage that should leave you
A fellow confessed that he ate hamburger on Friday. The
confessor told him hamburger is meat and therefore not allowed. For his
penance the man was told to bring a load of wood to the parish. A few
days later the man arrived at the church with a load of sawdust. Father
told the man, "You were supposed to bring a load of wood." The fellow
replied, "Father, if hamburger is meat, sawdust is wood."
I'm rather discouraged by the fact our First Lutheran pastor, Paul Erdal,
is leaving. It shouldn't be happening. It's only happening because his
wife Stacey was forced to seek a new teaching job, and this is happening
only because another teacher chose to come back from an extended leave,
defying the expectations of most.
Pastor Erdal gave a wonderful speech for my father's
funeral. He was available to come to the hospital on the night my father
suddenly passed away. I will never forget those moments when he recited
important scriptural stuff.
It is very nice that the street in front of First Lutheran finally got re-paved. That was a belated step, but it's nice now.
Frankly, I think the best thing for Morris ELCA
Lutherans would be one nice new big church, designed according to all
the current standards. It could be on the outskirts of town with a big
paved parking lot. Of course, anyone can be committed to Christianity or
any other faith without going to a building once a week.
The Morris Community Church has moved into the building where I had my
office for 27 years. That's the old Morris Sun Tribune building. I don't
know why those parishioners can't just come over to First Lutheran
which is a stone's throw away.
I think the Morris Community Church was created in a time when my
generation was jaded and skeptical about the traditional mainstream
denominations. Young people today probably wouldn't know what I'm
talking about, but that air of resignation and skepticism was very real
at one time. We saw those old churches as too detached from the issues
of the day - too staid. The Morris Community Church with Neil Thielke at the forefront had a more organic, sincere feel about it, in the eyes of many.
An organization called "Young Life" was created for Morris youth,
separate from the old denominations. Young people weren't all that
interested in "Luther League" or its counterparts anymore. All this was a
phase our nation passed through. It may seem an odd historical
curiosity now. Today the traditional denominations forge ahead.
We never know what the future will bring.
at Morris Community Church should know that the names of deities were
intoned many times at the old Sun Tribune building, but not in a context
he would approve of.)
APBA baseball is a museum piece showing how nerds developed complicated systems in pre-digital
times. It was a simulation baseball game. I'll use the past tense here.
I won't even bother researching whether the game still exists. If it
exists it's a curiosity, or should be one.
Computers can put together simulation models that would do rings around APBA. APBA and its rival Strat-o-Matic were the best for their time. It was cute the way the two took pot shots at each other, a la Macy's vs. Gimbel's in "Miracle on 34th Street." Game aficionados considered both decent. I chose APBA.
We all knew each game had its strengths and weaknesses. Some fans were
quite obsessive and would kick and scream about certain apparent
weaknesses. Major league baseball cannot be replicated with perfection
in a board game. Yes, a board game with the typical accoutrements. We rolled the dice and went by numbers on player cards.
No doubt, the best hitters in real life would be the best in APBA.
Pitchers were graded to yield appropriate performances. The game could
not take into account all variables. I chose not to quibble on this
stuff. In fact, I just appreciated having the APBA cards even if I chose not to play games.
You could argue the cards were more useful than the Topps kind. Once you got well-versed in APBA,
you could size up a player within seconds just by "reading" his card. A
defensive position or positions were specified along with numbers
denoting fielding skill. A shortstop rated "9" was stellar. Outfielders
were only rated up to "3" because of being judged less valuable than
shortstops. An "F" rating for speed meant "fast." Tony Oliva was an "F" at the start of his career but at the sad end, ol' Tony could get thrown out at first on a liner that fell in.
A pitcher with an "X" was good at strikeouts. A "Y" meant moderately good in this regard. Ah, there was cleverness everywhere in this game. The creator, who it turns out stole his APBA
concept from a precursor game, kept tweaking until he finally vented
some frustration. I mean, he wanted his game to be easily playable for
the newcomer. Trying for perfection made the game cumbersome and perhaps frustrating.
was this creative person, a man of Pennsylvania. He may have "stolen"
the basic concept of the game but he advanced it so far, we're inclined
to forgive him. The original game way back did not even have pitcher
APBA was a
game that really bloomed when my boomer generation was in its teens. We
pined for something like that. We would have devoured computers if only
tech had accommodated us. It took time to refine all that hardware
discovered in that crashed UFO in the New Mexico desert (LOL). We made do with Dick Seitz's APBA and that "villain" rival, Strat-o-Matic.
