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, November 3, 2015

Johnny Callison wowed us in his Phillies uniform

Our family was a stone's throw from NYC's Shea Stadium in the summer of 1964. Shea Stadium was so close to the World's Fair grounds, it was highlighted on fair maps. The world came to NYC, to Queens, in 1964 and '65. The men's chorus of our University of Minnesota-Morris performed at the World's Fair. That's why I was there, not as a singer but as the nine-year-old son of the director, Ralph E. Williams.
We almost decided to attend a Mets game but didn't. I regret.
The baseball all-star game was a very big deal in that era. This spectacle was at Shea Stadium in midsummer of 1964. The date was July 7. John Callison was at the peak of his baseball talents. His was a truly American story. We're a country in which barriers can be overcome. We stand for nothing if not for this.
Mr. Callison came into the world in 1939, when the throes of the Great Depression were still being felt. He was born in Qualls, Oklahoma, a desolate place. John's parents were migrant workers who reportedly used Native American tools. The savvy instincts of Native Americans could stave off the misery of the Depression, I would suggest. We learn that Qualls was "undoubtedly one of the poorest places in the state of Oklahoma." The world was on the cusp of World War II.
In 1964 America was brimming with the prosperity engendered by the great U.S. middle class, considered largely a by-product of WWII (the G.I. Bill).
Shea Stadium had an atmosphere of glitter for the 1964 all-star game. The all-star game was special when I was a kid because only rarely could we see non-Minnesota Twins play live on TV. The National League might as well have been a foreign country. We read about guys like Roberto Clemente in the newspaper. NBC with Curt Gowdy did give us the "game of the week" on TV. But that was still slim pickings: one game a week. We were a long way from our new world of countless TV stations and ample opportunity to watch players from around the big leagues.
"Walk off" homer as an all-star
John (or "Johnny") Callison, that Philadelphia Phillie who had overcome his challenged background so impressively, was "in the zone" on July 7 of 1964. With the glittering World's Fair as the backdrop, Callison went into a homer trot as the game's hero. The lefty slugger ended the midsummer classic by clubbing a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the National League a 7-4 win at Shea. Yes, it was a "walk off" home run although I don't remember hearing that term back then. We also didn't hear about "setup men" in pitching, or the many new terms that Bill James would give us. Kids interested in the sport talked about batting average, home runs and RBIs. We pored over stats on baseball cards. I bought most of mine at Stark's Grocery in Morris MN. I built my knowledge of the Phillies' Callison through cards, I'm sure.
I remember developing a special interest in the Phillies. They had this intriguing young African-American slugger named Richie Allen, a complement to Callison. The Phillies were a high quality team in 1964. Problem was, they choked at the end. This should be underscored: The Phillies, managed by Gene Mauch, went into the most notorious swoon in baseball history, maybe all of sports history. The Phillies were edged out at the end by St. Louis.
Callison would have likely won MVP had the Phillies pulled it out. He finished second in the MVP voting to the Cardinals' Ken Boyer.
The Phillies' collapse cannot be laid at Callison's doorstep. Callison in the last 12 games had two three-hit games, a two-hit game and a single hit in four other games. On September 27 he showed Roy Hobbs-like form (the movie character played by Robert Redford), winning vocal acclamation just as he had for the all-star game. Against Milwaukee, Callison hit three home runs! However, the snakebit Phillies lost to the Braves.
Undaunted in face of illness
The legend of Johnny Callison grew two days later, when it seemed the star was going to have to sit down due to the flu. Johnny had a high fever and bone-piercing chills. The team really needed his bat late in the game. He gamely stepped up to the plate as pinch-hitter. It was like Hobbs stepping up to bat at he end of the movie, wracked by health maladies.
Johnny singled and then he insisted on running the bases himself. He needed a warm-up jacket, contrary to the rules. The umps made an exception under these circumstances. My research for this post indicated that Callison got help putting on his jacket from Bill White, "a teammate." I was immediately suspicious because I was certain that White was a Cardinal at that time. The miracle of the Internet helped me call up the Phillies' 1964 schedule, so I could learn that the Phillies' September 29 opponent was the Cardinals. Ergo, White, the first baseman, made the magnanimous gesture of helping Callison as an opponent.
He was an iron man
Callison played continuously through the home stretch of the Phillies' doomed 1964 campaign. He actually didn't miss a game the whole season! Philadelphia fans like Samuel Alito, who would become a Supreme Court justice, developed affection for Callison, for his toughness, style and personality. He was personable. His defensive prowess in the outfield was notable. He made rocket-like throws to keep baserunners honest. Right field at the old Connie Mack Stadium was challenging: there was a 34-foot wall producing caroms.
It was 1962 when John made his first splash: he made the all-star team.
His '64 campaign saw him reach 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. The '64 swoon by the team was not an impediment in Johnny's career. In '65 he was in top form again. But the Dodgers won the National League pennant and would face our Minnesota Twins in the World Series. Who could overcome Sandy Koufax?
Players in that era did not have the kind of longevity we see today. After age 30, there was always a chance the stats would tumble. Was it because of less than year-round conditioning? I don't know, but in Callison's case, he sadly dipped in his performance, breaking out only in 1970 as a Chicago Cub to show some of his old form. The Cubs mysteriously revived some players in 1970 and '71. Other examples: Joe Pepitone (the former Yankee) and Jim Hickman (the former Met).
Callison had begun having trouble with his legs and back in 1966. In 1970 he did fine for Leo Durocher of the Cubs, hitting 19 home runs and coaxing 60 walks. Callison and Durocher didn't see eye to eye. Durocher was inclined to want to platoon ol' Johnny.
After 1971 Callison became a New York Yankee, traded for reliever Jack Aker. It was clear in 1973 (my first summer out of high school) that Callison was finished. Manager Ralph Houk called Callison to his hotel room. Houk informed the 16-year veteran that he was being let go, and Callison was stranded while his wife was vacationing on the Jersey shore. Callison stayed at the hotel for two days - a discouraging denouement to this All-American baseball story.
This gallant hero to 1960s boys had a series of health issues in retirement and died in 2006. Justice Alito said he "adopted Johnny Callison out there in right field" as a boy.
Callison was one of my favorite players outside of the Minnesota Twins. Richie Allen (later to become "Dick") drew my interest greatly as well. I'm left wondering about the "what might have beens" re. that '64 season when Philadelphia floundered. Let's close our eyes and imagine Callison, Allen and their Philly mates, adorned in their glorious red-trimmed uniforms, taking on the Yankees in the World Series. That was the end of the Yankee dynasty of that era.
Callison's story was so much imbued with that American spirit. Those dusty winds around Qualls OK seemed far away when on July 7 of 1964, Callison became the center of attention in Queens, New York City, with his homer bat. What a baseball life. What an American life. Johnny Callison, RIP.
Click on the link below to see the video from YouTube of Johnny Callison's walk-off home run to end the 1964 all-star game.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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