"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"I remember the parade for him in Morris"

Jerry Koosman in his Mets heyday. (New York Daily News photo)
(Note: This post is part 2 of 2.)
The Morris High School marching band was in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, during a summer way back when, probably 1970 or '71. Even though we were there to march, we were aligned on a stage as a concert band at one point. Our director was consulting with a local musical colleague in front of us.
We heard the colleague say he didn't know much about Morris.
"Jerry Koosman!" bellowed Scott Groth, a big, strapping young man who played saxophone and was drum major when we marched.
At this point I'm tempted to write this whole post about Scott. But it's about Koosman, a one-time big name associated with Morris.
I sense this connection has been largely forgotten. I'm quite sure Koosman doesn't care because he never sought attention. He always saw himself as an unassuming "country boy."
My how time passes. I would guess that a majority of Morris residents today, probably a large majority, are unaware of the Koosman-Morris connection or of Koosman at all.
A friend of mine who lives in Cold Spring remembers. "I remember the parade for him in Morris when they won the World Series," he wrote recently.
"They" were the 1969 New York Mets. It's one of the most famous teams in major league baseball history. They emerged from their pathetic roots (as a chronically losing expansion team in 1962) to win it all in '69.
Adding to that charm was the way they surged from way behind in the National League East division race that season.
To help place that year in time, I'll point out this was the year the Minnesota Twins won the A.L. West with Billy Martin as manager. The Twins got swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the playoffs, and the Orioles went on to face Koosman and the Mets in the Series.
Koosman might have been the most important player for the Mets as they won the Series in five games. He was the No. 2 starting pitcher. He's remembered as a big, overpowering lefthander.
He grew up in Appleton and graduated from the West Central School of Agriculture in Morris (UMM today).
The Met Lounge in Morris owes its name to our Koosman connection, a fact that many of its patrons might not even know. It's my understanding he was a founding partner.
Morris held a grand celebration for Koosman after that World Series. I played in the high school band, directed then by John Woell. There was a ceremony in front of the public library. Yes it's trite but "Koos" was presented with "the key to the city."
One of the guests was Halsey Hall, a broadcaster for the Twins' early years. We remember Hall as a colorful character as much as anything. There wasn't any doubt Hall enjoyed himself here.
Some of the festivities were on the UMM campus. I'm sure Koosman appreciated all this but he didn't bathe in it.
The friend who emailed me about Koosman had a downbeat reason for having his memory tapped. He came across a news item about Koosman's legal troubles. I'm sure Koosman will get past all this and land on his feet. But he has had bumps in the road.
My Cold Spring friend learned that big Koos, already on probation for a tax conviction, was arrested for drunk driving. Federal officials declined to cite him for violating terms of his supervised release. His drunk driving arrest was on September 15 and it happened near his home in Osceola, Wisconsin.
He told probation officers he had been drinking at a golf tournament and was surprised to learn that his blood alcohol content was measured at .22, nearly three times the state limit. Koosman was ten weeks into a one-year probation term that was part of a Federal sentence for "willfully failing to file an income tax return."
Koosman, a "tax denier" a la Wesley Snipes, was also sentenced to five months in prison.
Koosman admitted to being "suckered" by anti-tax rhetoric. He was released from a Federal prison camp in Duluth on June 30, 2010. How the mighty have fallen? Not really. Koosman comes across as at peace and contented.
This is sensed when looking at the "shout out" he gives the new Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in rural Morris. The shout out is via Facebook from Koosman's own page to the church page. Given where Koos grew up, it's a good bet this was his childhood church. It's a classic white country church that has been moved from several miles south of Alberta to just north of Morris. Its opening will be a big deal here.
Having driven out there recently, though, I fear there's a chance the place could be a big mudhole. The custodian for that new church will earn whatever compensation he gets. It would be a tremendous delight to see the legendary Mets lefthander there for a visit.
Back in about 1981 I did a full-page tribute spread on Koosman for the print media. Morris had a newspaper back then (LOL). I put that together in much the same manner I'm writing this post now, without actually interviewing the big guy. I confess that I've never talked to him.
I did try. I had a nice phone conversation with his wife once. My efforts to track him down never yielded fruit. The late Judge Terry Collins always sort of needled me about that. He'd say "have you talked to Jerry yet?"
The hoped-for interview with Koosman became the Holy Grail of my career - sought but not achieved. We probably all have a phantom goal like that. I'd still welcome the chance to talk to him.
Writing a newspaper spread isn't like what I'm doing now. In newspaper writing, in theory at least, you're supposed to be 100 percent certain of all your facts. Oh, but that's ideal, isn't it? In an ideal world, yes. But it's hard to affirm virtually everything when you're writing about a topic.
Sometimes you'll write from your recollections and be "quite certain" about something. I can do that here. Any error can be corrected, clarified or deleted.
Of course, you don't want to be less than certain about very important facts, where a mistake might hurt someone. But the innocuous details shouldn't be that big a deal.
Newspapers, i.e. ink on paper, have that annoying permanent quality. Mistakes haunt. Thus there's an unreasonable standard of perfection set for newspapers. It's unreasonable because it can hold back the process of probing and sharing on important matters. Online you can post when you're 90 percent sure of stuff, because it's fluid - a work in progress.
I'd still prefer 100 percent of course.
I do not miss losing sleep over whether every "i" was dotted and "t" crossed in a paper that has just been sent to press. I do miss having a paycheck (and health insurance) though.
Technically Morris still has a newspaper but it's mostly a vehicle for dispensing advertising. I think it's a nuisance. Morris is a small enough community that we all know where we can go and spend our money, without being showered with all those advertising circulars that become an issue for disposal.
Many people have told me they take that stack of circulars and dispose of them without even looking at them. The sheer number of circulars makes it hard, if you sponsor one, to have it actually be noticed. You're in there with Elden's Food Fair, an Alexandria grocery store. Ridiculous.
Koosman's name was originally spelled with two n's at the end. He'll always wear the Mets blue in our memory, but he also pitched for the White Sox, Phillies and our Minnesota Twins. His big league career spanned from 1967 to 1985.
He broke into the Mets starting pitching rotation in '68. He made a special mark that year too, striking out Carl Yastrzemski for the final out in the All-Star Game, a game won by the Nationals 1-0. He was runner-up to catcher Johnny Bench for Rookie of the Year in '68.
In his defining season of '69, capped by those magical Series moments, he had a 17-9 record with 2.28 ERA and struck out 180 batters.
Forgotten is the bad game he had vs. Atlanta in game #2 of the National League playoffs. Atlanta with Hank Aaron got to him for six runs in 4 2/3 innings but the Mets won anyway, 11-6.
In the World Series Koosman loomed big and overpowering on the mound in the eyes of Baltimore's Orioles, who had the likes of Frank Robinson and Boog Powell then.
I'll never forget watching Koosman on TV - that relaxed and self-assured look on his face as he'd get set on the pitching rubber for his next delivery.
They were called "The Amazin' Mets." Casey Stengel came up with that name.
Jerry Koosman was one of the most amazing individuals. Hopefully he'll "stay clean" with the law henceforth.
Judge Collins, I'll hang in there.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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