Judge Charlie Glasrud told me he was a Strat-o-Matic
guy. The hours we must have exhausted doing all this. Dave Barry once said
there was "a fine line between having a hobby and mental illness."
Silly rabbit, hobbies can be enriching. They yield intangibles. They can
encourage mental discipline.
Fascinating but difficult
really required too much mental focus. It was easy to commit an
oversight during a game. Any time you substituted, even with a relief
pitcher, a team's defensive rating might be changed. If a pitcher
pitched a certain number of consecutive scoreless innings, his rating
was supposed to be bumped up. It would go down if he got rocked. We felt
mental strain trying to keep track of all this.
Fundamentally, APBA was an easier game to appreciate in theory than in practice.
Flipping through a team's cards for a given year really gave you a sense of the composition of that team.
You'll notice players you might have forgotten about. At a glance
you'll notice if a player had an "up" year or "down" year. What I'm
trying to say here is that APBA had a wealth of historical data, data that was much more fun to peruse than by consulting the dry "Baseball Encyclopedia." "Oh, Bill Pleis
pitched for that Twins team. Hey, he was really effective that year.
Now I remember - he was nicknamed "Shorty!"
Nicknames were specified on
the cards. Zoilo Versalles
was supposedly called "Zorro" but I don't recall this from the Twins
broadcasts. Halsey Hall never told me this. I remember when Herb Carneal tried nicknaming Rod Carew "Choo Choo" based on some train-related story from Rodney's childhood. But. . . Rodney must have put the kibosh on that.
I was never among the nitpickers for APBA. I accepted the game in its basic form. I was an aspiring sportswriter. All I ever asked of APBA was that it yield game results that looked authentic. And it did. It always did.
I always saw a well-written baseball game summary and that boxscore
as a thing of beauty. I'd assemble these results in such a way as to
try to project reality: as if the game had been actually played!
Seitz marketed the game with literature that shared summaries of World Series games based on the most recent World Series. When I bought the game, his review was of the 1969 Mets vs. Orioles - the matchup for that memorable World Series. This review was a rock-solid "alternate history." The Mets did win.
There is a whole school of writing called "alternate histories," for
example, imagining how the Battle of Gettysburg could have turned out
different. A well-known piece did in fact speculate on that, but it
didn't have the Confederates winning! Anyone doing serious research would have a hard time weaving together
a scenario where ol' Robert E. Lee would win. His army was depleted,
exhausted and lacking resources. An alternate history of Gettysburg
would have the Union wiping out the Army of Northern Virginia, because
that was a real possibility. But that's easy for us to say in hindsight.
Try going on the offensive when you're trying to take care of thousands
of wounded men.
Useful tool for a writer
Playing APBA gave me a chance to "stretch my legs" as a sportswriter. I'd type boxscores
and those game reviews on a. . .manual typewriter! Yes, it seems akin
to caveman paintings. The "electric typewriter" wasn't much better. You
had to use "white-out." Is it true that Michael Nesmith's mom invented "white-out" or "liquid paper?" (Nesmith was with the musical group "Monkees.")
Today, a simulation would be performed by the computer with the "game player" largely an observer, I suspect. And, a game boxscore could probably be printed out for you. In the '60s and '70s, the only electronic asset might be a table lamp. APBA was the equivalent of "unplugged" music - those organic acoustic guitars.
There were guys who claimed to have replayed whole seasons with APBA.
Congrats to them - they can enjoy their hobby any way they want. But I
suspect they raced through games with nine-man lineups and pitchers
going the whole way. And, maybe they had mental illness! I'm joking, but
I always played APBA
in the opposite way, pondering lots of strategic moves and not seeking
to rush through anything. I'd consider double-switches! I tried making
the appropriate platooning decisions. This was especially tough. When I
noticed a lefthanded
batter who had, say, 350 at-bats, I had to ask: Was he platooned or was
his playing time limited for other reasons? Was he hurt? Was he called
up at mid-season?
One thing Mr. Seitz
did to really tick off his customers, was to not issue cards for
players who got traded for the stretch drive. A player like Tommy Davis
wasn't much use to the 1969 Seattle Pilots in September. Some APBA players tried creating their own cards for players like Davis, using what they knew about the APBA formula.
Some nerds really went to work analyzing the formula. Apparently the
game was a gold mine for math geniuses. I remember one such APBA player
named Ron Mura. I wonder how ol' Ron is applying his genius today.
