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).

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Shall I write about football in the coming fall?

(image from Bucknell)
Soon I will need to make a decision on whether to write online about MACA football this fall. There is a steady flow of admonitions on the sport of football, or implied admonitions. The warnings become progressively less subtle. A top scientist is so concerned, he recently stated that parents who allow their sons to play football should be charged with child abuse.
We follow rules about how kids need to be seat-belted into the car. Then we have them put on a helmet and send them onto a football field where they engage in high-speed collisions with other boys. The helmet gives an illusion. It protects boys from fractured skulls, as if we should even be thinking about that. It does not protect them from having their brains, in effect, rattled. The evidence mounts higher all the time.
 
Following my own drummer
It is not uncommon for me to be on a different page from sports parents. I found it impossible through the years to supply enough attention for all of the teams, all of the time, to keep a majority of them fundamentally happy. In this case I'll probably come up against the sentiment of sports parents again. They will be so eager to feel that "rush" of excitement that comes with going to the local stadium and seeing their sons seek victory, earning those waves of cheers. It's sort of a sugar high that is transitory. The cheers encourage the boys to put aside the pain and the constant risk of injury, not just to their brains but all over. Why should medical resources be applied for treating these kids when they needn't play this barbaric game in the first place? Just stop playing. Apply your time more constructively.
 
Advantages here in Morris
I expect the MACA football team will do well again in 2017. I would suggest this is largely because of Morris being blessed with such a state of the art football facility. Various communities have made the commitment to an artificial turf field. Once they do this, they will try to encourage a maximum number of boys to "go out for football" because there's a monetary incentive, to show that the expense toward the facility is justified. This is morally abhorrent.
Also, the communities that do not have the means or the interest in doing this will likely see interest in football erode. Their teams will start losing more which will prompt continued erosion. Finally, many of these towns will opt not to have football. Either that or they'll send only the most athletically gifted boys to a nearby community. At least this protects the other boys who might otherwise go out for football because of peer pressure. A leading researcher of football has said that "no boys should play football just because of peer pressure." This individual is one of many saying that football should become a club sport, not sponsored by schools.
Maybe someday we'll see our Big Cat Stadium as the home for a regional club team. A better possibility would be for football to vanish off the face of the earth. Let's not get too excited about the best scenario happening. There are too many mysteriously shallow-minded parents who simply want to experience those transitory thrills of being at the stadium, cheering. It sure isn't painful for the parents or other "fans."
The boys can endure the pain because they keep hearing the cheers. If the fans stop coming, football would certainly disappear. Occasionally we see a news item about a school board member somewhere trying to speak the truth. The wave must grow.
 
Legacy of militarism?
Football may have been developed as a model for militarism in an age when we were expected to get involved in major wars periodically. We raised our sons to be warriors. Our culture isn't the same today. We keep our volunteer troops of today active in places like Afghanistan - I'm not even sure what that's all about. I assure you that if we had a draft, we'd hear more about it.
The invasion of Iraq has been described as the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history. Saddam Hussein knew how to deal with the likes of Isis. Of course he was brutal but he was a secular leader. He was a regional strongman. That's what works in that part of the world. Tragically we had to send our local Guardsmen over there. When those Guardsmen returned, there was a welcome back at the P.E. Center in Morris that was so grand and glorious. Strike up the band.
The Viet Nam soldiers got no such reception when they came back. In fact, they were told not to wear their uniforms on the way home.
Phasing out the sport of football would be a logical way of proclaiming that the human race is entering a new era. It's about time. Should I blog about MACA football this year? Very good question. I could reason that if the Morris school district continues to sponsor football, I should accept that as an appropriate imprimatur. Ultimately though I must respect my concerns. Maybe I'll do it (write about it). We'll see.
Problem is, our schools shouldn't be sponsoring gladiators. Too many parents are glib, flippant and superficial about defending the sport.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, August 7, 2017

Chico Ruiz steals home and puts hex on Philadelphia?

Major league baseball was unusually blessed in 1964. We saw extremely tight pennant races in both leagues. I'm sad the Chicago White Sox couldn't pull out the American League pennant. It would have been nice seeing Moose Skowron play in another World Series. Instead we got the Yankees walking their treadmill toward another A.L. flag. It would be their last of that era. Our Minnesota Twins dislodged them from their perch in '65. And then in '66, the Yankees sank like a rock.
The National League story in 1964 was epic. The Cardinals with a young Lou Brock emerged on top. Cincinnati was easily in the hunt. Let's consider Philadelphia. Those red-trimmed uniforms looked oh so grand for most of the '64 summer. Gene Mauch was at the helm. Maybe that was a sign that Philadelphia fans should have been whistling past the graveyard.
Mauch's Phils showed great command through most of the summer. What a blessed summer it must have seemed in the City of Brotherly Love. John Callison hit a walk-off home run to win the All-Star Game for the Nationals. The crafty Jim Bunning was in his prime - he pitched a perfect game in June vs. the new York Mets. Chris Short was in the groove as pitcher. Richie Allen, later to be known as Dick Allen, was spectacular as a rookie.
Early August saw Philadelphia really turn on the jets. Man oh man. For two weeks they looked like world-beaters. They went from 1 1/2 games up to 7 1/2 games, the latter bulge happening on August 20. Could Phils fans relax after that 12-4 stretch?
 
A date of fate in baseball annals
Bring on Monday, Sept. 21. The Phils sported a win total of 90 compared to 60 losses. They were 6 1/2 games up on second place with only 12 games left to play. It was an evening game in the City of Brotherly Love (an ironic name when you consider the city had an image of racism). A crowd of a little over 20,000 was present to see the Phillies take on that other team with red trim: Cincinnati. This was the Cincinnati team that had Frank Robinson. Robinson would go on to make his biggest mark with the Baltimore Orioles. In '64 he was the Reds' best hitter.
The Reds sported a record of 83-66. Dick Sisler was the manager, having taken the reins from the terminally ill Fred Hutchinson. Vada Pinson wielded a bat for those Reds. Oh, and there was Pete Rose, not yet a superstar but budding. Jim O'Toole and Jim Maloney were leading pitchers. I can't help but remember O'Toole in Jim Bouton's 1970 book "Ball Four," standing out as the classic troubled pitcher with a perpetually sore arm, in the "Diathermy" machine all the time, remember?
The September 21 game had Jon Tsitouris pitching for Cincinnati and Art Mahaffey taking the mound for Philadelphia. A bad omen for Philadelphia was being snakebit with runners in scoring position: 0-for-8.
The top of the sixth seemed to be when the baseball gods did their thing. Chico Ruiz singled to right field. Remember that name. Pinson hit a long single to right that advanced Ruiz to third, although Pinson was thrown out at second by outfielder Callison. Robinson strides up to bat. Nice scoring opportunity, right? His average was .306 and he had 27 home runs.
There were two outs so the Reds apparently needed Robinson to hit safely. Chico Ruiz had other thoughts dancing in his head. Mahaffey went into his long windup. Ruiz becomes like a bat out of hell, tearing for home a la steal. The steal of home is always an exotic play. We here in Minnesota associate it with Rod Carew.
Not only did this play succeed with Ruiz, it became legendary as it appeared to be a hex vs. the Phillies. Mahaffey uncorked a wild pitch. Ruiz scored and the Reds won 1-0. The game ended with the Phillies advancing the tying run to third with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but shortstop Ruben Amaro struck out to end the game.
Writer Ray Kelly observed: "Nobody tries to steal home with a slugging great like Frank Robinson at the plate. Not in the sixth inning of a scoreless game." Mahaffey was quoted saying: "Now you must realize that with two outs and two strikes, if you throw a strike, Frank Robinson swings and knocks Chico Ruiz's head off. It was just so stupid." Stupid like a fox, I guess.
 
The Phils' advantage erodes
The Phillies still had a lead of 5 1/2 games with eleven games left. Now the stage is set for the famous choke of the '64 Phillies: a ten-game loss streak. It was so bad, it didn't matter that they won their last two games of the season (over the Reds). The Cardinals went 9-3 to close out the season. The Cardinals won the pennant on the last day as they beat the Mets 11-5.
A sabermetric analysis has shown that Ruiz's steal of home was not a bad percentage play. In the book "The Hidden Game of Baseball," authors John Thorn and Pete Palmer write that "the two-out steal of home is the unknown great percentage play." Ruiz said "it just came to my mind. In this game, you either do or you don't."
I was nine years old in 1964. Kids back then could have quite strong emotional connections with their home baseball team. Looking back, I often think how unfortunate this connection was - it was out of proportion. So you can imagine how many young Phillies fans felt as their team crashed in 1964. Samuel Alito of our U.S. Supreme Court was a big admirer of outfielder Callison. Callison seemed a lot like our Twin Bob Allison. Richie Allen was like Tony Oliva.
It was a golden age of baseball. Integration of the game had proceeded well enough - halting at times but adequate - and we did not yet have the disruption of zealous unionism and excessive drug use. I will always wonder if those '64 Phillies could have won the world championship in '64. Just as I wonder if our 1967 Minnesota Twins could have done it after getting edged out for the pennant! We close our eyes and imagine.
Ruiz entered baseball annals permanently with his unique, impulsive play, a play that impacted fate!
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 31, 2017

It's the time of summer for spiritual slumber

The image shows the Papa John's clowns who once entertained at summer events in the Morris area. Photo by Del Sarlette.
 
