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

Focus of pride in Morris MN: our school! - morris mn

Focus of pride in Morris MN: our school! - morris mn
Our school in Morris is a hub of community activity and enrichment. (B.W. photo)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sports used to rely more on "mass" marketing

Steve Cannon (MPR photo)
I remember being at Wells Park for the Little League championship game when Jim Tanner was the P.A. announcer. The major league baseball all-star game was that night. I was present as a media person.
Kirby Puckett was in the all-star game. Emcee Tanner was pleased to share with us all that "Kirby Puckett just singled." Even with the Minnesota Twins as established as they were, I think a lot of us felt some provincial pride about "one of our own," at least one of our own players, getting a hit in the all-star spotlight. We felt similarly when Rod Carew excelled as an all-star.
We were devastated when Harmon Killebrew suffered a serious injury in the 1968 all-star game. I remember I was up in Brainerd at the time. We were more emotionally attached to our big league Twins then. The marketing by baseball was different. The idea in that quaint earlier time was to get everyone to be at least a little bit interested in major league baseball.
"What?" you might ask. "Isn't that elementary?" Well, baseball of course would like everyone to be highly interested. That would be in an ideal world. No business exists in an ideal world. Today we see big league sports marketing itself to its most interested fans and doing quite well by this process.
There was a time when pro basketball couldn't even establish itself here. Remember the Minnesota Muskies? And then the Minnesota Pipers? The old Minneapolis Lakers were big league in name only. One regional historian has looked back on them as being "bush." They played at the old Minneapolis Convention Center, where our family went for sportsmen's shows. I still remember a riveting casting (for fishing) demonstration at the auditorium which was probably where George Mikan's old Lakers played. Sid Hartman drafted for them? Sid should retire and just enjoy it.
Today, sports markets itself to the kind of people who watch ESPN for at least a portion of each day. That tells us something about the changes that have helped sports become ever more the money-generating machine. Those changes are based in the media and our new age of electronic communications. It's a world we could hardly have envisioned in the 1960s when I grew up.
 
Those analog days of 'CCO
In the '60s, we associated electronic communications with listening to WCCO AM radio - Steve Cannon, Boone and Erickson et al. Franklin Hobbs was the sedative with how he came across on the radio airwaves late at night. A friend and I enjoyed mimicking him - his deliberate pauses and shameless plugs, for example. Oh, but we quite enjoyed all those personalities.
Steve Cannon did his impressions that were so good, many listeners reportedly weren't aware they were impressions. Didn't "Morgan Mundane" hang around at the pool hall? Cannon and his earthy sidekick "Morgan" talked about the Vikings a lot.
Boone and Erickson gave us the great "Senator from 'CCO Land," who'd proclaim "my opponent is a scoundrel. . .and a liar!" (He'd pronounce it "LY-ah.")
"But Senator, you're not up for re-election this year."
And then, a stunned "huh?"
Those were the days when the media crafted entertainment to try to appeal to everyone. On 'CCO the system worked nicely. Much of the time the approach had a watered-down quality. We'd hear "canned laughter" on TV shows for skits and monologues, like on the Rich Little Show, that weren't funny at all. It could get depressing. Today entertainment is crafted for niche markets.
I remember back when the number of TV channels available in your average home began multiplying. Those were the times when "It's a Wonderful Life" became a Christmas classic, in contrast to when it was a current movie and considered not all that good. In the '80s it was in the "public domain," i.e. cheap to run, and filled lots of time for certain channels in the new TV universe. So today we speak of the movie like it's a classic.
At the same time, we noticed that a lot of non-Minnesota baseball games were showing up on "the tube." The Atlanta Braves in particular. And eventually, teams from both leagues who in a previous time we really only heard about in detached media reports.
Why is it that my generation was thrilled so much by anticipating the all-star game? We could see players who we read about but only rarely saw on TV in a live broadcast. By "rare" I mean about twice a summer. Players like Roberto Clemente. We could see them if their teams made the World Series. There were no divisional playoffs before 1969. The players themselves lived in a different universe through the '60s before the Curt Flood legal case changed the playing field, as it were. There was considerable doomsaying. It's true that the Calvin Griffith family wasn't going to cut it anymore in the new megabucks world. Bowie Kuhn called them "church mice." Kuhn was a nice guy but he worked for the owners.
The owners viewed that Curt Flood case with predictable chagrin and gnashing of teeth. Did they really know that the new vistas, brought forth by media changes, were going to fill their money cookie jar like never before? I'm not sure they did.
 
Fans have a full plate
Baseball fans have it better than ever before. They take for granted being able to watch players from all over big league ball on several of the myriad channels of today. Here's another major change that happened: the guys in the broadcast booth started becoming much more analytical. They were more analytical about the strategic nuts and bolts of the game, in a manner that might "go over the head" of the proverbial general population.
But baseball wasn't so much marketing itself to the general population anymore - "grandma and grandpa." Baseball was appealing to the most ardent fans. Even though this might seem to represent a narrow demographic, the sea change in the media was going to make this work. And work it has.
I remember some people being befuddled about why people would want to watch so many Notre Dame football games. Or, to see "re-runs" of those games! Or, to watch so much college basketball involving non-Minnesota teams. I actually remember someone going to the trouble to write an op-ed expressing concern about how arcane the baseball broadcast language was becoming. Gee, are we really going to be interested in all that? Well, a big enough portion of the population was.
This wasn't your father's baseball telecast. Our fathers listened to genial sportsmen-types engage in "patter" and in superficial descriptions of the action. Perfectly appropriate for those times. We expected the "man on the street" to be interested in the previous night's Twins score. I remember a "regular" at the old Kelly's Restaurant in Morris saying "I think Mark Portugal should be sent back to Portugal." We talked like that then.
Minnesota Twins baseball exists outside the attention span of many people now, like me actually. Although, I will tell you Joe Mauer is slumping because of his years playing catcher, a position that wears out your body. That's why it's wise not to assign your most talented hitters to that position. Earl Battey was the Twins catcher of my youth.

A monoculture
I grew up in a time when everyone watched pretty much the same TV shows. We might watch "The Virginian" instead of "Gunsmoke." But we were all familiar with the two shows, shows that taught us right from wrong, at the same time the U.S. was escalating the horrific Viet Nam War.
We had the "big three" TV networks along with that boring curiosity called "public TV." We may have thought it was always going to be that way. The baseball all-star game was a huge highlight. We could see Roberto Clemente bat vs. Dave McNally. A lot of us boys sat wide-eyed.
The all-star game was a symbol for midsummer. We sat transfixed as one of our Minnesota Twins would get a chance to play! We'd perspire and root for that player to do well, so as to show Minnesota in a popular light, to show we could keep pace with the East Coast cities! We cheered from a frame of mind that we now associate with the movie (and TV series) "Fargo."
"Boy, that all-star game, that was a heckuva deal, wasn't it?" (That's how us Minnesotans talk, as described in the book by Howard Mohr, an anthropological classic?)
Mr. Jim Tanner announced that Kirby Puckett single like we should all be bursting our buttons over it. And we did. Today I look upon the life of Kirby Puckett with sadness. He was violently hit by a pitched ball. His subsequent health problems including his erratic behavior, could well have resulted from that. We realize now the punishing nature of professional sports, especially football. I'm inclined to want to withdraw.
You won't find many people today who'll say "how'd the Twins do last night?" at the local diner. The ardent fans are out there, though. The baseball product reaches them most effectively, packaged the way they want. It's the way it should be.
Bill James taught us what's really important in baseball, not just batting average, home runs and RBIs.
The Bill James universe grew at the same time as the media sea change. Baseball itself changed to where we heard of "closers" and "setup men," terms that didn't exist in my youth.
Baseball pitchers used to covet the "complete game." Complete games have no special virtue attached to them today. Specialists have sprouted in the sport. The broadcasters fill us in, most thoroughly - they don't just tell the Halsey Hall style of jokes or vignettes. Hall came to Morris for the festivities honoring Jerry Koosman in 1969. How many Morrissites even know about the Koosman chapter in Morris history? I have written about that too. I played in the band.
In '69 we had the Koosman celebration, and in 1971 we had the Morris Centennial. I think it would be neat for the Stevens County Museum to have a display with photos from each of those two grand celebrations. It was a time when my boomer generation was young. Could there be a better time? Erase the Viet Nam War, and we truly had the "wonder years." We most certainly can't erase it.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Biesterfeld's three-run double propels Legion 9