I remember a humor columnist for the APBA hobbyist publication. This guy with the gimlet eye was Dave Ouellette. I re-discovered him years later teaching for a small college in the Midwest.
The hobbyist publication was independent of the company. However, there
was some symbiosis because the publication couldn't exist without a
little flyer that was included with the game. I remember some tension growing between Seitz and that publication. The publication was a mouthpiece for the nitpickers too much of the time. Seitz just wanted to sell lots of games. He marketed to casual fans in addition to those arcane-minded nerds.
APBA had four standard
game boards which covered various on-base situations. If you rolled a
"66" (boxcars) with the bases loaded, your eyes would pop wide-open.
Most likely you'd get a grand slam.
Those four game boards couldn't cover everything, so there was a
"sacrifice and hit-and-run booklet." Yes, it was oh so complicated.
The APBA players were trying to envision computers in an era where such things were fodder for reams of sci-fi. Photos of nerdy-looking guys appeared in the APBA Journal. These were clearly bookish types. Today they'd be right in the mainstream!
The APBA Journal got its start under a couple boys who lived in San Mateo CA: the "Gaydos boys!" Such is the stuff of memories for APBA "alumni." Ron and Len Gaydos made a passion of that publication which was a challenge, I'm sure, in that pre-desktop
publishing age. Standard typewriters, scotch tape and wax were the
media, I'm sure. They reported on results from certain well-known APBA leagues.
The TV network news of that era gave some attention to this novel hobby
of "baseball simulation" with the dice. Reporters seemed amazed that
people would go to such lengths.
Hobbyists carried their game stuff around in briefcases. A Journal writer joked about how you could explain your APBA
passion if a friend came to your house and noticed all the game
paraphernalia spread around: "Tell them you're working on your taxes!"
We might be averse to admitting what we were really doing. Simulation
major league baseball games with dice and game boards? Well, it whetted
I enjoyed the "real" games at our Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington
MN. I guess I wanted a little more. Maybe I could re-play the 1965
World Series and the Twins would win, not lose in seven as destiny
scripted for us. Sandy Koufax! Why couldn't we get to him? Why couldn't
his arm have been a little tired for Game 7? Why couldn't the Twins have
broken through in the bottom of the ninth? We can close our eyes and
imagine a different outcome, an "alternate history." Or, we can play APBA and see if we can win that way!
Dick Seitz, RIP. I'm sure Strat-o-Matic was a quite fine game too. Today the computers reign. Let them hum. Let the game-players just relax.
A simulation: '65 Twins vs. the White Sox
once played a number of games involving the 1965 American League teams.
The idea was to complete a whole tournament with teams playing
best-of-five series vs. each other. My plan was for double-elimination.
The whole project got to be a bit much so I aborted it, but in the meantime I gained that unique APBA perspective on the teams of that year. The Twins beat the Chisox in four games. They lost game 1 and then took charge.
Game #1, in Chicago: White Sox 8, Twins 6
There was a clear highlight in this contest: Tom McCraw's grand slam home run in the second inning. Bill Skowron, Gene Freese and Floyd Robinson were on base for McCraw's blast. The Comiskey Field fans became most enlivened.
Remember, Skowron wasn't just a Yankee! He walked to get on base in the second. Freese singled off Jim Kaat. Robinson also worked Kaat for a walk. Lefty batter McCraw got to lefty hurler Kaat. The big southpaw Kaat threw a gopher ball. Kaat was still out there in the third but he got no reprieve. Skowron reached on an error by the normally slick-fielding Jerry Kindall. Skowron later came home on Freese's single.
Kaat actually survived into the seventh. He allowed successive base hits by Al Weis, Don Buford and Danny Cater. Remember Danny Cater? His average was always "up there." Cater's single scored Weis. Kaat finally got the hook in favor of John Klippstein. Skowron hit a sacrifice fly to score Buford. Robinson socked a triple to bring Cater in.
The pitching win went to knuckleballer
Ed Fisher who worked one efficient inning. Gary Peters came on to pitch
two scoreless innings. The starting Chicago hurler was Joel Horlen.
Game #2: Twins 10, Chicago 0
The Minnesota Twins' substantial assets showed themselves in this game at Comiskey.
Those assets were ample but they didn't really bloom until the ninth
inning. The score was just 2-0 up to the ninth. Jim "Mudcat" Grant had
the Chisox under control from the pitching mound.
A total of 13 Minnesota batters appeared in the top of the ninth. An
eight-run rally pushed the score to 10-0 and made the outcome academic.