We're in the laziest part of summer, aren't we? In between Prairie Pioneer Days (PPD) and the fair, that's it.
Our family asks little of Prairie Pioneer Days, just that we can enjoy an early afternoon lunch at Luther's Eatery. It seems that PPD has lost several of the special features it once had. That's sad but not real disheartening. It's a social hub and that is what is most important.
There was nothing like PPD when I was a kid. An exception was the year of the Morris Centennial. What special memories I have of that. The year was 1971 and Morris truly came alive that summer. I don't know why people couldn't get the bright idea to do something annually like that. We got on board in the early 1980s with PPD. There was a time when the FFA kids built a replica of the famous "alfalfa arch" across East 7th Street. We all need to be reminded of the historical significance of the alfalfa arch.
I wonder if the day will come when Superior Industries will take over PPD just as this company has made inroads with the county fair. I'm not clear on when exactly Superior has the fair reserved for itself. I told an acquaintance of mine who's on the fair board that "I guess this is one of those small town things where 'you just have to know.' " I don't like these small town phenomena.
The way Superior expands as if by magic, I have fears that this operation will snake around to behind our neighborhood of Northridge Drive, and devalue our property.
 
Will football keep its popularity? Should it?
So, after the fair, where does our attention turn? I remember year after year seeing the Tiger football team in pre-season practice at the old East Elementary playground, at the same time as the fair. It was a tap on the shoulder that "fall is near." People would speculate on how our football team might do.
Is such talk becoming an anachronism? There are new waves of news coverage all the time about how football is dangerous to play.
How much longer can the sport withstand all the startling revelations? You must have seen the headlines last week. "CTE" is a dangerous thing to court. No game can possibly be worth the risk of incurring this.
A sea change in society's notions can be slow and grudging to develop. I mean, who wants football to just fade away? Hasn't it been a mammoth sort of phenomenon in our popular culture? Frankly, hasn't it grown into an addiction? So, we're talking about overcoming an addiction. So as with any addiction, we have to be ready to stand up, as if at an AA gathering, and admit we have a problem. We need to admit the nature of the problem in frank terms.
Why on earth are our brains so programmed to feeling this turn-on, by the sight of men running with a football or catching a football, seeking yardage and touchdowns? It's terrible. Someday we will all admit this to ourselves.
A few years ago you'd occasionally see a news nugget from somewhere about how a school board member would suggest that football be removed. None of these could really break through. Many onlookers were reluctant to say these individuals were out in left field, but at the same time there was a "whistling past the graveyard" quality to their reaction. They could not deny the factual foundation for arguments being put forth. But my goodness, cancelling football? Who would want to be responsible for a suggestion like that?
There is still hesitance toward the notion. But I sense that momentum is slowly building toward that "sea change" that would marginalize football. It has been predicted that football will have its last bastion in the U.S. Southeast. The sport will more and more be associated with players who have a dysfunctional family background. Intelligent people will know better and act accordingly.
I suspect that Morris Area Chokio Alberta will have a football team again for 2017. Have there been any football naysayers in our community, people in important public positions willing to air their skepticism? If society is reluctant to go this route, maybe insurance companies will straighten everyone out. That and lawyers.
 
Remember the "earthen pool?"
It's the end of July and it seems we're all in slumber now, spiritually. I think it's a blessed time of year. Remember the days of the "earthen pool" at Pomme de Terre City Park? That's getting more distant in our community's history. It seemed quite successful for a time. It faded toward the end partly because of a tragedy that happened out there.
I don't think the "spray park" has been an adequate substitute. This community has bandied about for years the idea of outdoor swim recreation. Well, the Alexandria lakes aren't that far away. I have often enjoyed the Lake Latoka public swimming beach.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 24, 2017

The power of a typewriter and unencumbered thought

Only once in my life did I stay in a movie theater to see the same movie back to back. It was "All the President's Men."
Hollywood is great for designating heroes and villains. A common fault of Hollywood is to caricature these people, lest their (stupid) audience has a hard time delineating. Remember "Mr. Potter" of "It's a Wonderful Life?" A prime example. Also, that British army officer in "The Patriot." By the tine that officer got killed, my only thought was "why did we have to wait so long?"
"It's a Wonderful Life" would not be considered such a classic today - maybe not a classic at all - if it hadn't been in the public domain at a time when rapidly proliferating TV channels were looking for material to run.
"All the President's Men" with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman mesmerized me. Yeah, I ended up as a newspaper writer myself. I was amazed at the power a person could wield with a typewriter, a newspaper job and the freedom to think unencumbered about what was right and what was wrong.
 
Echoes from a previous time
Memories of Watergate come rushing back because of what we are seeing with the Trump administration today. Trump's supporters say the public really doesn't care about the Russia stuff. They say it's a narrow obsession of certain elements within the media. But deep into Watergate, polls showed the public didn't much care about that either. These polls make sense because in the day to day lives of ordinary people, such matters appear to have little impact. However, the powers that be in Washington D.C. need to be held to rules. Along with that, we absolutely need the free press in spite of how Trump rants about that: "fake news!"
Nixon and his people tried to quarantine the Washington Post as if Watergate was limited to the narrow interests of that paper. The Washington Post could have gotten cowed. Why didn't that happen? We think of the Washington Post as a paper with a national constituency, but its soul is invested in Washington D.C. or that "Beltway" as it's called. As such it feels called upon to keep the reputation of its immediate community sound and intact. It's in the interests of the Beltway for established rules to survive and be applied. So the Washington Post with "Woodward and Bernstein" was persistent.
Bad guys and good guys? In reality so much falls into a shade of gray. The key to Watergate and its accelerating revelations was the disgruntled FBI person, Mark Felt, who was doing nothing more than back-biting and revenge-seeking, the kind of motivations we are all familiar with. Felt funneled that information to those salivating reporters. The rest is history.
Nixon governed from the middle and did some arguably good things, like creating the EPA. I would fault him primarily for staying stuck in Viet Nam. It's an unforgivable sin. It was LBJ's war that was oh so stubborn to stomp out. The war headlines were endless as I grew up. We had a friend of the family from Brainerd who was killed by friendly fire in Viet Nam. I cannot rule out "fragging."
My first summer out of high school was the peak of Watergate revelations, creating that rolling snowball that culminated with Nixon's resignation in August of 1974.
 
A waltz inspired by Watergate
Should a new Watergate movie be made? I would say no because it's too painful to have to reflect on the sheer stupidity that was the mother's milk of the scandal. The late Walt Sarlette of Morris wrote a waltz for our Tempo Kings dance group - we called it "The Watergate Waltz." Del Sarlette and I had some fun beyond that. Del wrote "I Didn't Want To Do It" in parenthesis under the title - this was a takeoff on the old Harry James tune "You Made Me Love You." "I Didn't Want To Do It" was inserted under that title. I suggested that "fast 4" be noted as the rhythm which was ridiculous because it was a waltz. Del wrote "fast 4" with the additional words: "(possible parole after 2").
Del put down some credits, including "Arranged by G. Gordon Liddy." We had "Music by H.R. Haldeman" and "Lyrics by John Dean (deleted)." It was a fun-sounding waltz and had the sax players grab their clarinets for a part. It was fun thinking of all the wearisome machinations of Watergate while hearing this lively waltz. Kudos to the late Mr. Sarlette who ought to be viewed as an iconic figure from this community's history.
The focus now is on Russia. It was because of the Soviet Union and the Cold War that us schoolkids were pushed so bad when we were in school. We had to "beat the Russians." We suspected the Russian people really weren't that different from us. This was a message we took away from the movie "The Russians Are Coming." Remember that classic with Alan Arkin as a Russian? Del says this is one of the movies that could never be re-made. (I say the same thing about "The Dirty Dozen." Lee Marvin's role could never be reprised.)
So, I sat through two shows of "All the President's Men" at the twin cinema theaters next to Crossroads Shopping Center, St. Cloud, during the disco '70s. My own approach as a writer was probably shaped by all that. It's not a philosophy that works well in today's news media. Today's writers tend to defer to authority at the local level. It's knee-jerk and sometimes rather fallible. But at the macro level we still need the crusaders. How on earth are the Trump family issues going to turn out? Heaven only knows. The key as always will be the maintenance of the free press.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fast-moving Trump/Russia story goes hurtling along

