"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)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I remember 1962, the sweet and the bitter

I was seven years old in 1962. We all revered JFK as president. The nostalgia connected with him seems harmless. He hardly seemed president long enough for us to really judge.
How much of our adulation was based on cosmetics, i.e. this notion that in the eyes of women he might seem handsome, "dashing" or whatever - an archaic set of thoughts through today's prism. Let's use a more acceptable description: charismatic. What does that quality prove? Cliff Robertson played him in the movies.
In 1962 our University of Minnesota-Morris was still a fledgling institution. I'm not sure its future was even solidified. My father took the U of M-Morris men's chorus to the Seattle World's Fair (a.k.a. Century 21 Exposition). Ralph Williams directed the singers as the opening to the Minnesota Day festivities. Morris was making an imprint.
I was in the second grade at Longfellow Elementary in west Morris. My teacher was a white-haired older lady whose last name was pronounced "first-snow." We learned "penmanship" in those days. We seem to pooh-pooh that skill today. I'm not sure this is prudent. Putting pen to paper would seem practical in many situations. If it's a dinosaur trait, then I'm a dinosaur.
Kids didn't just play on the Longfellow playground, they swarmed. There were more of us boomers than our elders could handle, it would seem. Each one of us did not get tender loving care. We were treated in bunches. We were "mainstreamed." Special ed. was limited to those needing pretty special attention, not at the margins. The strong and the weak, the smart and not-so-smart had to pull together and feel a common resolve to get along and get through the system. This was hardly done to perfection, but I think you'll find most of us have warm memories superceding the bad.
Today we try to iron out every flaw in every child, resorting to "meds" lest any shortcomings surface.
The year 1962 was more an extension of the 1950s than the dawn of anything new. I'm speaking in cultural terms. The phenomena we associate with the '60s hadn't surfaced or come to the forefront. This was the year of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," a song you surely remember, done by a group you almost surely don't: the Tokens. Chubby Checker gave us "The Twist," a meteoric craze. I remember that well.
The Shirelles intoned "Soldier Boy," and The Four Seasons were definitely on the map with "Sherry." A musical and movie have celebrated the success of The Four Seasons, but remember, they and the other performers of that year would be steamrollered by the Beatles. Gene Chandler gave us the song "Duke of Earl" that puts a smile on my face. "Duke of Earl" pulled us back to the '50s.
But surely we were moving ahead, inexorably, and ushering in that time when the four mop-tops from England would make all other music seem stale. Talent wasn't 100 percent of the Beatles' story. A visiting professor at UMM once explained that the recording industry in England was way ahead of here. One of the problems here, it was explained, was that young men who might be interested in that industry "had to worry about the (military) draft." "The British invasion" was partly due to refined craftsmanship, not just good songs.
My musical idol, the late Maynard Ferguson, put out what I felt was his best album in 1970 when his home base was England.
The year 1962 was during the heyday of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield as "sex symbols." Monroe met her mysterious fate that year. She and Joe DiMaggio had been divorced for eight years, yet Joe made the funeral arrangements. Ah, baseball! Joe DiMaggio represented the heyday of the New York Yankee mystique. The mystique was still somewhat strong in 1962. The team had pennant-winning quality, but the absolute primacy wasn't guaranteed.
It's almost embarrassing to say our Minnesota Twins, in their second year in 1962, had a state of the art ballpark in 1962. They truly did, and it's embarrassing because this was two ballparks ago! In '62 "the Met" was put forth as an example. The Twins had the resources to go toe-to-toe with the Yankees. And, go toe-to-toe we did.
Those were the days when only one team from each league made the World Series. Which is a crying shame, because our Twins were superlative with a 91-71 won-lost record, providing countless thrills at "the Met" for us neophyte big league fans. We tore through the league but alas, the Yankees' sheen was still a little too strong to be defied. We were the bridesmaid in the American League. We trailed the Yankees by only five games. But alas, only New York made "the big show."