The Morris Legion boys picked up win No. 2 on Monday, June 23, at Wheaton. They owned a 2-2 record coming out of this nice 10-7 win over Wheaton.
The Morris bats were robust, producing eleven hits, but Wheaton did quite fine too with 12. Each team committed two errors.
The middle innings were when the Morris offense really got the job done. The fifth inning saw eight batters visit the plate for Motown. Post #29 seized the lead for good, pushing in four runs. This was on the heels of a three-run rally in the fourth.
Sean Amundson showed patience at the plate in the fifth, watching four pitches sail outside the strike zone, then tossing his bat aside and trotting down to first. The effect of that was to push a run in, and bring Morris up even with Wheaton on the scoreboard. The score stood 6-6. Could Morris achieve that extra burst of momentum to get the edge? Most certainly.
The big blast came right after that base on balls. The blast came off the bat of Riley Biesterfeld. It soared over the outfielder's head way out in center. The result: a double that generated three runs.
Biesterfeld
had a memorable day as he also pitched. He did give up the seven runs but only two were earned. He struck out three batters, walked two and survived the 12 Wheaton hits.
Justin Coffman took the pitching loss for the host. Cameron Maudal and Brad Dahlen also worked their pitching arm for Wheaton. Coffman smacked two hits, scored a run and drove in one. Braden Krump tripled as part of a two-for-four showing for Wheaton. He scored two runs. Dahlen sported a two-for-four line with an RBI. And Brayden Lampe knocked in two runs to go with his two-for-four line.
All right, let's get to the Morris offensive highlights. Bryce Jergenson was quite in the groove with his hitting eye. He socked a two-run home run plus a double. He crossed home plate twice and drove in three runs. He had three hits in five at-bats.
Amundson
did more than draw a run-scoring walk. Sean smacked two hits in four at-bats, scored two runs and drove in two. Biesterfeld had that key double that plated three runs, plus he scored a run himself. Brady Jergenson had a two-for-four showing.
Jared Anderson went one-for-three with an RBI. Travis Engebretson had a hit in three at-bats. Robert Rohloff scored three runs while going one-for-four.
Morris got started with a two-run rally in the first inning. Wheaton made its own firm statement with four runs between the second and third innings. The fourth inning saw both teams make a statement, Morris with three runs and Wheaton with two. The fifth inning belonged to the Motown boys. That made the difference. Each team scored a run in the seventh.
  
What's up with the school?
Writing about the Morris Legion team puts my mind on high school matters, where obviously things have not been placid over the past few months. The waters have been turbulent. Our high school principal, a man I have never met, was forced out of his office back around Christmastime - not a merry Christmas indeed - and had to go on extended paid leave. That's nothing but bad news for taxpayers, I assume.
But hey, government entities can always get the money, right? Just like our library, which is hobbling along right now with much less than 100 percent of its assets being provided. I assume we as City of Morris taxpayers are supporting the library all along, even if it's hobbled.
As for the school, we of course got the bombshell news a few days ago that criminal charges vs. the principal were dropped, mysteriously. It's mysterious of course because we are getting no communication as to what the "new evidence" is. It's of public interest because the former defendant was our high school principal, a very important local official or public figure. I think we really are owed an explanation on this.
We deserve such an explanation because our school year was seriously disrupted. I'm sure there were severe logistical challenges for the school. I mean, for the principal to just be ejected, in effect, suddenly from his office - man, that's drastic. The school had to have been seriously inconvenienced, even if that's being denied. What would you expect them to say? "Man, things really went to hell." We won't hear that.
Everyone is going to try to put a gloss over this, and that especially includes the county attorney's office. The party line right now among the "tag team" of prosecutors and the police has been back-patting all around. "Everyone did an outstanding job" etc.
Well, I'll differ on that. If "new information" was to be garnered, it should have been garnered sooner. A man faced the prospect of at least 30 years in prison. Can you imagine what that must be like? And now, it's over and we're supposed to progress back to normalcy? Initially people are going to be relieved and will want to "get past this." But if you think there are not scars or won't be a cloud, then you must have been born yesterday. What a mess.
Motown ought to be above this. And now our superintendent is rowing away in his lifeboat.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, June 23, 2014

How can we equate "the good war" with D-Day?

We saw a television documentary about D-Day at the time of the anniversary. It's important to understand what all happened during these significant world events. This documentary was almost too much. I'm sure it was totally accurate. And that was the problem. The level of man's inhumanity toward man was too much.
The male gender was behind all this conflict. Was that part of the problem? Don't women have more of an instinct of wanting to protect life?
The TV documentary revealed all sorts of problems in the Allied advance into France. The generals' script could just as well have been thrown out the window. Advancing from the sea was smart. The devil himself is smart. Troops cannot retreat or run when they're coming out of the sea. What causes man to descend to this level of conflict?
The storied D-Day and the conquest that immediately followed were fraught with setbacks and unspeakable loss of life and suffering. Hollywood tried to make that clear with "Saving Private Ryan." The movie "Windtalkers" showed the bloody conflict with similar vividness. Hollywood decided that honesty was essential. We see the nature of our species at its most depraved depths. We see the enormous machinery of war, crafted with the idea of blowing human beings apart.
You watch that D-Day documentary with a feeling of wondering if it's really necessary to dwell on all those details. The Nazis did in fact put up a pretty effective wall.
Oliver Stone argues that the Red Army from the east was primarily responsible for thwarting the Nazis. We have never adequately appreciated this, Stone tells us, because the Soviets became our enemy after the war. The Cold War was this annoying impalpable threat that hovered over my generation as we grew up. It was a giant boogeyman.
The Soviets were instrumental in thumping the Nazis. Without that powerful force, who knows what would have happened? In the closing stages of the war, the Germans were more scared of being taken by the Red Army than by other forces. They would have much rather heard the bagpipes of the British!
We were then taught post-war that the Soviets were our adversary, and we'd better take all possible steps to "keep up with them" (as in the space race). Was a lot of that propaganda just to ensure we could keep fueling our military apparatus? Was it that "military industrial complex," warned about by Eisenhower?
Post-war, Eisenhower was no enthusiast for keeping the U.S. military large. He had seen the utter tragedy of war. He knew such military tools were a necessary evil, nothing to relish. All those Germans and Americans killing each other because their governments told them to. Many parents of the U.S. casualties weren't prepared to salute the war effort. Many ended up truly embittered as well they should be.
We are now seeing the unraveling of Iraq. World War II was "the good war," we have been told. Maybe a legacy is the feeling we can send our good soldiers to fight battles, extinguish the adversary and promote all that's good. Korea wasn't quite the grand conquest that WWII was. The meme about war tumbled even further with Viet Nam. My generation absolutely pulled its hair out over Viet Nam. We got military conscription eliminated.
In the aftermath of that, we scrounge for troops as with "stop-loss" and the perverse deployment of state National Guard companies.
The "good war" of WWII brought tragedy on an unfathomable scale. We taught ourselves to think all that was necessary because of what the Nazis represented, and because of the need for vengeance after Pearl Harbor. Why did we expose such an attractive target in the Pacific? Many years later, why was such an attractive target available for terrorists, in the form of the WTC in New York City? Why couldn't all that corporate activity have been dispersed more? It would certainly seem practical in this computer age.
The 9/11 attack gave justification for the neocons like Dick Cheney, himself a "chickenhawk," to push for the invasion of Iraq. It had consequences all the way back here in Morris MN. The U.S. lost Viet Nam and we may now have to acknowledge the futility of our Iraq venture.
Saddam Hussein was a Middle East strongman who helped keep Iran in check. Too much of the TV news coverage had the effect of caricaturing Hussein as if he represented evil on a Nazi-like level. He did not. There were no WMDs. Some of the stories about his evil lacked veracity. Remember that "shredder?" The Middle East countries will never blossom into a Jeffersonian democracy. Let's mind our own business a little more.
Our best course would be to become less dependent on Middle East oil. Alternative and "green" energy must be promoted to the utmost.
The jingoistic voices grew in part out of our triumph in "the good war" of WWII as if we'd actually want to re-live that. It's the last thing any of us would want to re-live. The TV documentary about D-Day left me chagrined. Might D-Day and the weeks following have actually been a failure? Our best-laid plans seemed to go awry. Were the Nazis doomed anyway? The SS was needed just to keep their own generals in line. We see this in the movie "The Bridge at Remagen." The Robert Vaughn character is executed at the end. He was outside the circle of crazed Nazis, the Nazis defying reality.
The Red Army was like a vice closing on the Nazis from the east. Perhaps D-Day is overrated as a factor that brought "victory." So much of the planned strategy crumbled on that day. Everyone seemed to just end up improvising. The Waffen SS didn't even take prisoners. You were a goner.
The "good war?" We should study it only from the standpoint of learning about man's most base inclinations. We should wince when seeing that TV documentary about D-Day, from the comfort of our living rooms.
My generation saw the movie "The Longest Day" when young. It was a typical 1960s World War II movie. We are left with a good feeling about what our troops did. We don't see any blood. We are inconvenienced by seeing a few troops fall over like they're dead. We quickly forget about those pathetic faceless souls and focus instead on John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. There's a rousing theme song. We see a helmet lying on a beach as a symbol of what happened. Still no blood and no cries of pained anguish, none of the desperation the men all felt.
"War is hell." It should have been avoided in Iraq.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Maybe library doesn't rate as high priority