My current post on "I Love Morris" pushes us back to 1973. We go there because of the parallels between the Trump/Russia thing and Watergate. I suggest we shouldn't be too hasty making parallels.
I just clicked on "publish" for the "I Love Morris" post even though I wrote it yesterday. Alas, the Trump/Russia story is moving so fast, anything is at risk of becoming dated. I don't like to be too hasty posting. A day's wait means I might catch some little issue that needs to be straightened out.
Perhaps I should gulp some coffee and get my timeline a little more confined. I'm writing this post as I watch "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, a show where certainly they gulp coffee. It's the must-see for updating one's knowledge of the incredible Trump/Russia imbroglio.
Already I hear that the comparison with the summer of 1973 should maybe be put aside. Because, now it seems we're into the summer of 1974. At that point there is no rallying for the president (Nixon) anymore. We had all become quite battle fatigued. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon because of the sheer fatigue that was dragging down the nation. At least this is how Ford argued. He may have lost his bid to retain the presidency as a result. Yes, we were fatigued by Watergate but in order to gain resolution we should have ascertained more facts. Instead we ended up in kind of a netherworld.
Where are we headed now? I argue in "I Love Morris" that there's no way we can predict. We might assume that the outcome will be essentially similar to 1974. I'm checking CNBC and I see the futures are pointing upward again. The financial markets seem a world apart. Can this pattern hold indefinitely? Should we dismiss all the D.C. scandal-mongering as an amusement or distraction, only?
Not when the Republican Party is flirting with an actual overhauling of health care. Someone like Ted Cruz is amusing to watch as a character who pushes this firm political ideology. He gets attention with his extremism. This bright shiny object of a human being casts a shadow with his rhetoric. Conservatives present their principles in a way that makes us sympathetic to a degree. These principles work in an ideal world where everyone can carry their own weight. No messy complications arise in people's lives. No one suddenly needs to go to a nursing home. No one suddenly gets a serious chronic health condition.
I had a wise friend in college who said: "Republicans are great for arguing on principle, but Republicans don't care about people." Republicans have gotten a tremendous amount of traction over the recent past, becoming what I have called "the default political party" in America. In the current political climate, for whatever reason, you don't really need to explain yourself if you're a Republican. Democrats seem rather stigmatized. Democrats are forced on the defensive and have to explain themselves more. I am waiting for this to change.
Give Republicans just a little more power and they might actually craft and push through a draconian health care bill. And then there will be real world consequences of all our sympathy to the GOP cause. Cruz will have actually helped craft legislation affecting your very own life. So he's no longer a mere curiosity.
President Trump called a pep rally to promote the draconian health care bill out of the House of Representatives. This after Trump said in the campaign that all of America would get a health care package ("overturning Obamacare") that would be better for all. He uses hyperbole that is totally child-like. And yet we haven't risen up against this yet. We are fighting the donor class of the Republican Party.
The White House is becoming a festering boil on this country. It is embroiled in an indefinite struggle merely for survival, as if any of us really ought to care about those deceiving people. It's almost like a drug-induced fantasy. We don't know if Trump will start talking to portraits on the wall the way Nixon did. His presidency may be beyond salvage.
It would be interesting if he suddenly declared himself a Democrat and called in Chuck Schumer for some meetings.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 10, 2017

Tony Cloninger's incredible feat in 1966 summer

I was eleven years old in 1966. My family lost a friend to friendly fire in Viet Nam. He was from Brainerd, my mom's hometown. The mid-1960s was a time of escalation of the Viet Nam conflict. Major league baseball was like a pleasant elixir helping us put aside, to a degree, the anxiety of the war, a war that it seemed we could do nothing about. "Let Daddy do his work," as "Dr. Evil" would say to his son. We Americans had to "let Daddy do his work" in terms of letting the Viet Nam war grow, against all logic.
If it happened before, it could happen again.
In 1966 our Minnesota Twins were a year removed from their pinnacle year of the 1960s. We won the pennant in '65 and then lost the World Series in seven games to the Dodgers. It's strange how we seem to remember nothing abut the '66 season. We still had an arguably super team. But we were not No. 1 in the league this time. We were No. 2 among the ten teams. America is a land that prioritizes being No. 1. I'm sure there were many pleasant afternoons and evenings at our Metropolitan Stadium, when our powerful Twins dispatched the opposition. But 1966 gets lost in obscurity in our collective memory, because in '65 we were No. 1, not in '66.
In 1966 the Braves were in their first year in Atlanta. Strange how Milwaukee could not do what was needed to keep the Braves. The Braves had been a highly exciting team with many interesting individuals in Milwaukee. Milwaukee would later show it could support big league ball with the Brewers. But something went haywire and caused those Hank Aaron-led Braves to migrate south. They had spent 13 seasons in the brew town.
Aaron, Joe Torre, Ed Mathews and Rico Carty took their act to Georgia. In '91 our Twins would dispatch the Braves in the fall showcase.
 
A pitcher who could hit
Tony Cloninger was a 25-year-old pitcher in 1966. I remember from playing the APBA simulation game that Cloninger was a superb-hitting pitcher, rather like having a DH in the order instead of the typical anemic-hitting pitcher. I remember that Cloninger was the Braves' staff ace in 1964, still in Milwaukee, when the Braves were involved in a suspenseful pennant race with several other teams. Warren Spahn was still with the Braves. Unfortunately he fell off from his prime. He had such a sturdy arm for so many years. Had he coaxed one more stellar season from that left arm, the Braves would have certainly won the '64 pennant. Instead they got edged out, as St. Louis with a young Lou Brock won the pennant and then went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series.
Cloninger's APBA card for 1964 suggested he was something other than a pitcher. But a pitcher he was, with hitting numbers that showed he could be quite the asset in that department.
Let's drift back in time to that 1966 summer when the Braves were established in their new home of downtown Atlanta. Let's park on the date of July 3, 1966, in the midst of the holiday slowdown for the Fourth. The setting was San Francisco, Candlestick Park with its mystifying winds. It was Sunday afternoon at the heart of the Independence Day spirit.
The Alou brothers batted leadoff for the two teams: Felipe for the Braves and Jesus for the Giants. Jim Bouton wrote that teammates didn't pronounce Jesus in the proper way, HAY-soos, but rather like the Biblical man, in the typical irreverent spirit of big league players of that era. They weren't paid or treated as well as they should have been. Therefore they could develop bitter or cynical edges.
The Braves weren't excelling as of July 3 as they were in eighth place among the ten N.L. teams. They were 15 games behind the league-leading Giants. The July 3 game developed in an explosive way just like the fireworks. Cloninger had a seven-run lead before he even went out to the mound in the bottom of the first. He had quite the role in getting that early spurt. How that rally developed: Felipe Alou popped out, Mack Jones singled, Aaron forced Jones to second, then here come the fireworks: Carty singled to right. Torre homered to deep center. Frank Bolling and Woody Woodward singled, chasing Giants pitcher Joe Gibbon. (Going through all these names revives memories of my baseball card collection!)
Denis Menke - yes, just one "n" in Denis - drew a walk from Bob Priddy. Priddy was probably relieved to get to the pitcher, Cloninger. Cloninger worked Priddy to a full count. Then, fireworks: Cloninger hit the ball to almost the same spot as Torre's homer: a grand slam. The ball cleared the 410-foot sign. Ah, six hits, seven runs. A Carty homer made the score 8-0 in the second.
 
Here we go again!
The fourth inning saw Carty trot down to first with a walk. Torre got on by error and Bolling singled to score Carty. There were two outs with two baserunners on when Menke came up to bat. Menke walked as he had done previously. The sacks were loaded again with Cloninger set to bring his bat to the plate. The count was 0-and-1 when Cloninger socked his second bases-loaded homer of the game, a liner over the opposite field fence in right. The score after 3 1/2 innings was 13-0.
Aaron hit his league-leading 25th home run in the fifth. The eighth inning saw Cloninger hit a run-scoring single. The final score was 17-3, quite a way to mark America's birthday. Cloninger's RBI total of nine on the day was quite the new standard for pitchers. The Braves sent 52 batters to face Giants pitching. Five Braves each had at least three hits.
 
Sharp on the mound too
Cloninger pitched a complete game, scattering seven hits while allowing three earned runs. He fanned five batters and walked two. He won for the sixth time in his last seven starts, raising his record to 9-7. He quipped after that July 3 game: "Funny thing, nobody is asking me about my pitching."
Fans left Candlestick Park wide-eyed to be sure.
Major league baseball fascinated me through the '60s as I passed through junior high, a rather arduous time of life typically. Baseball was an escape for me, a taste of the exciting "macro" world away from my mundane "micro" world of where I lived. How much more joy we would have felt, with no Viet Nam war as a horrible, devilish specter. We miss you, Richard Ungerecht.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 3, 2017

Let's keep Rico Carty in pantheon of baseball's greats

Rico Carty's name has not had the staying power of many of his superstar baseball peers. Fans at the time of his prime were most impressed. He did not present the most graceful public persona. But he was a monster hitter. I wince when I see that his career batting average was .299. Oh no! But stats can be superficial.
I remember when Carty was playing for Toronto, not at his best at the time, our great broadcaster Halsey Hall said "I don't care what this guy's average is, he's a good hitter."
Carty was so good in 1964, he hit for a higher average than our phenomenal rookie here in Minnesota, Tony Oliva. Only Roberto Clemente had a higher average in 1964. Carty was a rookie in '64 but, believe it or not, did not get Rookie of the Year. Instead it was Philadelphia's Richie Allen who got that honor.
Carty developed a devoted following in Milwaukee. Those were the days of the Braves, not the Brewers. The Braves shifted to Atlanta where Carty's popularity was such, we saw "Carty's Corner" in the left field stands. Carty might have climbed to Hank Aaron stature were it not for some bumps in the road. He had illness, injuries, issues with his defensive play and rough edges in his personality. He came to the American League in 1973 (my year of high school graduation).
In theory the new designated hitter rule seemed most suited for Carty. In theory the rule was supposed to help some fine hitters extend their career because of being relieved of defensive rigors. It doesn't really work like that. A player who finds it difficult to play in the field will probably have problems hitting too. The whole body is involved in hitting. Carty did not take to the DH role initially.
 
