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, August 3, 2015

Dean Chance: a Twins great who could have been greater

A neighborhood kid once talked about how "Dean Chancellor" was in trouble at the Republican national convention. His astute mother, Virginia, was ready with a clarification. "Oh, you're thinking about Dean Chance."
Our neighborhood had its share of baseball interest. For the record, John Chancellor was arrested at the 1964 GOP convention for refusing to cede his spot on the floor to the "Goldwater Girls." When security came to get him, he was forced to sign off. "I've been promised bail, ladies and gentlemen, by my office. This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody."
The fellow whose name might be confused with the journalist wasn't yet a Minnesota Twin. Dean Chance was having an outstanding season with the Angels. He was high on our thoughts most likely because he started the All-Star Game.
Virginia was to be complimented for her knowledge outside our Minnesota Twins. All the mothers of the boomers were to be complimented for putting up with us. Us boomer kids lived in a laissez-faire world in which adults didn't fuss much over us. The boomer boys of Minnesota in the 1960s loved the Twins.
I'm amazed reading about a game that Chance pitched for the Angels on June 6, 1964. Chance's mound opponent was the one and only Jim Bouton. Bouton would because famous or infamous by the end of the decade by writing a groundbreaking sports book: "Ball Four." The book tore away the pretense from professional sports. It showed the athletes as human beings with flaws. They had petty conflicts and felt insecurity just like the rest of us. Bouton had his last good season for the Yankees in 1964. 
Pitchers could be handled recklessly
If you read Ball Four, you'll remember that Bouton fussed much over his sore arm. How might he have gotten a sore arm? Well, let's consider that June 6, 1964, game at Chavez Ravine in California. It was a duel for the ages. Chance and Bouton were overpowering, so much so, neither team could score a run.
The two aces matched zeroes for 13 innings. Bouton was then removed. Chance pitched one more inning before departing. The Yankees scored twice against the Angels' bullpen in the 15th and won 2-0. Any pitcher is put at great risk, being asked to pitch 13 innings, or even ten. I have written about how Twin Dave Boswell threw out his arm in a playoff game vs. Baltimore in 1969. He struck out Frank Robinson on a slider. His career was effectively over.
I have written about how Jim Kaat's arm got overworked at the end of the 1967 regular season. In that frantic pennant race for the ages, the Twins desperately tried getting a little more out of "Kitty's" arm. Kaat didn't tumble out of baseball but he had an extended case of "dead arm" after that.
Bouton was never the same after the 1964 season. He'd have to learn the knuckleball to achieve a bit of a resurgence. It was in that knuckleball phase that he took notes (and talked into a tape recorder) for "Ball Four." I say he "wrote" Ball Four but there were other, more professional writing minds in on this, most notably Leonard Shecter. Shecter was in a group of avant garde New York City writers called the "chipmunks."
I read Ball Four and maybe I shouldn't have. It built up my cynical and skeptical attitudes I had at that time - a common affliction among the young, I might add.
What? You say I'm still cynical and skeptical today?
Chance eventually succumbed to physical issues. He hurt himself by holding out prior to the 1969 season. He rushed his body into shape. Chance was having to bargain with Calvin Griffith, Twins owner, about whom Jim "Mudcat" Grant once said "he threw around nickels like they were manhole covers." I once had a boss like that.
It's a crying shame because Chance never should have groveled trying to get Griffith's generosity. My opinion, which I've stated before on my blog sites, is that guys like Chance should have simply tried to achieve as much fame as possible, because they could later parley that into a fortune going to sports memorabilia shows. "Just win, baby." Just take what ol' Calvin offers you and then go out and win.
Chance had a golden opportunity to build on his fame in 1969. It was the first year of the divisional format in baseball. The Twins were in the West. We had an outstanding team in '69 as you'll gather reading Ball Four. We had the likes of Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew. We were awe-inspiring. Just one problem: the Orioles out of the East were at least as good. The Twins in '69 and '70 wowed everyone in the regular season but couldn't scratch their way past the Orioles in the playoffs. Those were excruciating losses for us boomer boys of Minnesota to digest.
Close your eyes, imagine. . .
What if Dean Chance had been able to pitch two more stellar seasons? Yes, we could have won the pennant. We would have had a chance to beat those Cinderella Mets in '69. For Chance personally, two more stellar seasons would have put him in the top tier of the pantheon of Twins greats. I think it's sad he didn't make it. He was an interesting and exciting pitcher.
Remember his distinctive delivery? He turned his back to the hitter before releasing the ball. He'd "whip his glove back." He threw a sinking fastball, a sweeping curve and a slider. He had a good fastball and could also throw a changeup screwball. He had a "swing arm" motion, a three-quarters delivery. He never threw pitches above the waist. He was able to pitch like a smaller man, employing a "bent body."
There were two dubious things associated with Chance: he fielded his position poorly and was a famously bad hitter. It's strange because he had a background as a superb all-around athlete. He was a basketball forward who made his name at Northwestern High School in Wooster OH. His family owned a 166-acre dairy farm there. When he wasn't milking cows, Chance was absorbed in sports, but when it came to baseball, he had a narrow priority: firing unhittable pitches. I guess hitting and fielding got overlooked some. He was an all-state basketball player.