Our library is a chilly place these days. (B.W. photo)
I had occasion to see the Morris newspaper Saturday (6/14) at a restaurant. I don't buy it because I don't want to deal with disposing all those ad circulars. We only make about two trips to Alexandria per year. So, there really isn't much cause for us to get the Morris paper. It's owned by a non-local company that I feel operates in a Machiavellian way. But its Saturday issue which I consumed for free shed a little light on the fallout from the library debacle.
Political conservatives will say we don't need libraries. Chris Christie gave a speech at the start of his new term as New Jersey governor, in which he said government should strive to provide the best possible service "for the people who pay for it."
It's well and fine to respect taxpayers. Democrats tend not to see the government's role in such stark "business/customer" terms. Government exists to provide services in ways the private sector cannot. That in fact is its raw definition. An institution like our Morris Public Library - don't type "pubic" - attracts many people who Republicans would see as "freeloaders." By definition, many of the library patrons are in fact freeloaders. They do not have to demonstrate that they are supplying material support for the library.
I have been unemployed for eight years. The library has helped fill a void in my life. I really don't ask that much of it. Typically on a weekday afternoon I'm there for anywhere from one to one and a half hours. I see many other familiar faces. I know someone known to take naps there, or at least he snores.
I know of people who cruise by the library to scan a newspaper or other periodical. Problem is, the library serves the broad public - everyone - and no one need demonstrate they're "productive" or contribute materially to public institutions. Anyone can walk in the door.
It sounds like the kind of institution that promotes political liberalism. It treats everyone like they're equal. So maybe they're Communists.
We live in a time when political conservatives have a harder edge than ever. I think they'd like a system where people pay directly for library privileges. If this were the system, maybe the physical plant of our library would be better taken care of. The "customers" would have to be served. The water damage to our library is an abomination. We read in the paper that a roofing company screwed up and caused all this. So, can we assume that it is an uncontested fact that the roofers' insurance company will be paying 100 per cent for all this?
Well, we read that the city's insurance company is "in negotiation" with the roofers' insurance company. Hell hath no fury like an insurance company scorned.
You know what I thought was weird? How the roofers went back to work in the week after the disaster, as if nothing had happened. So, we'll wrap up the work on the roof while underneath us, everything went to hell because of us. Would we ever see such Keystone Cops disarray with anything but a government-supported institution?
We hear about the V.A. Hospital system fiasco. Chuck Todd of MSNBC says no government agency could survive real scrutiny from the media or investigative arms. That's because government doesn't exist on private sector principles. We need both in a healthy society: government and private enterprise. The latter is truly more important and sets an example, no doubt. But the rabid conservatives of today, the ones leading the pack from the right, the ones that threw out Eric Cantor, won't cut any slack for the public sector. It's in their DNA to frown and scowl about a public institution like a library, where anyone can just walk in off the street and use its services. They'd equate it to Castro's Cuba.
We saw a conservative or libertarian newspaper on the UMM campus this past school year that was like a rabid animal with its pronouncements, going right off the scale of civility.
The conservative movement wasn't always like this. Richard Nixon was interested in power and in exercising hubris - he was hardly ideological at all, except with his rhetoric that he used to win elections.
Today conservatives don't just talk a good game. They still want to throw out "Obamacare" in its entirety. We're the last industrialized nation to make provisions for proper health care for the citizenry. Conservatives don't like it.
We as a society are awakening way too slowly to the machinations from the right. We still elect Republicans. A pox on all of us.
Oh, I can learn to live without the Morris Public Library, easily. (Some people say "libery.") I have adjusted my lifestyle before. In the 1980s I ran about 70 miles a week and did three marathons, not that marathoning was ever my goal. I did the long ones as a kick. (It's a kick to see TV helicopters overhead.) Because of 15 or so years maintaining that avocation, of keeping my weight low (down around 175 pounds), I have reasonably good health today. Otherwise I might be dead. Librarian Melissa Yauk has no idea what I look like weighing 175.
I haven't even signed up for MnSure which is Obamacare at the state level. Michele Bachmann would be proud of me. Well, a pox on her too. It's no way to live.
I see campaign signs around town that indicate we should toss Jay McNamar out of office. Why? He gave a speech at the dedication for the University of Minnesota-Morris green dorm. A Democrat, he believes in public institutions.
Democrats are on the defensive these days. We're waiting for the worm to turn. Fox News still rules. MSNBC has the lower ratings and is forced to play defense.
Yes, there will be finger-pointing about what happened to our library. It seems to have already begun. But the fact is: If our community leaders truly cherished the library, this water accident wouldn't have happened, IMHO. People in the appropriate roles of authority would have overseen that physical structure meticulously.
Blaming contractors doesn't impress me. Water issues were not new at the library. Appropriate measures should have been taken before. But after all, it's only the library, which caters to all sorts of bums and riffraff, the sweepings from the street, people with nothing better to do than to browse for DVDs or read newspapers. Why can't they buy the Morris newspaper and send that money back to Fargo? Why can't they buy their own DVDs and support some local business? This is what Republicans are inclined to think.
Republicans tend to think of public welfare programs as tantamount to feeding vermin. Our public library probably fits that criteria. All I am is an observer. I did contribute to the Morris Public Library Foundation. I talked up the Foundation in a blog post. I now see the futility in all that. Librarians belong in Castro's Cuba, not in our great USA where everyone ought to pull his own weight. God bless America because God must be a Republican.
I think the rhetorical tool I'm using here is sarcasm. Seriously, Republicans at the very micro level, I'm sure, appreciate government things that serve people. My brickbats are for the likes of Ann Coulter, people who belong to what David Frum calls the "conservative entertainment complex." Let's turn a hose on them.
 