A man of the people with votes
I remember Carty really bursting into public consciousness in 1970. Fan balloting for the All Star game was new. Carty was on fire with his batting prowess. But his name wasn't on the All Star ballot. The list of 48 candidates in each league was compiled during spring training. No Rico Carty on the ballot. A more corporate personality might have helped him.
More than two million fans voted. A write-in campaign helped the big guy get 67,000 more votes than Pete Rose! So Carty, thanks to the determined and well-publicized write-in effort, joined Aaron and Willie Mays in the starting National League outfield. He walked and grounded out in the 1970 All Star showcase. He overcame injuries to lead the N.L. in batting average with a sizzling .366 mark.
Even in this, his best season, Carty had problems with a volatile nature. He got in a fight with pitcher Ron Reed. He had the highest career average among active players. Nevertheless he was the subject of trade rumors. Playing in the Dominican League after that 1970 season, Carty collided with teammate Matty Alou and fractured his knee. His leg was in a brace for 1971 spring training. He hobbled out of the dugout on Opening Day to a standing ovation. He got a blood clot in his injured leg.
Complications continued when he and a brother in law got in a fight with two off-duty Atlanta cops. A racial slue precipitated, legend has it.
My, those physical challenges continued into 1972: elbow tendinitis and a pulled hamstring. He managed to bat .277. October saw him get traded to the American League's Texas Rangers. Braves fans were deflated. Carty and the new Atlanta manager, former Braves superstar Ed Matthews, were not on the same wavelength. Meanwhile the Texas manager, none other than Whitey Herzog, said he was "looking for ballplayers, not Boy Scouts."
Alas, Carty was dealt another piece of injury misfortune as Pedro Borbon delivered a pitch that fractured Carty's jaw. Herzog saw Carty as a fine DH candidate. But Carty didn't share that enthusiasm. His stats sank as the DH but then he got re-assigned to left field, even though his errors would often outnumber his assists. He broke a bone in his foot sliding into second base. He was batting .232 when he was sent to the Cubs. The Cub experience was fleeting and then it was on to Oakland. The A's won the World Series but Carty was not eligible for the post-season roster. He was released on December 12.
Doubt circulated as to whether Carty could continue as a productive ballplayer. Carty himself was resolved to keep going. He was up for winter ball again. His skills were revived and this got the attention of the Cleveland Indians. Despite a hamstring issue, he batted .363 in 33 games as the Tribe's DH and first baseman.
Carty pulled on the Cleveland uniform again in 1975 at age 35. His talents were most intact with a .308 batting average. Things got better in 1976, at least for a time, as he flirted with a .400 average. Despite more injuries, Carty played in a career-high 152 games and batted .310. He produced a team-best 83 RBIs. He had finally come around to the DH role. He was voted Man of the Year by the Cleveland baseball writers.
He was picked by Toronto in the 1976 expansion draft, but he was promptly traded back to Cleveland where in 1977 he was the highest-paid team member. A clash developed with manager Frank Robinson. Carty was not carrying himself very gracefully. But it was Robinson who appeared to come out on the short end as he got fired. I seem to recall Gaylord Perry not getting along well with Robinson either.
Carty got righted with his hitting and produced a .280 average with a team-best 80 RBIs. But he was sent to Toronto for 1978. He produced 19 RBIs in April for Toronto. He had a super August homestand. But he would be on the move again, pulling on an Oakland A's uniform as he was traded for Willie Horton. He had an early 15-game hitting streak for Oakland. He hit eight home runs in his first 19 games. His 31 home runs for the season was his career-best! Amazing resiliency by this veteran.
He was granted free agency. He became a Toronto Blue Jay again, inking a bulky five-year contract (probably incentive-laden). He claimed an odd injury: stabbing himself with a toothpick. His hitting suffered. August 6 of 1979 saw Carty hit his 200th career home run. He could not resist the ravages of time and age anymore. His extended contract lasted but one year and he was released on March 29, 1980.
 
Born to be a hitter
He may have been big and slow but he seemed as natural a hitter as Tony Oliva. His regular comebacks from various kinds of adversity were inspiring. He could engage in cheerful banter with fans. It's ironic that he also had a reputation as somewhat of an agitator. He merely claimed that he "stood up for his rights" and this he did with a wide variety of individuals. You might say he was "equal opportunity" in that respect.
I think it's unfortunate that the big guy isn't remembered better, not in the same league as the squeaky-clean Hank Aaron. He was volatile as many talented people are. Let's keep his memory alive!
 
Addendum: It dawns on me that Carty gets mention in "Ball Four," the groundbreaking baseball book by Jim Bouton, groundbreaking because of the rules it broke. Of Carty, the knuckleballing Bouton said he didn't trust banks. "He also doesn't trust clubhouse valuable boxes." So when Carty was on TV and you saw a big bulge in his back pocket, it's his wallet! Bouton's book went below the surface in evaluating ballplayers and their idiosyncrasies, the idea being to make them totally human. I guess we all should have understood that in the first place.
Maybe there was something to be said about Carty's paranoia about the financial world!
 
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pitcher Dick Hall's longevity: it is explained easily

We see Dick Hall portrayed in Billy Crystal's famous movie about the Roger Maris/Mickey Mantle home run chase. The broadcaster refers to Hall's "crazy sidearm delivery." Maris was trying to break Babe Ruth's record within 154 games. The big league schedule had been expanded to 162 games. It seems quaint to think that people in baseball put so much stock in this issue: whether a record, especially a home run record, could be broken in a schedule that went beyond the previous standard of 154 games.
It says a lot for Dick Hall's longevity that he was a nemesis for my Minnesota Twins in 1969 and 1970. I was emotionally invested in our Twins back then, when I was junior high-age. I hated those Baltimore Orioles. Of course that was a foolish way to think. The Twins seemed snakebit then, this in spite of the fact that they were unquestionably spectacular in regular season play. But when the post-season arrived, I sensed that the fans around me became defeatist. We shrugged and figured it was unlikely that we could get past those Baltimore Orioles with relief ace Dick Hall.
Such a nice, crisp name to pronounce: one syllable for both the first and last names.
Hall made his first post-season appearance in 1969 against our Twins. He was the wily graybeard: 39 years old. Any clues as to his longevity? There is one huge one: It wasn't until he was 16 years old that Hall began to play baseball. He was a member of a 16-year-old team that won the Cardinal Gibbons championship (Baltimore area), and that, he said, "was my first taste of baseball."
So my point is: Hall preserved his body and especially his arm so that he would have the physical resilience for a long career in baseball.
Hall strode out to the pitching mound at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium in early fall of 1969. This was the first year of the divisional format. The Twins won the West while Baltimore came out of the East. In the first American League Championship Series ever played, Hall was the Game 1 winning pitcher in a 4-3 Orioles victory. It was the epitome of the kind of heartbreak us Twins fans were dealt in the post-season of both 1969 and '70. You'll recall that 1969 was the year of the "Miracle Mets." Baltimore fell to the Mets in the '69 World Series. Hall was the losing pitcher in Game 4 but he got his World Series creds started.
In 1970 Hall was the oldest active player in the American League. He turned 40 on September 27. His savvy and sound physical health helped him achieve a 10-5 record with an ERA of 3.08 and three saves. He issued just six walks, only four of them unintentionally. Pinpoint control was an absolute hallmark of his career. Ted Williams commented that Hall might look like an easy pitcher to hit when he was warming up. That appearance was totally deceiving.
The 1970 A.L. divisional series was like a carbon copy of '69. Our Twins tore up the opposition in the regular season. Tony O. and Harmon were superlative. But the snakebit quality could not be escaped vs. those Orioles. Again, Hall was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the divisional playoffs. He allowed just one baserunner in his 4 2/3 innings. Once the Orioles completed business in that series, a sweep again, they went on to face Cincinnati in the World Series. The Orioles were not to be denied this time. Game 2 of the Fall Classic saw Hall enter the game in the bottom of the seventh with runners on first and second and two outs. Hall set down Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Lee May, Hal McRae, Tommy Helms and pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo and Jim Stewart to save the Orioles' 6-5 victory.
 