Chance's breakout year in the bigs was in '64 when the Republicans opted for their "pure" candidate, Barry Goldwater, and "Dean Chancellor" - excuse me, John Chancellor - had his woes at that excited convention. Dean actually had a slow start in '64 due to a blister on his pitching hand. He had a 5-5 record on July 1. It was on July 11 that Chance found the kind of groove that would make him a sterling all-star. He pitched three consecutive complete game shutouts. He fashioned a 15-4 record over the remainder of the season, putting him at the 20-win plateau. His ERA in the second half of the season was 1.29. Eleven of his 20 wins were shutouts.
The '60s were a time when shutouts and complete games were deemed important for pitchers, not like today when pitchers' arms are nursed and rested so much more. I seem to recall many promising pitchers ending up on the scrap heap, sadly. Bouton described how his arm "felt like an alligator was biting it." It was pathetic, the picture we got of Steve Barber in that book. Same with Jim O'Toole. I can't blame any of those guys for wanting to "tough it out," being willing to spend countless hours in the "Diathermy machine" as we read about in Fall Four.
Putting on the Twins uniform
Dean Chance became a Minnesota Twin on December 2 of 1966. Jackie Hernandez joined him in that trade. I remember writing a letter to my uncle and aunt in Oregon wondering if Hernandez was going to help us at shortstop. Alas he was an anemic hitter. The Twins sent Pete Cimino, Jimmie Hall and Don Mincher to the Angels.
Wearing a Twins uniform, Chance earned American League Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1967. He had another 20-win season. We loved seeing that no-look windup. His ERA was a fine 2.73. He started his second All-Star Game. Those were the days when baseball's All-Star Game was really a big deal among us kids. It was rare we could see these players playing in live action on TV.
I remember listening on the radio, outside, to Chance's rain-shortened five-inning perfect game against Boston on August 6. He pitched a nine-inning no-hitter against Cleveland on August 25.
All this is fun to recall, and I'd like to go no further, really, but the end of the '67 season might be the saddest chapter in all of Twins history. It seemed every bit as heartbreaking as our Game 7 loss in the '65 Series, or the playoff losses of '69 and '70. The Twins had such a superb team, Chance being a major reason. Chance was handed the ball for the final game of the '67 season, matched vs. Boston and Jim Lonborg. We led the Red Sox 2-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth. But the destiny-propelled Red Sox rallied for five runs to drive Chance from the game and ultimately win the game and the pennant.
That was Carl Yastrzemski's prime year, remember? The Red Sox were a fairy tale type of team. The Twins had a chance for fame and glory. We ended up in the ashes. Chance might have made a bid for eventual Hall of Fame status. If he hadn't held out against against the austere Griffith in '69, well. . . We can only wonder.
It would have been so terrific, that no-look windup doing its thing as part of the Twins' glory in '69 and even in '70. The Hall of Fame could have put out the welcome mat for ol' Dean, the dairy farmer guy from Ohio.
The history of baseball has countless "what might have been" stories. Yes, it could have been wonderful. It would have been more wonderful if the U.S. had stayed out of Viet Nam. That's the most significant "might have been." Sigh. 
Casting a spell vs. the Yankees
Mickey Mantle hated batting against Chance. In fact, Chance showed particular mastery vs. the Yankees. It was observed that Mantle had a hard time vs. Chance because Chance threw pitches low and outside at the knee. Mantle, at that point in his career, could not get under the ball. Mantle was quoted saying of Chance: "Every time I see his name on a lineup card, I feel like throwing up."
If you saw Billy Crystal's movie about the 1961 season, you know the main reason why Mantle was inclined to throw up, and it had nothing to do with a failure to get under the ball.
Let's acknowledge Chance's 1968 season with the Twins. That was "the year of the pitcher," remember? Chance fit right in, still 100 percent in his prime, fashioning an ERA of 2.53. He hurled for 292 innings but managed only a 16-16 record. It was a hard luck story. The Twins were hurt not having a reliable shortstop. We went back and forth among several players, none able to really settle in. Zoilo Versalles in his prime would have been nice.
In '69 Calvin solved the shortstop situation by acquiring Leo Cardenas, who I consider perhaps the most underrated player in Twins history. Everyone talked about Mark Belanger of Baltimore. I got upset because Leo wasn't even mentioned in some of these conversations.
Dean Chance eventually left the Twins and toiled in obscurity for other teams. Sometimes these washed-up pitchers can tease us. In his first start of the 1971 season, with Cleveland, Chance faced New York in Yankee Stadium and pitched seven innings of shutout baseball to get the win. The Indians won 3-0. I would have loved to see ol' Dean get revived, even if it was at the expense of our Twins a little. But it was a mirage. The years had taken their toll. Chance went 9-8 with a 4.21 ERA in 1970, not exactly terrible. But his stardom time had been exhausted.
In 1971 with Detroit, Chance went 4-6 with a 3.51 ERA, still not terrible. He got his final win on July 28 when Al Kaline hit a game-winning homer to make Dean a winner in relief. He pitched his final game on August 9 at Fenway Park, Boston.
Dean had 128 career wins and a super 2.92 ERA. Against the Yankees he had a career ERA of 2.34.
Chance has had many interesting endeavors since leaving baseball. He was a midway barker on a large scale. He founded the International Boxing Association in the 1990s. He managed many fighters. As part of the Angels' 50th anniversary, Chance threw out the first pitch before the June 4, 2011, game vs. the New York Yankees. What a full and successful life. 
I could cry as I reflect on the Twins slipping at the very end of the '67 season. I could cry as I reflect on Chance getting hurt most likely because of a holdout in 1969. Yes, he could be in that pantheon of immortal Twins. But still we savor the memories.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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