John Klippstein was going to close out this game on the hill. The big new cushion adjusted manager Sam Mele's thinking. Sam went further down the depth chart to big Dick Stigman, native of Nimrod MN. Stigman, he of the six-finger glove, performed like an ace. He faced just the minimum three batters. The last was Bill Skowron who grounded into a double play.
Joe Nossek began the Twins' big rally with a single. Tony Oliva and Rich Rollins built the rally with hits, and Don Mincher coaxed a walk out of reliever Juan Pizarro. Jimmie Hall reached on an outfield error. Chicago's fortunes crumbled further as Zoilo Versalles singled. My oh my, Earl Battey singled too. A fly out by Nossek was followed by Frank Quilici at bat. The Chicago pitcher now is Gary Peters. There was a passed ball and then, finally, the third out of the inning as Oliva went down.
A Battey home run produced Minnesota's first run back in the second. Oliva singled in the fifth and scored on a Hall sacrifice fly.
A little history: Hall made himself scarce after retiring from baseball.
Sid Hartman said the popular outfielder, lefty at the plate, was
"bitter about baseball." Hall's career did go into a rather steady
decline. Some experts felt that lefty pitchers had him figured out. It
was noted that Hall grew up in a rural part of North Carolina where he
probably saw few lefties. Rural North Carolina: near Mayberry?
Game #3, in Minnesota: Twins 4, Chicago 3
The series arrived at Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington
MN, with fans primed to see more Twins success. It wasn't so one-sided
this time around. All the Twins cared about was the outcome, and it was a
Imagining the old "Met" gets me remembering that curious combined odor
of beer and cigarette smoke. Such vices were more outward then. Acting
"drunk" wasn't condemned. We'd often laugh.
I can close my eyes and
visualize the Registry Hotel off in the distance, the equivalent (in my
mind) of the "Citgo" sign at Boston's Fenway.
Jim Perry, the good-hitting pitcher of the Twins, singled to begin the third. Tony Oliva,
the very good hitting outfielder, followed with a single. The two got
into scoring position for Jimmie Hall (one of my favorite old Twins) who
singled them in.
Oliva singled to begin the fifth, and scored when big Don Mincher doubled. Joe Nossek walked in the seventh and advanced to second on Oliva's ground ball. Dave Boswell, a pitcher, singled as pinch-hitter for John Klippstein, driving in Nossek.
Boswell was a young up-and-comer in '65. Remember, he's the Twin who
ended up getting into a fist fight with manager Billy Martin in 1969.
Klippstein was the winning pitcher with his stint
of one and two-thirds innings. Boswell stayed in the game to pitch and
worked two innings, allowing no runs. "Bos" fanned three. He was a fine pitcher at his peak but he always seemed to have control problems.
When a pitcher got a hit in APBA they usually had to defy the
odds, like with a "66" being rolled, but they did get hits just as
pitchers in real life do. There was no DH back in '65 of course.
Game #4: Twins 10, Chicago 2
The Twins got back up to
the ten-run plateau as they closed out this series. Met Stadium was
rocking as the Twins wasted no time. Singles resonated off the bats of
Joe Nossek, Tony Oliva, Rich Rollins and Earl Battey in the first inning. Jimmie Hall lofted a sacrifice fly. Minnesota led 3-1 after one inning.
The scoreboard had a string of zeroes up until the seventh. Don Mincher, Hall, Zoilo Versalles and (pinch-runner) Jim Perry scored runs in the seventh. Battey delivered a two-RBI single. Nossek hit a sacrifice fly. Good ol' Sandy Valdespino - remember him? - singled in Perry to close out the rally.
Three runs in the eighth were an exclamation point for Minny. Hall tripled in a run and scored himself. Nossek rapped a two-RBI single. Versalles scored a run after getting an intentional walk. Mincher walked and scored a run.
The big 10-2 win advances the Minny crew further. Chicago is staggered.
It wasn't the dice. Minnesota was on a mission in that storied 1965
Jimmie Hall, native of Mt. Holly NC,
asserted his bat in each of the Twins' wins. He warmed up in game 2 with
an RBI in the 10-0 rout. He really made the difference in game 3, in
which he was one-for-four with two RBIs in this hard-fought 4-3 win.
Game 4 saw Jimmie go two-for-four with two runs scored and a pair of ribbies in the 10-2 triumph.
Minnesota had a .305 team batting average in the series.
To a degree, yes, but remember, America was on the cusp of getting
dragged tragically further into the Viet Nam nightmare. If only we could