"He keeps getting people out"
Helms' comments about Hall reflected the norm: "His pitches don't seem to be moving, but I guess it's deceiving. He keeps getting people out." It was a long time since Hall showed that "crazy sidearm delivery" against Maris, Mantle and the Yankees. Baseball had gone from one epoch to the next. Hall with his well-preserved arm was able to endure and prosper. What if he had logged the usual number of innings in Little League, Babe Ruth or other levels for young boys? He could have easily over-taxed his arm.
Baseball was not enlightened about such things in the old days. It is tragic how many fine pitchers went into rapid decline, during my youth, due to overwork of the arm. Today we hear all about the "pitch count." What a blessing. A pitcher might be removed from a game even if he has a no-hitter going.
Johnny Bench hollered out at Hall from the dugout: "How can you be out there with that garbage?" The results speak for themselves. Hall had his final big league season in 1971 at at the age of 41. He won six games and saved one. His ERA bulged up a little but he had gas left in the tank for the World Series. On October 11, in Game 2 vs. the Pirates at Memorial Stadium, Hall earned a save for Jim Palmer in what turned out to be Hall's last big league appearance.
Ted Williams described Hall as a "pinpointer" with his control. "You never got a fat pitch to hit."
We must acknowledge that Hall was known as an intelligent and intellectual person. I see no evidence that these traits annoyed other ballplayers, not the way Jim Bouton's erudite traits could.
 
Breaking the language barrier!
There is a fascinating story with Hall's romance that led to his marriage. He met the love of his life while playing winter ball in Mexico. His first winter there saw him meet Maria Elena Nieto. They were married on December 31, 1955. The marriage would produce three daughters and a son. Maria did not speak English when they met. Hall had to learn to speak Spanish. Imagine being in love with someone who didn't speak your language! Quite the story.
Hall's whole story is most inspiring and it might not have happened had he not waited until age 16 to start pitching.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"Zone Troopers" (1985) like an engaging comic book

It is odd how we can feel so entertained by war movies. The whole World War II genre of movies seems surreal with their tone. From the safety of our movie theater seats, we see the heroic GIs put down the adversary in "the good war." We feel uplifted. Then we have the Viet Nam set of movies designed to scold us for ever acquiescing to that conflict. Not real entertaining, yet some of these movies were quite high-profile and important.
Of course, all war is hell. Mankind is to be scolded for ever having this tendency toward killing conflict come forward.
Perhaps the best war movie is one made on an absurd premise. It reminds us that cinema is not the best vehicle for realizing the awful truths about war. The war becomes a backdrop, an excuse for letting an improbable story come forward. "Zone Troopers" from 1985 employs science fiction. It is the classic sci-fi story of aliens among us. They have weapons which, if in our hands, would shorten the war. The American GIs in the story are so absolutely genuine and likeable. I have read that these characters seemed cliched. The cliche line is so handy for movie reviewers. Fact is, WWII soldiers were within very tight confines for how they could behave. Thus we have some predictability.
But the GIs in "Zone Troopers" break those bounds to seem totally human. They clearly represent the benevolent cause. They pine for home. An alien projects a mirage of a young woman who is the idyllic 1940s young woman - the perfect look. The music is so pure in presenting the 1940s motif. We hear the classic "In The Mood." At movie's end we see a plug for buying war bonds, "available in the lobby."
I wonder if the moviemakers realized how pure this 1940s motif was, how genuine the GIs seemed as they wandered in the morass of war. The movie doesn't preach on how bad war is. We can all just understand the premise. With that premise put aside, we can feel the simple joy of following a sci-fi story.
The setting is Italy. I remember watching the video of an obscure WWII movie called "The Battle for Anzio." Obscure, yes, but it starred the front-line actor for WWII movies, none other than Robert Mitchum. I watched the VHS tape, never having heard of this movie before. The obscurity is well-earned. The movie didn't really seem to have an interesting defining angle. As I recall, Mitchum is a correspondent who behaves like a pacifist. At the end he's finally forced to employ a rifle. If we were supposed to be moved by that, I just yawned. At the very end there's a victory parade scene with Mitchum watching. He says to a bystander: "Well, should we all just choose up sides and start over?" The statement was supposed to seem profound. It just didn't work, in my mind.
Mitchum also starred in the famous flick "The Longest Day." It was strangely made in black and white. John Wayne built the stature of that movie. It was a defining WWII movie with the good vs. evil meme and no truly bloody or gory scenes. We leave the theater feeling exhilarated, not prone to throwing up. D-Day may have been necessary. But it was tragic beyond words. Taking the beach hardly meant we were going to glide forward en route to Berlin. "Saving Private Ryan" would hit us over the head with how sad and violent it all was.
Oliver Stone would tell us that the Red Army from the east is what really crushed the Nazis.
 
The barter value of Lucky Strikes
"Zone Troopers" is delightful with its escapism. The aliens have weapons that cause targets to dissolve. A GI says "if we had those pea shooters, our boys would be home by Christmas."
The aliens have crash-landed. We see the GI named "Joey" perusing a sci-fi mag called "Fantastic Fiction." We wonder if the movie to come is a product of Joey's imagination. Joey has another piece of reading material in his possession, about "blonde dames from space." The GI named "Mittens" offers a pack of Lucky Strikes in exchange for the "Dames" book. Ah, the allure of a pack of "Luckies" - it surely transports us back to the 1940s. We get introduced to the "Sarge" character played by Tim Thomerson from "Trancers." "Sarge" becomes the defining character with his image of seeming impervious to danger.
This endearing group of GIs is caught behind enemy lines. They get nothing but static on their radio. Their compasses spin around. Along come the Nazis. The film was shot on location in Italy. Our GIs come upon a huge crash-landed spaceship. No wonder their radio and compasses don't work. The movie takes on the tone of action and conflict but the sci-fi element suggests the overriding air of fantasy. We don't need to see the action to appreciate war. What we really appreciate is the sci-fi element and its mystery. Where will this take us?
There is a somewhat low-budget look that is no bothersome distraction. We can love this flick in the same way as "Lobster Man From Mars." In "Zone Troopers" we appreciate the healthy mix of comedy, sci-fi and camp. The soldiers are so, well, "American." They are unrefined in an endearing way. We can understand the aliens being attracted to them.
The aliens themselves are most likable. They have a translator device that enables them to communicate. "Mittens" gets to punch Adolf Hitler in the face! Actors Tim Thomerson, Art Lafleur and Timothy Van Patton really lift this movie from the low-budget obscurity where it could have ended up. These characters could be the father of any baby boomer. These guys came home after the war and created the great American middle class. They spoiled their own children. Why not, after all they had been through?
Their own male children were vulnerable to being called to service for Viet Nam. The Viet Nam war was a world apart from World War II. We are learning more and more about the extent of the tragedy of Viet Nam, beyond even the most miserable movies. A primary tragedy, cited by some as the main reason we had to leave, was "fragging," the practice of American troops killing their own colonels. War is hell to an extent that even the most preachy movies don't record.
War movies always give us the premise that our GIs, regardless of the hazards faced, respond to command and support each other. Movies also notoriously support the idea that the battles were so well-organized. Andy Rooney took on this assumption once. He was there for WWII and he once commented that he thought it was "a mess."
Fragging a.k.a. "mutiny" actually happened toward the end of WWII. News of it didn't get out much. If you want to appreciate the impulse toward insubordination, check out "Bridge at Remagen."
 
Raw charm of our heroes
It's almost a blessing that "Zone Troopers" has a cartoonish tone with the violence. Let's just absorb the escapism and the raw charm of its American heroes. "Zone Troopers" is under 90 minutes and can grip your attention. It has appeared recently on the "Comet" TV network.
Was the movie intended as satire or is it just plain fun? I suggest the latter. Don't evaluate the movie as if it's heavy-lifting cinema. It has a real comic book quality and that's a plus. I grew up consuming stories like this from comic books. It was our escape from the dry school textbooks of our junior high years, to be sure.
There is a defensiveness among many of the reviewers of the movie. It's as if the movie is a guilty pleasure! No need for defensiveness. Let's just revel in the joy of an engaging sci-fi story involving "the greatest generation" in World War II. I love "Zone Troopers" just as I loved "Lobster Man From Mars" (with Tony Curtis).
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Bill Skowron, always a Yankee in our memory

