Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Research does not readily indicate the basis for Dan's moniker. I have to surmise based on a story that involves manager Gene Mauch. Let's drift back to September 5 of 1978. This was the first autumn after my college graduation. The flashy Ford was not totally attentive. His gait slowed between third and home once. There is an allegation he was hot-dogging, manifested in elbows pumping. Jose Morales delivered a base hit. Ford allowed himself to be passed on the basepaths. The second baserunner must be ruled out in this situation.
The disciplinarian Gene Mauch wasn't going to take such a matter lightly. Roy Smalley was on hand to observe. Ford seemed not to be familiar with the baserunning flaw he had just committed. He seemed to be in a "boogie" to the dugout. Mauch growled at the young man, "You can keep right on going!" Legend has it the manager had clenched teeth. "What are you talking about?" Ford said. Mauch responded: "I can't stand to look at you. Get the hell out of here."
The suggestion was that the flamboyant but easily distracted Ford just mosey on to a disco. The alliterative name "Disco Dan" was born.
Obviously this vignette is not a generous way of introducing Dan Ford for the purpose of profiling him. I found him to be an interesting and appealing ballplayer, capable of swinging with fine power from a very closed batting stance. Often he earned the right to act in a flashy way.
Mauch was a man who needed to feel some humility. We can never forget that he was at the helm of Philadelphia when that team descended into the greatest choke of all time in 1964. Why did Calvin Griffith want the baggage of that reputation associated with his Twins? I had a problem with Mauch because of how he platooned so much. Platooning is fine in theory. But at a certain point you need your best hitters out there. If I remember correctly, Lyman Bostock came up to the bigs at the same time as Ford. I remember the great Bostock complaining publicly about how Mauch set him down one day against a lefthanded pitcher. You'll recall that Bostock was tragically shot and killed in a visit to his home city. This was after he left the Twins for the Angels. He was a guaranteed career .300 hitter. I swear that if Kirby Puckett had come up under Mauch, he would have been sat down against rightys after his first 0-for-4 boxscore line against a righty. It was too much.
What I remember about the kind of team Mauch assembled in the late '70s: he had players who hit for a decent average but didn't offer a whole lot else. The last couple years of the old Metropolitan Stadium was a "dead zone" in Twins history. Big league owners know what they're doing when they say certain cities need a new stadium at a particular juncture. Our franchise got resuscitated after getting comfortable in the Metrodome.
A productive ballplayer
Dan Ford roamed the outfield grass. He generated plenty of excitement over his ten years in the bigs. He batted .270 with 121 home runs and 566 RBIs. He moved on from the Twins to play for the California Angels and Baltimore Orioles. He was a regular in the Twins lineup for four seasons. His second season saw him use that closed stance to hit the first home run at the rebuilt Yankee Stadium. This was on April 15, 1976. As an Angel in 1979, "Disco Dan" hit for the cycle in a game against the Seattle Mariners. He was traded to the Orioles for Doug DeCinces and Jeff Schneider.
Wearing the Orioles uniform in May of 1983, Ford homered off Richard Dotson of the White Sox - it was the only hit in a 1-0 win over Chicago, the team whom the Orioles would play for the pennant. Baltimore got past Chicago and then got past Philadelphia in the World Series. Ford hit a home run off the great Philadelphia pitcher Steve Carlton in Game 3 of the fall classic. Had he shown a flamboyant air on the basepaths, I would not have blamed him.
Close your eyes and hear "Do the Hustle" in your head. You'll get the proper motif in your mind for appreciating "Disco" Dan Ford. You might have seen "Saturday Night Fever" on the big screen at that time. Ford looked flashy in the synthetic double-knit uniforms of that time. Your female high school classmates might have worn provocative green and plaid jumpers. I think of the cynical "Gong Show" which reflected the generally cynical times. A result of high interest rates? Don't think this factor doesn't get into our consciousness.
It was an age in which we found humor in references to alcohol consumption. Mothers Against Drunk Driving hadn't asserted themselves yet. And today it isn't mothers, it's lawyers. The double-knit baseball uniforms ran their course.
Ford made his mark albeit not on a Hall of Fame level. I watched him a few times at our old Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington MN. It seemed his closed stance had the effect of accentuating his power. When he was "on" he could really deliver "frozen ropes." I watched him in person do this off Nolan Ryan (of the Angels) once. The ball went like a rocket to the left field corner. He looked for every edge he could get. In 1980 he was caught using a doctored bat against Cleveland. He hit a ball off the end of the bat and the bat splintered. Bobby Grich commented "boy, all kinds of things came flying out of his bat." Ford got a three-game suspension.
A dubious chapter
I have delayed writing about Ford's 1981 photo session (centerfold) for Playgirl Magazine. We don't need this garbage anymore because you can find such garbage on the Internet. Ignore it. Ford rationalized by calling himself a "groundbreaker" with this experience. Other players followed. Big deal.
Ford is proud to note he hit in front of three MVPs: Rod Carew, Don Baylor and Cal Ripkin. He joked "I made them all famous."
Upon retirement, he went back to Louisiana to help run his family's ranch. He says the best part of his life has been baseball. I wish he had stayed with our Twins longer. He would have looked nice in a Twins uniform (no longer synthetic) at our new Metrodome.
Disco music eventually faded. The music form took a lot of derision. I have read that, as a platform for meaningful music, it could be as effective as any other platform. "Do the Hustle." Maybe Ford didn't hustle as well as he might throughout his career. He had a reputation of arriving in the dugout at the last minute, or last instant, before game time. Talented people can have such idiosyncrasies. Maybe they are imbued with confidence. Whatever the case, I have warm memories of "Disco" Dan Ford and that notable closed stance, delivering frozen ropes and homers.
I wish Lyman Bostock had been along for the whole ride.
Addendum: Larry Calton was broadcasting for the Twins at the time Dan Ford came up. What a jerk.
Addendum #2: Remember when Darrin Nelson was drafted by the Vikings and he didn't want to come here, partly because we "didn't have enough discos?" Remember the photo of a sullen-looking Nelson on the front page of the Minneapolis paper? We had that famous column by a Star Tribune writer in which it was suggested that Nelson ought to come here to experience a Lutheran church potluck with its "red Jello." Today Minnesota is a totally cool state. We forget that we once had reputational challenges. I wonder if we turned the corner when we elected Jesse Ventura governor, or was it the musician "Prince?" We are no longer defined by Ole and Lena and those Lutheran churches. Darrin Nelson? He seemed too small to ever be a really good NFL runningback.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, August 19, 2017
|(image from Bucknell)|
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 - email@example.com
Monday, August 7, 2017
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org