Some things are inexcusable
It's fine to see the city manager standing there so self-assuredly, chatting with a local prominent medical professional as other bigshots observe the "disaster area" of the Morris Public Library, fans humming loudly in the background. That disaster area should never have been allowed to happen. It would never have happened at the courthouse. Could you imagine the courthouse being closed for an extended time? But we can endure this with the library. Come to think of it, it was kind of nice when county offices were at City Center Mall. Many people commented on this - the ease of doing our county business at that location. It made too much sense?
Did the library have one-of-a-kind items that were destroyed in the incident? Or, other items that for whatever reason can't be replaced (the hundreds of DVD cases)? Will the fans keep running so as to disperse any odor? What a mess.
I tell my friends: don't trust Republicans. Just don't trust them. They can seem like such nice people. Don't be fooled, don't let the wool get pulled over your eyes. You'll find out what they stand for soon enough. They represent rich people who can buy their own books.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, June 13, 2014

Comic book may lead way for Indians' dignity

Indians or Native Americans in our popular culture are treated in a standard way. We actually grope for terms in describing them. Note the conflictedness in how I began this post.
Natives across the North American continent were not homogeneous. We may never have a comprehensive understanding of those civilizations. They fell by the wayside as other civilizations from abroad made their inroads. Disease cut like a scythe.
European-based civilization records history as if everyone should abide by its rules - its understanding of property, for example. Andrew Jackson was an Indian fighter. Indians in our popular culture are under siege. They are incongruous. They are the square peg vs. the round role of the advancing newer civilization.
History is a long story of the strong exploiting the weak. White people put forward the Judeo-Christian ethic as the way it should be. That's why politicians put their hand on the Bible for oath-taking. That's why we can't make an exception for the occasional politician who might want to use the tome of a different faith. We do allow this but only in a symbolic, non-official rite. Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of the Quran has been used for this.
Society must be tied together by some common beliefs. Native Americans were going to have to adjust. Today we try to put salve on those wounds by wiping out sports nicknames like "Fighting Sioux" and "Redskins." The latter hangs on in a rather cringeworthy way. Why bother arguing for a divisive and hurtful nickname? It makes us white-skinned sports fans almost look pagan, as if we're clinging to some sort of idol.
Let's change the name "Redskins" to "Red Tails" and honor the Tuskegee Airmen.
Can you imagine all the worries that hang over the head of Roger Goodell as he goes to bed each night? That's what happens when you land in the leadership position of a virtual money machine like the NFL. Indeed, we seem pagans with the way we gravitate to the violence-oriented NFL for our entertainment. Us Minnesotans are supposed to thump our chests and feel awe over getting the Super Bowl. Actually I don't think that sensation lasted long. Thanks to new media, we are penetrating the curtain of the behemoth NFL and all its machinations. We're now vividly seeing the shakedown practices and feeling of entitlement that define this 800-pound gorilla of the NFL.
We read these media reports and wince. We read all the revelations about health consequences of boys playing football. We see the NFL continuing to abuse Native Americans by refusing to extinguish the "Redskins" name. Roger Goodell probably lies awake at night. He runs an entertainment empire unmatched in its ability to mesmerize. And it's built on the destructive quality of tackling, of human flesh meeting human flesh in a trench warfare manner.
The Native American nicknames and imagery purportedly project "pride." The proponents have worn out that argument. It began to take on a cliche-like quality.
 
"Turok, Son of Stone"
I have my own grasp of what reflects Native American pride. It's a comic book series I grew up with. I consider it unique. It's unique because the Kiowa Indians are in a world where they are not threatened, except by dinosaurs! It's a science fiction story in which we get to know two fellows: "Turok" and "Andar." The younger Andar might seem like a son, but the two are really brothers. They are proud Kiowa warriors trapped in an isolated valley with prehistoric creatures. They improvise to come up with names for these curious creatures, calling them hoppers, monsters, honkers, flyers and sea demons.
The pair are not the only humans in this "lost valley." There are primitive humans which in my childhood we'd call "cave men." Today we have "man caves!" More civilized? Let's debate.
Those prehistoric humans are foreboding. They throw spears rather than break bread with our story's heroes. They wander in groups and seem anonymous like the storm troopers in "Star Wars." They aren't any more accurate in throwing their spears!
My point in praising this comic book is that it shows Indians of a pre-Columbian time who are not defined by a struggle vs. the white man. There is no white man, just those pesky dinosaurs like those velociraptors which Turok and Andar call "screamers." The "cave men" in the story seem rather sub-human like the cannibals in "Robinson Crusoe." Crusoe seems isolated even with cannibal people in close proximity.
Remember, even the "castaways" in "Gilligan's Island" had contact with island natives. Remember those stumblebums who were just white guys from Central Casting? Oh, it was all very funny and innocuous. Who can't love "Gilligan's Island?" Those island natives would sharpen their knives but it all ended up in pathos. Ditto the Indian characters in the 1960s comedy movie "Texas Across the River" with Dean Martin. Better to share a good laugh than take seriously a pro football team called the "Redskins," or a college team going by "Fighting Sioux."
Turok and Andar were the central characters in the comic book series "Turok, Son of Stone." I consumed this with great interest as a kid. I also consumed "Magnus, Robot Fighter" and "Space Family Robinson."
"Turok" had several publishers including Dell, Gold Key, Whitman, Valiant, Dark Horse and Acclaim. I remember Gold Key from my youth. The artwork on those comic book covers was exquisite. I have written before that it could be presented as stand-alone art.
Indians fighting dinosaurs rather than Indians fighting the cavalry!
Remember Peter Graves as the cavalry leader in "Texas Across the River?" "Harrar Hare!" He'd give this command no matter what they were doing. It was biting satire of the Western genre. We don't see this movie on TV anymore. The satire was extended to the Indians themselves - "Comanches." I thought it was totally funny. But offense could potentially be taken.
The story of "Turok" evolved in the years after I read it. It evolved to bizarre sci-fi lengths, which might have been fine for a new generation of kids. But for me, it became too fantastical. Demons and space aliens emerged with the dinosaurs. Turok and Andar are now in a place where time has no meaning. There's a cosmic anomaly: Time moves in a self-contained loop. Millions of years pass outside of it, while inside time barely moves. The villain "Mothergod" uses the lost lands as a base of operations. She outfits dinosaurs with intelligence-boosting implants! As a movie it couldn't be any worse than "John Carter," could it?
Turok and Andar are at the top of the human development chain in the incarnation of the story I consumed. For this reason I consider the story unique and fascinating. It hasn't gotten its due. Pre-Columbian America remains largely a mystery to us. Part of the reason for this is shame: the shame of knowing our presence disrupted and largely destroyed the so-called indigenous cultures. You can argue it would have happened no matter what.
Remnants remain but should not be acknowledged as "Redskins."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Library disaster no routine bump in the road