I remember Bill "Moose" Skowron as having a scowling visage on his baseball cards. It seemed reinforced by the first syllable of his last name seeming like "scowl." I'm sure the appearance was misleading. He seemed a popular guy with fans and teammates.
Speaking of appearance, the nickname "Moose" needs some clarification. We'd easily assume the "big guy" first baseman got the name based on physique. What? There's another explanation? There most certainly is. The story goes back to his youth in Chicago IL. Bill was playing with the "Cragin Juniors" team. His dad played with the semi-pro "Cragin Merchants." Dad's teammates made note of Bill's crew cut. They observed that the crew cut made young Bill look like Benito Mussolini. The ballplayers, a not-too-subtle crowd, called the young man "Mussolini." It got shortened to "Moose." Benito Mussolini was the notorious prime minister of Italy for World War II.
We all got familiar with "Moose" Skowron when he wore the pinstripes of the New York Yankees. He seemed such an established part of that regime as it ruled in the late '50s and early '60s. We see Skowron portrayed in Billy Crystal's movie about the 1961 baseball season. At one point in the movie, Roger Maris implores the media to pay more attention to Skowron after the big guy played a key role in a win.
Surely Skowron was upstaged by Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961. But he was a very important cog in the wheel. He was never quite a superstar but he had a notable career. It didn't seem right that he got traded before the Yankees' 1960s heyday ended. He was traded because the team had a pitching need. By 1966 the Yankees would need help everywhere. Following 1962, the Bronx crew was still feeling their oats and they sought pitcher Stan Williams. Skowron went out West for Williams on November 26, 1962. The Yankees felt they could replace Skowron at first base with Joe Pepitone. You'll recall Pepitone as a player who never quite lived up to his potential, and did not seem like a good role model.
Skowron out in L.A. did not have a good regular season in 1963. He batted .202. But he had a chance to redeem himself in the World Series against the Yankees. He had already been in seven Fall Classics with the Yankees. He was known as a "money" player for the post-season.
 
Coming on strong in Fall Classic
Dodgers manager Walt Alston sensed that Skowron was primed for another good World Series. Skowron pulled on his first base glove while Ron Fairly was sidelined some. Alston's hunch panned out. The big guy hit .385 with a home run. The '63 Series was notable in that it revealed Sandy Koufax as the true superstar pitcher. Koufax led the Dodgers' four-game sweep of the pinstripe crew. He went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA. He set down 23 Yankee batters on strikes. Two years later, we here in Minnesota got our own dose of appreciation of the other-worldly lefty.
David Halberstam's book about the 1964 season gave some background on Koufax's development. It was not a matter of maturity or mastering mechanics, Halberstam pointed out. Rather, it was a matter of "umpires calling the high fastball a strike." Whatever umpires did, it became a real problem by 1968 when pitchers took over the game too much. 1968 was "the year of the pitcher" and it was great if you enjoyed shutouts. But something had to be done. The powers that be lowered the pitching mound.
Skowron had quite the knack for playing with winners. He played for eight pennant-winning teams and nearly made it nine in 1964, when his Chicago White Sox came within a whisker of the flag. The Yankees had their last dynastic year in '64, barely winning the pennant. They lost to St. Louis and a young Lou Brock in the Series. Of the eight pennant-winning teams that had "Moose" on the roster, five won the World Series.
Maris had a talent like Moose, of being on board with high-achieving teams. We might forget that Roger was a big contributor with the '67 and '68 St. Louis Cardinals who were on top of the National League.
 
He relished baseball and life
Pitcher Bob Turley remembered Skowron as a fun and gregarious person. Forget that "scowling" visage that I alluded to. "He is this big kid who always enjoys things," Turley said of his teammate.
Skowron hit over .300 five times in his career. He along with those "M&M Boys," Mantle and Maris, combined to hit 143 home runs in 1961. That Yankee team beat Cincinnati in five games in the World Series. Skowron had a home run and five RBIs. In 1960 the big guy batted .375 in the Fall Classic against Pittsburgh. He homered twice and drove in six runs, but you'll recall this was the Series where Bill Mazeroski hit his dramatic home run in Game 7 to win for Pittsburgh. Such memories.
Skowron is established in our memories as a Yankee, regardless of his '63 World Series exploits with Los Angeles. Hey, he wears the pinstripes in our memory. And it's not a scowl - just call it resolve or determination.
"Moose" Skowron went to that baseball diamond in the sky on April 27, 2012, in Arlington Heights IL.
- Brian Williams, morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Don Demeter overcame disrupted childhood, played ball

Here's the card that introduced me to Demeter.
I always feel disturbed when reading the history of a broken family. I wonder: Are the kids tougher and better adjusted for having come through this? Or is that just a stereotype?
Don Demeter was a fine 1960s baseball player who had a conflicted youth. His father was a painter and his mother a housewife. The family lived in Oklahoma City. Sounds like a classic American family. They moved to Denver when young Don was age 10. About a year later, the parents broke up - why? - and Don headed back to Oklahoma City to live with grandparents. Grandparents to the rescue again!
But Don got re-joined with his mother after she re-married a man from New Hampshire. Don spent a winter with them but it was an unsettled situation again. It seemed like the only reliable home base for Don was the city of Oklahoma City. He went through high school in Oklahoma City. His family? Don came under the care of foster parents. Surely foster parents can come to the rescue too - bless them.
What issues were so terrible with his biological parents? We don't really know. But Don was able to land on his feet in his hometown. He lauded those foster parents on instilling in him the faith that was an underpinning for the rest of his life. Foster Dad George Stevens was a Sunday School superintendent and chairman of the deacons at a Baptist church. Don said of him: "He was a real witness and testimony for me."
 
Echoes of my own background
A disrupted or dysfunctional family came close to home for me once. My family provided shelter for an aunt - my mother's sister - who left her husband who she felt might kill her. She had five children, first cousins of mine, who I knew well for a time, then we got separated for many years. Obviously I had problems understanding what could make a family come apart so badly. How could a relationship that began in love end up severed and with poisonous feelings?
I have never been married so I cannot imagine how such a split might develop. It profoundly troubles me. Reading Demeter's bio brings back some of those memories and that sense of puzzlement. He appears to have found his own solution: a deep Christian faith. If that works for you, congrats. My generation of the boomers never really took to that stuff. In older age I think a lot of us are drifting back to it.
Demeter would have looked fine in a Minnesota Twins uniform. We were not so fortunate. I got familiar with this big and lanky outfielder through his baseball card on those Post cereal boxes. He was with Philadelphia at the time. He is one of those players who quite arguably was outstanding but for some reason is not well remembered today.
He became known as a player who was part of trades where the other team got the better deal. Can't blame Don for that.
He roamed center field for his high school team which won the state championship his junior and senior years. Eleven boys from that team signed pro contracts. Most signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Demeter was the only one making it into the big leagues. Many are called, few are chosen. Don got an $800 bonus for signing with those old Dodgers in 1953.
He plunged into the typical scenario for aspiring big leaguers, going from one stop to another including winter ball in Venezuela. He socked 41 home runs with Fort Worth in 1956. He got the call to get a taste of big league ball with the Dodgers. He appeared at Ebbets Field in September. He struck out. The next day he stepped up to bat as a pinch-hitter and hit a homer on his first swing. The Dodgers won their second straight National League crown.
 
Seasoning with the St. Paul Saints
We're proud to note that Don came Minnesota way for 1957, playing the whole season with the St. Paul Saints of the American Association. He hit 28 home runs and batted .309.
The Dodgers re-located to Los Angeles in the off-season. Don began 1958 with L.A. but got sent back down to St. Paul. He re-joined L.A. for good on July 30, helping compensate for an ailing Duke Snider. He struggled at the plate.
Bring on 1959 with Ike still in the White House: Demeter hit three two-run home runs in a single game on April 21. The last of these was in the bottom of the eleventh to beat the Giants 9-7. The Dodgers won the pennant as they got past Milwaukee in a two-game playoff. They beat the White Sox in the World Series. Demeter appeared in all six World Series games and went three-for-12 with two runs scored.
In '59 there were rumors that Demeter would come to Calvin Griffith's Washington Senators in a trade. This would have set the stage for the big guy coming to Minnesota again. Alas it did not happen. Legend has it that Griffith backed off due to reports that Demeter might quit baseball for the ministry. Demeter had a serious injury on July 3 of 1960. He was out for the rest of the season, a season that saw him hit .274 with nine home runs. He was still a Dodger for the start of '61. 
Don then became a Phillie and did fine, achieving his second three-homer game of his career, putting down the Dodgers and none other than Sandy Koufax. It was a 19-10 win! Demeter had his best season in 1962 as he batted .307 with 29 home runs and 107 RBIs. He started an errorless streak as an outfielder. Demeter claimed batting average didn't mean much to him, rather he stressed RBIs.
In 1963 he traveled to Japan with another noted Christian ballplayer, Bobby Richardson, to spread the gospel. Demeter had another fine season in 1963, socking 22 home runs. In '63 he became a Detroit Tiger. Chuck Dressen, the Detroit manager, claimed Demeter was a better player than Rocky Colavito. I think highly of Demeter but I could not disagree more with Dressen on this. I have written a song about Rocky Colavito.
Demeter held his own but was not outstanding with Detroit. He would get Bibles from fans which he would then autograph. On August 12 of 1965, Demeter drove in seven runs on a single, triple and grand slam in an 11-1 win over Kansas City. The Tigers finished fourth, 13 games behind our Twins. Don declined in productivity in 1966. He joined the Red Sox who weren't exactly on a roll. They finished ninth, a half-game ahead of the sinking New York Yankees. Demeter reported back problems.
In '67 with Boston destined to streak to the top, Demeter did not finish out the campaign with them. He joined Cleveland. He did make some contributions while with Boston. Demeter wrapped up his career with Cleveland, getting two home runs in a game vs. the Yankees. Nagging injuries and a suspect heart took a toll.
Amazingly, his heart problems seemed to get resolved when the big guy just improved his diet! Many of us should take note.
He got two hits in his last start, on August 27, and his final at-bat saw him deliver a single.
Demeter as a retiree appeared in old-timers games for the Dodgers. He became a pastor in his church. He had an unsuccessful run for the state legislature as a Republican in 1976. I seem to recall the '70s not being great for Republicans! In 1999 Don was inducted into the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame. He pastors Grace Community Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. He can be proud of his long big league career with no shortage of thrills.
We wish he had pulled on a Twins uniform for a time.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, May 26, 2017

