Monday, July 31, 2017
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, July 24, 2017
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 - email@example.com
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, July 10, 2017
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 - email@example.com
Monday, July 3, 2017
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org