Our Morris Public Library
The old core of Morris isn't what it used to be. Dave Holman once described the newspaper office as the "hub" of the community. A bit overstatement, perhaps, but the old paper office could be a beehive. I had the privilege of having my office there.
Located a stone's throw from that building was the public library. (Be careful when typing that you don't type "pubic" instead of "public.") The Post Office is located across the street from the old newspaper building. Other buildings with a public purpose, like churches, are in the vicinity.
The old core of the town doesn't seem to have the pull it once did. You can buy postage stamps at Casey's. We see bleak headlines about the U.S. Postal Service - its financial teetering on the brink.
We used to have parking meters in downtown Morris. Those were removed because they couldn't be justified anymore. Economic geography was changing. The store we know as ShopKo opened under the name "Gibson's."
The institution known as the "pool hall" vanished. That's where the men went and congregated, in a light-deprived world of its own, as their wives shopped.
I share this background as a way of expressing disappointment over our library's current woes. The Morris Public Library is an anchor of that old "core," still most vibrant. That is, until it came under siege from the heavens: rain. How long will the library be closed? It's hard to get firm answers. Perhaps we take for granted its services. We may not realize its full value to our community until it has been closed for a while.
Water damage can be a huge impediment. A library is the worst possible place to be afflicted with water damage, isn't it? 
I have a feeling the library disaster can not be overcome routinely. Public officials are carrying themselves in a nonchalant, self-confident way right now, saying in effect that everything is under control: "insurance will cover" etc. Insurance companies are not fond of paying huge claims. They aren't fond of paying at all.
We all know a roofing company was present doing work at the time. Many of us are connecting the dots and assuming that company must have been negligent in some way. Someone even laughed at me for suggesting we can't assume this. I don't think we can assume it. Water issues were not new at the library. Drainage has not been deemed ideal.
If the problems now get fixed, which really they'll have to be, I'll scratch my head and wonder why it couldn't have been done before.
I don't blame city officials for carrying themselves in a confident, self-assured way about this. What would you expect them to do? Point fingers and call names? I actually think we'll see some of the in-your-face conflict but it will be behind closed doors. We live in an age of "conflict resolution" in which it's a faux pas to let conflict come out in public. I do think we may see dueling insurance companies re. our library and its woes. And you know what happens when a big claim is paid: premiums go up. Money's honey, my dear sonny. Nothing gets people's dander up more.
I assume the Morris Public Library cannot re-open unless there's 100 percent assurance that no mold smell will develop. The asbestos matter must be dealt with. Because the library is a public institution, I assume that adherence to myriad codes is necessary. That's fine and well.
The library should never have been put in a position where this kind of disaster could happen. Whatever insurance company covers this, would be the first to assert this. What happened to the library cannot be shrugged off as "one of those things." I heard someone say the heavy rainfall was "an act of God." The library is 45 years old. Certainly there have been other comparable rainfalls. Certainly the building must be insulated from a simple hard rainfall. If it isn't, what insurance company would cover it?
Someone is going to end up getting blamed for what happened. It was an egregious oversight. It's hard to see how the library is going to get fixed 100 per cent. Already the Library Foundation was studying ways of moving the library forward, improving its services, the soundness of the physical plant etc. Now the priority is going to be simply fixing the disaster that has befallen it.
The library has helped prop up the old core of Morris. The newspaper building has been vacant a long time, and is now being taken over by a church. No help for the tax base there. The Post Office as a national institution is under siege with horrible financial numbers. The street in front of First Lutheran Church (my church) is in such bad shape, I try to avoid it. I've been told the street got wrecked when the courthouse underwent its substantial renovation. If that's true, the county should fix the street as a freebie.
The Catholic Church? I just came from McDonald's where I read the house paper and learned that a high official said he wasn't aware it was illegal for priests to have sex with children. So, the Catholic Church has its problems.
The funeral home used to be across the street to the east of the newspaper. The funeral home is now on the town's fringes as are an increasing number of important enterprises.
It's true that the courthouse is fancier than ever, far fancier than what we need, in my view. So, the courthouse definitely holds forth in the old core. The library ought to, as well. What happened to the library was avoidable and dispiriting - no mincing of words justified. To heck with "conflict resolution."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sports rests on pedestal it doesn't deserve

Image from "Western Sun"
How did you react to that "barroom brawl" in Mankato?
"Barroom brawl" was the term used by my cousin's wife who works at Mankato State. We exchanged emails. I still call the place Mankato State even though the institution presents itself by the cumbersome name "Minnesota State University-Mankato."
The fight which I reference didn't happen inside a bar. It was outside in the streets. Gee, football players out in the street outside a bar in the bar district of a college town, at closing time. What could go wrong? Well, a whole lot did go wrong. Why couldn't these individuals just be home in bed? Look at all the trouble they'd save all of us, let alone themselves.
I asked how you reacted when hearing this news. I'll bet one of your first thoughts was: this is testosterone-fueled football player behavior, the kind we have all known of, through our lives.
I used to sneak out to "Cougar Follies" of the UMM football program. I remember it being at the 9F Sportsmen's Center for a couple years. Even the planners wanted this event to be sort of under the radar. It was a pre-season series of skits so de-based in terms of taste, I wouldn't wish to share an example here. UMM's provost readily admitted this. It was a ritual where we allow our gladiators to behave in a Neanderthal way.
We have traditionally allowed our male athletes to be anti-intellectual, emotionally illiterate, macho-infused, homophobic and misogynist. We have been awakening to the disturbing elements of this. Progress is definitely being made. It's a little grudging because of the entrenched nature of sports culture, the fact we still need these brawny gladiators to entertain us.
The athletes have been victims throughout the course of this values-bereft culture. 
One of the first things a sports agent will tell a client is that the media and public are merely observers from a distance and are in no way, shape or form invested in the athlete's welfare. I remember a spokesman for Billy Sims, the great runningback of yesteryear, saying he had implored Mr. Sims about this.
The "barroom brawl" in Mankato involved a former University of Minnesota quarterback, Philip Nelson. Nelson had announced he was transferring to Rutgers - you know, that college out east where the men's basketball coach got in trouble for throwing balls at players as discipline.
Nelson transferred because he got beat out here by that Leidner fellow. Nelson was the reason why Max Shortell transferred out of the U. Nelson beat out Shortell. These players are just mercenaries - they go where they can get the best deal. And yet we cheer for them as if they truly represent Minnesota. Are we cheering for the uniforms?
At the U they play under a coach who is risky to even have out on the sidelines. The poor man suffers from seizures and we feel compassion, but his symptoms can cause trauma among people who aren't familiar.
Nelson got his dander up outside a bar in Mankato. Others were involved. At any rate, this young ruffian has been dismissed by Rutgers. His life is probably changed forever. All because he thought physical conflict could solve something. It's that old testosterone-fueled football player attitude. We see such an attitude as increasingly anachronistic.
 
Hollywood violence is faux
The old Hollywood movies showed fights that had those haymaker punches. The fights were so choreographed. A guy would swing and hit his adversary in the jaw. There was a sharp noise and the recipient would recoil, maybe with a little blood (ketchup?) coming from the corner of the mouth. Sometimes a guy would swing and miss magnificently, as his adversary ducked.
A kid digesting this entertainment might think a "fight" is called for when he gets ticked off, like when "somebody makes a play for my girl." A girl was part of the account that emerged from Mankato.
In real life, "barroom brawls" which are imagined so routinely in Hollywood movies, have long-lasting consequences. If you hurt someone and that person goes to an emergency room, that person will get a little note from his insurance company asking if some other party is responsible for the wounds. Enough said. Hollywood doesn't hint at that. It just shows the brawls as an offshoot of the conflict that is so essential in drama. Patrick Swayze in "Road House" gave us the extreme.
Need we be reminded of how impressionable boy athletes can be? Do we think about what happens to them when they hear cheers cascading down on them at a place like our Big Cat Stadium? The cheers and adulation come just from the boy out-running someone, throwing a ball accurately or being able to tackle someone.
Every time I see a football player sprawled on his back by his team's bench, being attended to by the "trainer" or EMT people, I wonder if that player will have long-lasting consequences from the injury. Or, if consequences of that injury might crop up later in life as the body declines and becomes susceptible to problems.
How does age affect the consequence of all those subconcussive hits that football players experience? I go to Big Cat Stadium and see an ambulance parked there with its crew at the ready. What the heck are we doing to our kids, subjecting them to these risks so we might cheer? Can you imagine any other school activity where an ambulance has to be present? Are we nuts?
Here's a question: Could anything like the goalpost incident at UMM happen in connection with any school activity other than sports?
In an earlier time, football was more clearly associated with unabashed ruffians. It famously almost got outlawed. Many people shook their head over it (like my late father).
As football exploded in popularity, due to how TV could present the big-time versions of the sport, we have (rather desperately) tried to make the sport more civilized. The pro game is under intense pressure to flush out the long-established homophobic element in the sport. The pro game is desperate about a lot of things. The wellspring of the ruminations is that society is demanding that football be safe, clean and civilized, when in fact the essence of football contradicts that. Lawyers are working around the clock I'm sure.
Dan Marino popped in and out of a concussion lawsuit last week.
 