John Klippstein, the "other" fab reliever w/ 1965 Twins

John Klippstein
We remember Al Worthington as the bulwark reliever for those grand and glorious mid-1960s Minnesota Twins. It was a time when the Twins themselves were a bright and shiny novelty. As recently as 1960 we weren't even big league.
Worthington seemed like a stable, reliable uncle or father figure for us youthful boomers who were transfixed by the Twins. The P.A. announcer trumpeted "Alan Worthington" when the money reliever strode out to the mound.
There was another reliever with those Twins who was mighty reliable as well. How can you forget a name like "John Klippstein?" Klippstein was arguably just as effective as Worthington when at his best.
I was ten years old when the Twins won the pennant in 1965. "Transfixed" hardly says it all. I'm sure all Twins fans my age remember the name Klippstein. He was already an old-timer by the time the pennant campaign unfolded. His first big league training camp was way back in 1950. He went through a typically complicated baseball journey with its ups and downs, until destiny assigned him to our history-making, pennant-winning Minnesota Twins.
We almost had to pinch ourselves to see if we were dreaming. Not only were we on top of the American League, we had displaced the fabled New York Yankees. There was an air of defensiveness to it - remember? - as if we were concerned the broad public and East coast-centered media wouldn't really accept us. A residue of that was even apparent in the 1987 and 1991 championship campaigns. We resented that announcer who kept referring to our stadium as the "homer dome," a designation that seemed to cheapen our home runs. As if East coast ballparks like Fenway couldn't be criticized on aesthetic or quality grounds. We were on the Midwest prairie.
Today I think the old biases are really, truly gone. Hallelujah.
 
In Philly before Minny

Klippstein joined his sixth team in six years when the Phillies purchased his contract from the Reds during spring training in 1963. Now a relief specialist, Klippstein was 35 years old. Used exclusively as a reliever, Klippstein blossomed with his best season. He appeared in 49 games with the Phillies, tossing 112 innings and polishing a superb 1.93 ERA. He had the stamina of a long reliever as on five occasions, he pitched at least six innings. He regretted not having been made into a relief specialist earlier.
I seem to recall that in the early '60s, relievers did not have particularly high status. Pitchers of marginal ability seemed to be assigned "the bullpen." It was an age when "complete games" were sought by starting pitchers as a badge of quality. Had the term "pitch count" even been coined yet? Managers seemed downright ignorant of how extended pitching stints could damage a pitching arm. It's 180 degrees the opposite of today, where a pitcher can be removed from a game based on "pitch count" even if he has a no-hitter going.
Klippstein was in fact famous for having been removed from a game once when he had given up no hits. He was with Cincinnati in 1956. He had this no-hitter going against Milwaukee. He left the game for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. His replacements continued the no-hitter into the tenth inning!
An asterisk should be attached to Klippstein's performance that day. Yes he allowed no hits but he walked eight. Throughout his career, Klippstein had to battle control issues. The Reds lost the game 2-1. Frank Torre, brother of Joe, hit a two-run single for the Braves.
 
Putting on the Twins cap
In 1965 with our storied Minnesota Twins of that season, Klippstein threw eight and two-thirds innings of hitless relief over a span of three appearances. Klippstein joined our Minnesota crew in 1964. It was a strange season because on paper, we seemed quite impressive with the power merchants of that era doing their thing. Our pitching even seemed decent but we finished in a tie for sixth.
Manager Sam Mele went to work trying to incorporate more speed and opportunism for the Twins of '65. Pitching coach Johnny Sain taught "spin ballistics" to his pitchers.
Klippstein had a reputation of not needing much warm-up time. He established a pattern when he was at his best of appearing three times a week for just a few innings. He was one of the few Twins with prior World Series experience. He pitched two scoreless innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1959 Series. He along with fellow Twins Jim Grant and Jim Perry had all been members of the 1960 Cleveland Indians.
Klippstein came to the Twins partly because of the friendship between our owner Calvin Griffith and Philadelphia general manager John Quinn. Griffith felt rather starved for quality relief pitching at the time. Worthington was a rock but we needed more. Klippstein had a fluid pitching delivery.
Game 7 of the '65 World Series broke our hearts because Sandy Koufax was out on the mound for L.A., appearing indomitable. Klippstein pitched one and two-thirds innings for us in that game. He struck out two batters, walked one and gave up two hits and no runs.
One might suggest he was fortunate being at the pinnacle of the World Series. The down notes in his career, coupled with his control issues, could have removed him from the bigs permanently, one might suggest. He was claimed by the new Washington Senators in the 1960 expansion draft, after Griffith announced the move of the old Senators to Minnesota. The new Senators were convinced that Klippstein would be part of a premier relief staff. Alas, the Senators got mired in losing and finished 61-100. Klippsetin struggled with control and had a horrible ERA of 6.78. He led the league with ten wild pitches.
At season's end he got traded back to Cincinnati. Cincinnati put him to work as a starter seven times.
Here's a gem of a memory: Klippstein comes in from the bullpen to take over for Bob Purkey in the eleventh inning. There was a 0-0 stalemate vs. the new Houston Colt .45s at Colt Stadium. The Colts would become the Astros. Jim Bouton recalled of the original Colt .45s ballpark: "Look out for snakes." Bouton wrote the seminal "Ball Four." Bring on the top of the 13th inning. Here Klippstein brings his bat to the plate. Hey, he hits his fifth career home run! It was a solo job and then he went back to the mound to hurl his third consecutive scoreless inning. The Reds won 1-0. He looked to Houston third baseman Bob Aspromonte as he circled the bases on the home run, and said to him: "If you think you're surprised, imagine how I feel."
So, Klippstein came on board with the Phillies in the spring of '63
. He established himself as one of those wise graybeard relief pitchers. He showed the kind of moxie that would be evident with our 1965 pennant-winner in Minnesota.
In between we had the 1964 season, quite notable for the Phillies as they experienced the worst collapse in baseball history - perhaps all of pro sports history - under manager Gene Mauch. Klippstein might have saved the Phillies. But his standing didn't seem good with manager Mauch, a manager I never really liked. He platooned too much.
Philadelphia
acquired reliever Ed Roebuck who got more favored, it seemed. Klippstein was used little over the first 61 games. Cal McLish returned from injury in June. McLish and Mauch were tight. Klippstein got waived. Philadelphia was in first place with a 38-23 record at the time. How their fortunes would change.
 
Microscopic ERA with the Twins 
Klippstein was relieved from being part of the absolutely epic collapse. Instead he began developing his Twins resume. He impressed our skipper Sam Mele by posting a 1.97 ERA over 33 appearances in three months.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Roebuck and closer Jack Baldschun did not pitch as well. Mauch had a snakebit fate that would follow him. Supporters would argue that he could make marginal talent competitive. I don't know. I remember when our Lyman Bostock, a spectacular young hitter, was sat down one day for platoon reasons - a lefty was pitching - and he publicly complained. Would Kirby Puckett have been platooned by Mauch after his first 0-for-4 day against a righthanded pitcher? Maybe Mauch was actually overrated.
Phillies
fans might wonder what Klippstein's presence might have meant for them in '64, when it seemed they all but had the pennant wrapped up. They fizzled while St. Louis and Lou Brock climbed to the top. St. Louis beat the Yankees in the Series.
Pitching coach Sain taught Klippsetin a "quick-pitch curve" with the Twins. It's a slider that drops. Klippstein formed a tandem with that "father figure" Worthington to excel with a surging Minnesota team.
(Note: Players who seemed old in my youth still seem old in my mind today, now when I'm 62!)
Klippstein fashioned a 2.24 ERA in 56 appearances with the 1965 Twins. In the World Series he pitched a scoreless inning in Game 3, then came on for Game 7 again, but unfortunately we didn't have the run-scoring to win. Koufax pitched a three-hitter in Game 7. Klippstein capped off a stretch of 23 consecutive appearances dating from August 1 in which he did not give up a single run. Klippstein was at his professional peak. Henceforth he showed those inevitable signs of decline. He felt he wasn't used enough with the 1966 Twins. He got a contract with Detroit in 1967 but got released in May.
The Klipper's career spanned 18 years in which he wore the uniforms of eight major league teams. His career ERA was 4.24. Looking back, he said he experimented too much with offbeat pitches (e.g. the "knuckle scrooge"). It might have been better to just stick with the fastball, he felt. Today he might seem perfectly suited for a role as closer. His ability to warm up quickly was a real plus. He golfed and enjoyed reading mysteries.
Klippstein
left us for that bullpen in the sky in 2003 at age 76. He was a much-liked ballplayer on a personal level. We are thankful he devoted some of his best efforts as a Minnesota Twin. Let's raise a toast in memory of John Klippstein.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dietz and Gibson sock homers in 3-1 road triumph