It's easy to overlook that '62 Twins team, a team that sprang from the mediocrity that carried over from the old Washington Senators franchise. That old Washington team in the late 1950s must have been just like the "New York Knights" before Roy Hobbs came along in the Robert Redford movie "The Natural." One can just imagine the exasperated "Pop Fisher" at the helm.
Cookie Lavagetto became the Senators manager in May of 1957. The Senators finished last in the American League in '57, '58 and '59, then took on some signs of life in 1960, but not in time to save the franchise. Here in Minnesota, where for a time we anticipated the San Francisco Giants (with Willie Mays) coming, we instead got Calvin Griffith and his shaky but promising Senators.
The A.L. came here because prospects looked brighter. In '61 the evidence wasn't forthcoming that the move was the answer. Lavagetto bit the dust as manager, although he warranted everyone's full respect because he had missed four years of big league ball due to military service in World War II. Sam Mele was handed the Twins' reins.
The team languished through a 70-90 record in its inaugural season, when the novelty value carried the day. In '62 the novelty aspect was no longer needed, or certainly wasn't relied upon as the foundation. The Twins were "real" - a bona fide competitive product keeping us wide-eyed.
The trade for Vic Power solidified the infield. The flashy Power could handle many of the erratic throws from the Twins' young infielders like Zoilo Versalles. At second we had the former Purdue quarterback, Bernie Allen, and at third the red-haired Rich Rollins.
No one can forget our original catcher, Earl Battey, who shook hands with JFK prior to the start of an all-star game. Harmon Killebrew struck out a lot and struggled to keep his average up, but we all know what his stock in trade was: home runs. Holy cow, "the Killer" struck out a career-high 142 times in '62.
We remember Harmon's majestic blasts but we can forget his weaknesses, and the fact there were times when we booed him. "The Killer" drove in 126 runs in 1962. Bob Allison was a famous early Twin but his talents never wowed me. He was streaky.
Pitcher Camilo Pascual led the league in strikeouts. Vic Power lived up to his fielding reputation, winning his fifth Gold Glove. Amazingly, of the four Twins named to the all-star team in '62, Harmon Killebrew wasn't one of them! The four were Rollins (ahead of Killebrew?), Battey, Jim Kaat and Pascual. Jack Kralick threw a no-hitter on August 26.
A movie should probably be made about Vic Power's career. He was a pioneering non-white player in a time when race was a matter of contention. He was not African-American, rather he was from Puerto Rico, where he would note that skin color was of no matter. He must have found the USA to be a strange place. He learned not to worry about getting served in restaurants, as he chose instead to get his food in grocery stores, items like salami and bananas.
Power had a 12-year big league career with several teams. It could have been longer - should have been longer - had the welcome mat been put out for him sooner. The big leagues initially shied away from him because he didn't seem compliant enough, passive enough for a non-white man. Racists of the time would describe him as "uppity."
Vic was an all-star with the Kansas City Athletics in 1955 and 1956, and with Cleveland in 1959 and 1960. He was voted MVP of that 1962 Twins team that "turned the corner" for our franchise. He was one of eleven players to steal home twice in a game. He struck out only 247 times in 6,046 at-bats.
Remember how Power waved his bat while waiting for a pitch? He taught Tony Oliva that trait. The idea? It was to get the pitcher thinking he wanted a pitch down low when in fact he wanted it higher where he could really paste it. Deception is a big ingredient in what separates big leaguers from those further down.
The 1962 baseball season could have been the last ever. In late October, the Cuban missile crisis emerged with the prospect we might all become toast. How important was JFK in navigating us out of that? It's hard to know, just like it's hard to know if JFK could have prevented escalation in Viet Nam.
Nevertheless, "Camelot" evokes warm thoughts. I learned of his assassination at Longfellow School from third grade teacher Lillian Pedersen (later to become Lillian Ehlers, living to over 100).
They say life in America wasn't the same after that. Surely that's oversimplification in an extreme way, as JFK was a mere mortal who surely wasn't king. They say the Viet Nam war ran Lyndon Johnson rather than the other way around. Could JFK have handled it any differently? We really cannot know. History swept the USA into a new and troubling place, far bigger, it would seem, than any one man, "handsome" though he was.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

No comments:

Post a Comment