Boys need choices in the fall
This coming fall, many of us will be watching eagerly in hopes of seeing junior high football numbers drop off. We'll be incredulous if they don't. It's very primal for parents to guard the health of their offspring. Surely we can offer young boys athletic options that will steer them away from football. Problem is, cross country isn't a good enough option. Cross country is for kids with a wispy physique. Unless you carry minimal pounds, cross country isn't for you unless you just want to jog along in practice, and you can do that on your own.
Do we have organized soccer in Morris? We did at one time. Why can't boys play the safe sport of volleyball like the girls? There was a time when girls were discriminated against in sports. Today they have it better because their sports are safer.
We look up to a sports pedestal. The best athletes get showered with attention. Recognition programs/banquets are full of hyperbole. A kid who wrestles and wins, pinning his foes, is made to feel he's endowed with some incredibly special gift. We hear talk about commitment, as if that quality couldn't be directed in some other more constructive direction. Indeed there is a unique power of sport.
Sport is really a privileged entity that over-promises and under-delivers, except for an elite few, and this norm has been in place for decades. One commentator says sports can be viewed as "the ultimate venture capital pyramid, as there's a big wide-ranging investment with only a tiny proportion of people reaping any rewards at all, and 'collateral damage' as a necessary by-product."
Continuing: "Sport makes bold, unregulated promises of return on investment (of the kind) Lehman's and Fannie Mae made in the late '90s, and it is only a great, communal fondness for the products of sports - their poignance as a cultural meme - and the select positive memories of (and benefits for) a powerful few, not to mention slickly-produced events and well-manicured messaging around sport, that (maintain the) artificial inflation of the importance of sport."
(Run-on sentences can have the effect of caffeine.)
 
Toward a more civilized sports world
We view sports as "the way it should be" rather than to critically question. Sport can be made safer. It can complement all the activities our kids are invited to join. But the kind of hero worship that makes the likes of Philip Nelson think he can "beat the s--t out of someone," as if pushing aside a would-be tackler, has got to end.
Come to think of it, why does a college town have to have a bar district? Will that become obsolete someday?
 
U of M sips the Kool-Aid
The U of M has an athletic director who thinks we need to create a sort of colony where athletes are some sort of (my words) master race. Of course, the money will come from private sources. We're talking something like $190 million. In this Wall Street-dominated age, such lofty numbers just get tossed around.
Norwood Teague has shown his plan to Regents. Teague says the U needs an academic center for athletes who "shouldn't just be expected to go to the library or some other place."
The U has to stay in the "arms race" with other Big 10 schools, I guess. A special facility would include computer labs, tutoring areas, study areas and offices for academic advisors.
Looking through the veil: The U needs to create a ruse where we can feel athletes are being served for their academic needs, when we're in fact holding their hands, with some feeling of desperation in fact, helping them stay eligible, sans any tutoring scandals like under Clem Haskins, so they can thrill us by beating other Big 10 schools.
I have had it with all the pretensions and disingenuousness of big-time sports, the illusions they create, the way they chew up people and spit them out. The fans don't know these kids as human beings - not at all. The race needs to stop. Athletes can nurture other avenues by which they can build meaningful skills and socialize constructively.
Our University of Minnesota-Morris has that fancy football stadium with artificial turf, but doesn't even have a genuine concert hall for music. Strange. We're strangers in a strange land sometimes.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, June 6, 2014

Roger Maris homered at Met in fabled season

John F. Kennedy was inaugurated president in January of 1961. He was the victor vs. Richard Nixon in a tight race that pushed TV ever more firmly into our national consciousness. Kennedy and Nixon debated. Kennedy ushered in "Camelot." Professional sports was growing. TV would have a huge impact on that.
Television would elevate football over the venerated old sport of baseball, the sport that FDR refused to let go into hiatus. It was necessary for our national morale, FDR proclaimed. The movie with Tom Hanks showed how girls baseball kept the sport viable. "There's no crying in baseball."
Baseball showed it could survive the war. It did not keep going in the face of labor vs. management strife in the 1990s. Today, I would argue, baseball still bears some scars from that. It bears scars from performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) also.
Today, one can't avoid the impression that baseball is merely a big money-making apparatus in which the "one per cent" types and lawyers coldly calculate, daily. Fine. It's the American way - to make money. I have lost virtually all interest in baseball. I have heard people say they are flabbergasted at the expense involved to take in a major league game - concessions included (or perhaps emphasized).
I was kindergarten-age when JFK became president and the American League expanded by two teams. Spring of '61 saw players, like their forebears, in the ritual of "getting in shape." Year-round conditioning wasn't the norm. Players around the age of 33 might well discover they had dropped a notch. Year-round conditioning has helped players keep a continuum of performance to a later age. Or is it PEDs with some players?
Major league baseball desperately needed the McGwire/Sosa home run race. Major league baseball couldn't have cared less about the ethics at that time - the ethics of allowing a couple guys to use the science of PEDs to swat baseballs into the outfield stands continually. Baseball had been staggered by the strike of 1994. Fans drifted back as a result of the homers. Lemmings, we are.
By the time Barry Bonds got done surpassing McGwire, we were ready to start yawning about it all. 
McGwire was the guy who got Billy Crystal inspired to make a movie about 1961 baseball. I suppose baseball and all of humanity could have been on their last legs considering the Cuban missile crisis soon to come. JFK dealt with that. In the meantime we got a magical 1961 baseball season, preserved in cinema by Crystal.
Why is the season special? In Minnesota it was a spectacular time because we became big league. We so take that for granted today. Minnesota life before 1961 was without our now-iconic Twins and Vikings. We had the Gophers. Did minor league baseball ever engender interest in outstate Minnesota? The Twins were born in 1961 and fans began getting on buses from the outstate MN environs. We were captivated.
Jim McRoberts remembers going to Metropolitan Stadium to see Vic Power. I so wish Power had still been with the Twins for the 1965 pennant run. He was so deserving to be in the World Series spotlight, to have a chance to be a World Series hero. He was a dark-skinned man who came from Puerto Rico. He dealt with all the bad racial stuff. He must have been dazed, coming as he did from a country where skin color didn't matter.
Power was intelligent, flashy and "his own man" - qualities that delayed his entry to the big leagues. But he made it, and in 1962 was a full-fledged star with our Twins who that year finished second behind the Yankees.
Two years previous we were that "cold Omaha." That's a dated expression now, isn't it? Not to mention pejorative. I couldn't care less if I were to live in Omaha today.
I have lost interest in baseball and am slowly phasing out of football. Football has imposed addictive qualities on all of us. Football exploded in popularity in lock-step with the advancement of television. The TV picture became sharper. TV was in the hands of everyone, or could be. Today we'd use the term "user friendly." In this respect TV offered what computers today still don't: a moron could operate a TV set. Computers still require some sophistication. I still don't own one. I feel like I'd just be buying a bunch of problems. And, that it would become obsolete in six months. I'm typing this post at the Morris Senior Community Center.
The obsolescence of camera equipment staggered me.
In 1961 we watched baseball in black and white in a time long before "high definition." The Yankees played their home opener against the new Minnesota Twins. I assume that's true because that's what we see in Crystal's movie. The historical accuracy is challenged because we see Camilo Pascual as a dark-skinned person, dark enough to be considered "black" or "Negro," the latter term still having currency then. I recall Pascual, a Cuban, seeming more light-skinned than dark. It wouldn't matter to me except that in 1961, a player who was black was categorized as such and commented on as such.
The Yankees walked on eggshells opening the door for a black player to enter the fold. They should have done it when Vic Power was in their system. Power was too much of an individual. So in the eyes of racists he'd be "uppity." In Crystal's movie we see Elston Howard as the pioneering black player with the Yankees. He was a lightning rod. How could he not be a lightning rod, no matter how he behaved? He drew some derision for being too passive, for "rolling with the punches" too much.
It's amazing of course that the mere presence of a dark-skinned player on the roster was a big deal. Today it seems African-Americans have lost their interest in baseball. Baseball would like them back. Look what Willie Mays meant. Willie played with the Minneapolis Millers in the early '50s.
The racial aspect gets no attention in Crystal's movie. The regressive lifestyle of Mickey Mantle does. Mantle is the boozing and "womanizing" man who tells jokes about "homos" (homosexuals). Actor Thomas Jane nails Mantle, and Barry Pepper gained film immortality, in my view, absolutely nailing Roger Maris, the man destined to break Babe Ruth's hallowed home run record.
William Bendix most certainly did not nail Babe Ruth on the big screen. Gary Cooper did nail Lou Gehrig.
Crystal's movie is sentimental but not in a contrived way. It takes us to a time that really was magical for the young boomer boys like me. We couldn't have cared less about the old Minneapolis Millers. The Twins were life-transforming with their presence. Later the Vikings would even surpass that.
 