Tigers 3, Minnewaska Area 1
Home runs were a factor in the MACA girls' success vs. Minnewaska Area. The Tigers faced pitcher Morgan Hess who recently tossed a no-hitter against Montevideo. You'll recall that Monte was the team that made waves by forfeiting a game recently as a protest gesture. The Tigers were the recipient of that forfeit win.
Against Minnewaska we had to take the field and work to overcome a prime opposing pitcher, Hess. We won 3-1 at 'Waska on the strength of home runs. Liz Dietz homered in the first inning. Piper Gibson polished things off with a homer in the seventh. Both teams are highly regarded in Class AA circles.
The game was played on May 15.
Brooke Gillespie was the pitcher who dueled with 'Waska's Hess. Both pitchers had a complete game. Gillespie got the 'W' next to her name as she struck out three batters, walked three and allowed six hits and one run (earned). Hess sat down five Tiger batters on strikes. The Laker walked three batters and gave up six hits and three runs (two earned).
The lone 'Waska run came home in the third. We scored one run in the first inning and two in the seventh. Each team had six hits. Each team had one error. Gibson had two RBIs with her homer. Dietz got the other RBI with her round-tripper. Other Tigers hitting safely were Gillespie, Ashley Solvie, Emma Bowman and Kalley Hottovy.
Hess had a two-for-four line for Minnewaska. Bayley Pooler had a hit and a run scored. Carley Stewart doubled and drove in a run. Alisha Vigil and Rachel Erickson each had a hit.
 
Minnewaska 4, Tigers 3
Another recent contest vs. Minnewaska had the Lakers edging the Tigers 4-3. 'Waska got the four runs it needed in the first two innings: one in the first and three in the second. Our pitcher Ashley Solvie kept the Lakers scoreless after that. The MACA bats couldn't keep up, though, even though we rallied for two runs in the fourth and one in the seventh. We scored our three runs on five hits and committed one error. The 'Waska line score was 4-8-0.
'Waska coach Steve Hoffmann got his 500th career win as a result of this success. The game was played on May 16.
Brooke Gillespie of the Tigers made things interesting with a two-run home run in the fourth inning. We shaved the margin to one run in the seventh. But 'Waska pitcher Rachel Erickson was able to shut the door, completing a complete game. Erickson struck out two batters, was superb with her control - zero walks - and gave up five hits and three runs (earned). Our Ashley Solvie struck out three batters and walked one in her seven innings. 'Waska got to her for eight hits and the four runs, three earned.
Gillespie's homer was part of a two-for-three line and she drove in two runs. Piper Gibson, Bailey Marty and Emma Bowman each went one-for-three. Ashley Blom doubled for the Lakers. Morgan Hess had two hits in three at-bats. Bayley Pooler had a two-for-four showing. Alisha Vigil and Erickson each went one-for-three.
 
All the news that's fit?
The news is just hitting me this morning: the apparent imminent closure of the Hancock Record newspaper. We're expected to buy the propaganda from newspaper ownership, non-local, that somehow this is a forward-looking move: consolidation, shrinkage etc. It's in line with the meme that the print media overall are in decline.
If you accept that premise, do one little favor for me: stop supporting those "sucker ads" in the Morris paper. You know, those spreads where some sort of salute is expressed to something and then you see a list of businesses on the page. Knock it off. Buy advertising only with the purpose of informing the public of your goods and services. It is asinine to "subsidize" the Fargo-owned local print media. The bean counters in Fargo are cynically manipulating things here to maximize profit in the short term, largely by cutting. Don't you see this? It's called "harvesting" in the business world.
Let's optimize our online resources for communications and marketing. We're in the year 2017.
It is a very sad end to an era with the closure of the Hancock paper. Forum Communications kept slapping people in the face, first closing the newspaper office there, then putting an apparent squeeze on beloved editor Katie Erdman, inducing her to write a cryptic column of resignation where it was clear she felt uncomfortable. I think the Forum wanted Katie gone before the announcement was made of the closure. She would not have stood idly by for this.
I produced the sports section for the Hancock Record for something like 15 years, 52 weeks a year actually. I hope I left a valuable legacy. Maybe Katie could be honored as grand marshal for the Hancock Fourth of July parade. I'll risk sounding vain to say I could sit beside her. I worked countless hours producing Hancock High School sports material, not just for the Hancock paper but for Morris.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monte's Kilibarda at the fore in win over Tigers

Montevideo 15, Tigers 6
Montevideo attacked early and often in a baseball triumph over our Morris Area Chokio Alberta Tigers. Derek Kilibarda was a prime contributor for the victor, both at bat and on the mound. Kilibarda was a perfect two-for-two as he socked a double and triple. He accumulated five RBIs and scored three runs.
Blaine Sederstrom had a hit along with two RBIs and two runs scored. Ian Jahn went one-for-three with an RBI and run scored. Jackson Snell stoked the Thunder Hawk offense with three hits in four at-bats, and he drove in two runs. Noah Buseman had two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored. Isaiah Edmunds had a hit and two runs scored. Seth Kuno went one-for-three with a run. Christian Kanten had a hit plus he crossed home plate four times.
Kilibarda was the winning pitcher with four and two-thirds innings worked, in which this Thunder Hawk struck out six batters, walked four and gave up four hits and six runs (just three earned). Jake Mundt pitched two and a third innings for the victor. Mundt fanned four batters, walked four and gave up no hits or runs.
The line scores were 15-12-5 for Monte and 6-4-4 for MACA.
Our Toby Sayles' bat sizzled with two triples. He drove in three runs and scored one as part of going two-for-three. Chase Metzger crossed home plate twice. Parker Dierks crossed home plate once. Denner Dougherty had a hit in his only at-bat. Jared Rohloff had a hit and a run scored.
The pitching loss went to Chandler Vogel. Vogel struggled as he walked five batters and gave up seven hits and ten runs (eight earned). Jordan Leuthardt pitched one and two-thirds innings and got roughed up. Tim Travis pitched an impressive two innings and fanned five Thunder Hawk batters while allowing zero hits or runs.
 
Sauk Centre 4, Tigers 3
Four errors by the Tigers were a negative stat in the 4-3 loss our team was dealt by the Sauk Centre Streeters. Actually, 4-3 was the final score in both games of the doubleheader that day. The Tigers were on the short end in both.
Prospects for victory looked good in game 1 as we rallied for three runs in the fifth to go up 3-2. But the Streeters mounted enough of a rally in the top of the sixth to get on top to stay. We were outhit 6-5. The Streeters committed just one error.
Ryan Bowman had two hits in four at-bats for the orange and black. Three other Tigers each had one hit: Mitchell Dufault, Chase Metzger and Jared Rohloff. Tanner Rieland had two hits and an RBI for the Streeters. Simon Weller scored two runs.
Toby Sayles had his moments on the mound as he struck out seven batters for Morris Area Chokio Alberta. Two of the four runs he allowed were unearned. Two other Tigers got pitching work: Chandler Vogel and Jordan Leuthardt.
The winning pitcher was Luke VanBeck who gave up three r8uns none of which were earned. He fanned one batter, walked four and gave up five hits. Dylan Haskamp got the save with a two-inning stint in which he fanned two.
 
Sauk Centre 4, Tigers 3
Yes, the score was the same in game 2: 4-3 with the Tigers getting edged. Again we made a decent bid for victory. We rallied for two runs in the seventh but it wasn't quite enough. Sauk Centre scored two runs each in the first and fifth.
Sauk
had the advantage in hits over our Tigers, 10-8. Sauk committed three errors compared to just one by us. The first inning ended with Sauk up 2-1.
Chase Metzger was quite in the zone for MACA with his bat: he was a perfect four-for-four! He crossed home plate twice. Alex Daugherty was a perfect two-for-two. Parker Dierks and Jared Rohloff also hit safely. Dylan Haskamp had a hot bat for the Streeters with his three-for-four numbers including a double. Noah Fletcher added a hit to the mix.
Ryan Bowman pitched the distance for MACA, six innings, and struck out four batters while walking two and giving up ten hits and four runs (all earned). Three pitchers shared the load for Sauk Centre: Jacob Zollman, Tanner Rieland and Dylan Haskamp. Haskamp got the save.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com