Frick was enlightened, opened doors
I applaud Crystal's movie for its reverence and historical perspective. However, Hollywood is the dream factory and casts illusions. We are led to believe Ford Frick is the "bad guy." He wants to enact rules sapping the significance of Maris' home run feat! He is standing in the way of this wholesome but uncharismatic man from Fargo ND, a man loyal to his wife and family in a Norman Rockwell-esque way. Maris is the anti-Mantle.
Frick was the commissioner of baseball. The movie shows this apparently stuffy older man getting booed on opening day. He's chummy with the similarly stuffy and shallow (as portrayed in the movie) widow of "the Babe." We diss these people the way we might diss the Lawrence Welk TV Show.
In truth, Frick was a hero. Donald Moffat plays Frick who belongs in league with Branch Rickey. Hollywood gave us Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. Frick was the National League president in 1947. Various players around the league were trying to resist the presence of Jackie Robinson. Frick was steadfast vs. them, saying he'd "go down the line" with Robinson, and "didn't care if it wrecked the league for five years."
Frick was reflecting astute business sense as much as being an accommodating human being. Let's assume the latter motivation was foremost. Inclusion always wins.
Frick had to deal with the new 162-game schedule. Previously, 154 games had been the rigid norm. Frick felt any new records should be categorized separately, but in this he simply reflected the views of a large majority of the baseball establishment. Eventually the distinction was shrugged off.
And would you believe, there never was any asterisk affixed to the Maris home run total? The notorious asterisk wasn't even mentioned when Maris did his thing. Perhaps some writers later used this on their own. Something happened to fuel the mythology. But mythology it was, and Hollywood has never been averse to mythology.
I have avoided mentioning the name of Crystal's movie to this point. It's "61*". It's an awkward movie title to deal with. Most action scenes in the movie were actually shot at Tiger Stadium, Detroit. The movie is a lens into the primacy of the print media in 1961. The media hound Roger Maris like jackals.
Anthony Michael Hall plays pitcher Whitey Ford. Chris Bauer plays Bob Cerv. I love Joe Grifasi in his role as the easily-distracted broadcaster Phil Rizzuto.
Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961, breaking the Ruth mark of 60. Thomas Jane as Mantle calls Babe Ruth "that fat f--k."
 
Our Met Stadium welcomes Roger
The 1961 Yankees played 18 games at the stadiums of the two new American League teams: the Twins and Angels. He didn't knock the cover off the ball at those places, as he managed just three home runs. He went one-for-three in the Yankees' first appearance at the Met on May 2. Amazingly he had only one homer up to that date. On May 3 he homered off Pedro Ramos at the Met. He was hitless in the final game of the series, a series swept by the grand Yankees. Many fans drove from Fargo to the Met (240 miles). Roger was a Fargo Shanley High School graduate.
Would you believe, this player who would have an other-worldly home run total was batting seventh in the lineup vs. lefthanders? That was early in the season.
Much is made in the movie of how manager Ralph Houk (played by Bruce McGill) adjusts the lineup, allowing Maris to bat ahead of Mantle. Thus Roger would see more hittable pitches. Indeed, Maris batted only .174 with seven homers in 115 at-bats without the benefit of Mantle batting after him. His overall average in '61 was a pedestrian .269, but let's consider he batted .303 with runners on base and .329 with runners in scoring position. Amazingly he received no intentional walks in '61!
Mantle was the player that New Yorkers revered. Crystal strives to elevate Maris as the man with desirable personal traits. Crystal succeeds. Oh, but here's an asterisk: Maris smokes too much!
The movie "61*" was made for HBO. Crystal allows the "little kid" in him to come out, as if he's admiring old baseball cards.
It might have been fun to see more of the Yogi Berra character. Yogi shared catching duties with the trailblazing Elston Howard. It would have been fun to hear Berra say "that restaurant is so crowded, nobody ever goes there anymore."
In real life Berra wasn't this inadvertent comedy machine. He might have been funny a couple times, and coupled with his appearance which was rather like an old, long-eared, lovable dog, he had a persona seized upon by the likes of Joe Garagiola.
Any New York Yankee in those days was a potential celebrity. Fame eventually made Jim Bouton bitter. Bouton's famous book "Ball Four" was probably more the product of a clever writer/editor, rather than Bouton's own personal tome. Mass entertainment twists reality every which way! Be ever vigilant about this. All the famous people around the Yankees were really normal human beings - nervous, anxious, trying to fulfill their obligations and make a living.
Maris had his hair fall out, such was the fishbowl treatment he got.
The highlight of the movie in my eyes was the "pep talk" Houk gave Maris when Maris was getting discouraged by all the fame or infamy. Houk speaks as a total father figure, telling Maris he's misreading a lot of the attention. He tells Maris to focus on the real priorities and to ignore all the tabloid-ish stuff.
Maris is a tough player to figure when you look at his career statistics. The 1961 season is anomalous. You have to look past the stats. Maris was like a ticket for a team to the World Series. He did it with St. Louis as well as New York. He was in seven total World Series, winning three. Legend has it his throw from the outfield help seal one of those wins.
Roger retired as a Cardinal after '68. He died from Hodgkin's lymphoma in December of 1985, just age 51. He's buried at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in north Fargo. He was a hero, as was Ford Frick. Let's allow Roger in the Hall of Fame.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, June 2, 2014

Harmon homered at the Met way back in '58

I found baseball cards to be a good geography lesson. You could learn about the existence of certain minor league baseball cities, cities that otherwise might not come to your attention.
Our teachers disdained such apparent frivolity as baseball cards and comic books. They would be surprised how much learning could be done. Comic books taught me the term "doomed." Calvin Griffith, original owner of the Twins, once said Jim Eisenreich was "doomed" to become an all-star. Of course he meant "destined." Norm Crosby built a comic career misusing words. "That was back when my wife was stagnant."
When I saw "Indianapolis" on the back of a baseball card, I realized that was a minor league stop on the way up. Or "Des Moines," or "Winston-Salem" (the "Filters?").
I think many people would be surprised that Harmon Killebrew played at Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, with Indianapolis in 1958. He homered at Met Stadium then. Indianapolis was in the American Association. A very young Harmon was in Minnesota for a game against the Minneapolis Millers.
We can forget there was a "twilight zone" period of five years when Met Stadium had no big league occupant. It's surprising that the Twin Cities weren't considered big league yet. But remember, pro basketball sputtered here before finally, in the late 1980s, it stuck. Along the way, the best nickname for the team, "Muskies," got used up. Apparently when a team folds, its nickname must be retired forever.
We had a pro basketball team called the "Pipers" here too. Pro basketball just couldn't get established at the Met Sports Center, out by Metropolitan Stadium. Today the Mall of America is out in those environs. That area used to be called the "Bloomington prairie."
The atmosphere really was rather pastoral around the Met. We'd hear an occasional jet roar overhead. The surrounding roads were busy. But we were only on the far fringe of the big city. A retired Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce president said at the time of the Met's closure: "My best memory? I guess it would have to be that pleasant setting. I'm concerned about the move downtown. I think we're losing too much. . .of the flavor."
The downtown Metrodome did present a sea change. We did come to love the Metrodome. The sterile surroundings were offset by the fact all games could be played under predictable and comfortable conditions. Eventually we couldn't even accept these pluses anymore and we decided to depart. By "we" I mean the major sports teams who coldly calculate on such matters. That includes the University of Minnesota.
There was a time not long ago that the Twins, Vikings and Gophers all played in the quite decent atmosphere of the Dome. Each one of these teams now needs its own palace. Are we nearing the end of this stadium-building? Would we dare build anything more opulent than what we have now? Is the new Vikings stadium "a bridge too far?" Will Mark Dayton regret being a toady for those New Jersey real estate interests?
Are football fans whistling past the graveyard in terms of their sport staying popular? Concussions loom, as does saturation exposure. I have trouble predicting the future but maybe I'll be right on this one. I have a mere fleeting interest in football today. And the brawl in Mankato didn't help. The old testosterone-fueled football culture is looking ever more archaic. The ravages on the human body are becoming too much.
Let's encourage boys to play other sports. Is that so difficult?
That retired Chamber president, name of Gerald Moore, had a gut feeling of affection for the old Metropolitan Stadium, just like me. He was a heavy lifter in helping that place get built. There had to be apprehension, given there was no immediate guarantee (hardly) of major league baseball coming here.
"It was such a kick to see the place go up," Moore told Joe Soucheray. "It was like making a million dollars and you know you've got the million, but you just don't have the money. We got a lot of compliments on the place over the years."
Maybe not from Jim Murray. Murray was the syndicated sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times who got locked in the women's restroom adjacent to the football press box on the Met's second deck. Murray found the men's restroom locked from the outside. The hallways were deserted. The Vikings had completed a playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams. He ducked into the women's facilities. He couldn't get out! The temperature outside was 12 degrees.
The scribe began fearing he might not be discovered until the following spring. He shouted. Ho help was forthcoming, but Mr. Murray found a piece of steel which he used to pry the door open. Actually this story isn't funny.
The Los Angeles media might be skeptical enough about covering a game in a place where the temperature is 12 degrees. And now this. Oh, the Vikings defeated the Rams 24-13 in the NFL title game.
 
Music at the Met
The biggest crowd ever at the Met was for a music event: the Eagles headlined and were complemented by Pablo Cruise and the Steve Miller Band, on August 1, 1978. People were everywhere, covering the field and filling the stands. The stage was in center field.
Young people could be rambunctious in those days. I remember. We didn't always respect property appropriately. But the crowd for that record-setting pop music concert was surprisingly well-behaved. The biggest problem seemed to be barefooted (barefeet?) youth getting cuts on feet. Another problem, one that could have been fully expected, was litter across that expansive sea of a parking lot around the Met.
It was quite a spectacle to see a large crowd depart from the Met. It was amazing that any crowd of 35,000 or more made the place look like it was absolutely filled. Some sort of illusion was in effect.
I always appreciated how a general admission ticket holder for a baseball game could wander all over the place. I was fond of standing at the rear of any of the three decks. If one vantage point got boring, I'd move to another. 
  
The Twins, at the beginning
Amazingly, the very first home opener back in 1961 wasn't a sellout, this despite the fact there was an obvious statewide mania over the Twins. The date was April 21, 1961, a Friday. Special bunting adorned the Met.
The Millers had tumbled into the obscurity of yesteryear. There were never many efforts to keep the memory of the Millers alive, except maybe from Dave Moore, the old WCCO TV newsman. Dave waxed nostalgic. Maybe that's understandable if you once courted a fine young lady there.
I've seen pictures of the old Nicollet Park and it looks pretty minimal. Willie Mays played there in 1951.
The first Twins home opener attracted 24,606. We aren't particularly eager to go outdoors for our entertainment in April. But the conditions were nice on that 1961 date: clear, sunny and 63 degrees. Don Mincher and Lenny Green hit home runs.
Morris legend has it that Gary Rose traded a substantial portion of his baseball card collection to get one Lenny Green card, and then the Twins promptly traded Green. A lesson in the vagaries of the marketplace!
The Twins lost the 1961 opener 5-3. Oh, the parking lot hadn't been blacktopped yet! Muddy conditions might have discouraged some would-be fans. People had less discretionary money for entertainment.
The best was clearly yet to come.
Zoilo Versalles was our leadoff batter, Green was No. 2. Mincher and Bob Allison were penciled in at 3 and 4. Harmon Killebrew was hurt and no-go. Earl Battey was our catcher. Billy Gardner, later to manage the Twins, was our second baseman. We remember good ol' Billy as manager when the team started coming out of its late '70s and early '80s funk. He also lived in a motel, didn't he?
We can compliment the late Calvin Griffith on being enthusiastic about signing and promoting players of color, in contrast to some other fellow owners. We can attribute his infamous "Waseca speech" to the loss of discretion coming with age. Or, to an overzealous, self-absorbed and pretentious writer name of Nick Coleman.
 
Popularity builds
The first sellout at the Met would be on May 21 of that inaugural year, for a doubleheader vs. Cleveland. There were no right field stands yet. Alas, we were shut out in both games.
In 1962 we saw Jack Kralick throw his no-hitter. Kralick tossed his gem, the only nine-inning no-hitter at the Met, on August 26. The Twins won 1-0. The backdrop was a perfect summer day: 81 degrees and clear skies. I can just imagine sitting in those bleachers, or wandering behind the decks, clutching my Frosty Malt or whatever. The dollar-size beer was the "large" size! Try to keep from fainting.
Kralick came within two outs of a perfect game. Bob Allison saved a probable home run in the fourth with a leaping catch. Allison robbed Ed Charles, who I have written about before because he was inspired to be a big league player by Jackie Robinson. I was writing about the biopic about Robinson, "42."
Jack Kralick said: "I lost five minutes of my warmup because it was Camera Day."
Camera Day! Such innocence then. If I remember right, fans milled around with players pre-game, taking photos at will, asking players to pose for them etc. It was a more trusting world.
If I could step into a time machine, I'd like to go back to Camera Day in those early years and use a movie camera, eventually to put clips on YouTube. That stuff would be priceless. As things stand, my memories of Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, are priceless.
The Met and its big league status were an escape for me, into a "macro" world that I found much more interesting than my "micro" Morris MN. Nevertheless,  "I Love Morris" (the name of this website).
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com