"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)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Vic Power was very special early MN Twin

I had this Vic Power card!
We all feared the Russkies in 1962. I was seven years old. We were still getting used to having major league baseball here in the Upper Midwest.
The Twins weren't real competitive in 1961. In 1962 the story was quite different. The Minnesota Twins made a bid for the pennant. The backdrop nationally was Camelot. The romantic overtones of that were offset by all the nuclear tensions. We got through all that. JFK would be with us until November of 1963.
In 1962 the Twins were blessed by the presence of Vic Power. We can be proud that Power is part of our big league baseball history. We might need some reminding of his importance. How good was he? We were fortunate to have the flashy-fielding first baseman in his prime: he was voted MVP of our 1962 team. We finished just five games behind the Yankees. It was the year after Roger Maris hit 61 home runs.
Finishing second in the ten-team league was a real plum for us, given that two years earlier, we had neither the Twins nor Vikings.
Power was acquired so his glove could stabilize the young Twins infield. He was later quoted saying that the young infield could "make some interesting throws." He won seven consecutive Gold Glove Awards from when the award was first introduced in 1958, to 1964. He was rather a journeyman.
He made the American League All-Star team with the Kansas City Athletics in 1955 and '56, and with the Cleveland Indians in 1959 and 1960. In 1957 he hit a leadoff and walk-off home run in the same game!
 
By any other name. . .
Vic Power probably should have been known as "Victor Pellot." His father's surname was Pellot. To understand the change, we have to go back to Vic's first two professional seasons which found him in Drummondville, Quebec. As "Victor Pellot" he found fans to be snickering at the announcement of his name.
Was the apparent disrespect due to Vic being a man of color? He was of African descent but grew up in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico he didn't contend with the kind of racial barriers so prevalent in North America in the mid-20th Century.
Was the crowd laughing because Vic was black? It turns out that in the Quebec French vernacular, "plotte" (which sounds like "Pellot") is slang for vagina. I'm reminded of Jimmy Carter's Polish translator, remember? Maybe you don't. When Carter said he had always liked the Polish people, the translator, according to legend, used a word for sexual liking or sexual attraction. Those Jimmy Carter vignettes are charming, like the killer rabbit in the swamp.
Vic Power made the adjustment with his last name, even though in America there would be no issue. And, didn't Roger Maris change the spelling of his last name from "Maras" so the second syllable wouldn't be, well, you know. Either he did it, or a forebear.
I remember when "The Maras Sisters and Jacob" came to entertain in Stevens County from time to time. And, I remember a local family with the last name "Hoffart" who, as I recall, had at least one child opting for the adjusted spelling to "Hoffert." Because, well, you know. Would I find that advisable? No. Maris played at a time when opposing players and fans could be raw in their heckling.
Do you think Ben Chapman would be tolerated today? Would a Pete Rose type be allowed to shout "f--k you Shakespeare" at a player with literary talent? All this surfaces in baseball lore. And Vic Power had to be concerned about his original surname, at least among the French-speaking crowd.
Welcome to America! Power was signed by the New York Yankees in 1951. What a blessing if we could have seen this flashy, unique player surface with America's most storied team. His flashy and unique qualities worked against him. You see, it was the 1950s and people of color had to be careful with their behavior lest they be seen as "uppity."
Power batted .331 with the Kansas City Blues of the Class AAA American Association in 1952. He led the league in doubles and triples. He took a step up the next season with a .349 average. Amazingly, he wasn't invited to the big club's spring training in either '52 or '53.
The Yankees' ownership wanted their groundbreaking black player to be reserved and compliant. Elston Howard became their first black. Howard was decried by some as bending over backward to accede to the white culture's wishes. Others said he just did what he had to.
New York wasn't going to be right for Vic Power. His time would come, albeit belatedly. He was traded to the Athletics, a team then in Philadelphia. Even boomer-age fans (like me) have trouble remembering the "Philadelphia Athletics."
Those were the darkest days of racial discrimination. It perplexed Power whose native island of Puerto Rico was largely color-blind. How ashamed we should feel of our nation. Power couldn't stay at the same hotels as his white teammates, or eat at the same restaurants. I have read that Power often chose to get his food at grocery stores and bypass restaurants. He'd get salami and bananas.
The Athletics moved to Kansas City in 1955: the year I was born. He finished second in the batting race. Power joined the Cleveland Indians in 1958. He played for our Minnesota Twins from 1962 to 1964. Regarding his departure, the story is that Minnesota wanted a little more power from the first baseman. We opted to send him to the Los Angeles Angels. He later played for the Philadelphia Phillies and California Angels. His last season was 1965.
I wish we had kept this colorful fellow just for his glove, on the '65 team which won the pennant. He was a righthanded batter, therefore he might have had a chance against Sandy Koufax and Claude Osteen.
Vic retired with 1,716 career hits and 126 home runs, but the most interesting number may be strikeouts: just 247 in 6,046 at-bats!
In 2000 the Cleveland Indians declared Power among their 100 all-time greatest players.
When I refer to Power as "flashy," I'm considering mainly his tendency to field the ball with one hand. The manner was described as "flamboyant." It turns out he was ahead of his time. Eventually the one-handed habit was adopted by many at the position. It increases their reach and affords greater flexibility.
Power is remembered for his sharp wit and dark, deadpan humor, much of it directed at racism and segregation. I think a movie about Power's life would be just as appropriate and just as transfixing as "42" about Jackie Robinson. Ben Chapman be damned.
 
There for the throw, don't worry!
Vic was known to not necessarily position himself close to first base. He instructed Joe DeMaestri, shortstop for the A's, to just throw the ball to the apparently vacated first base, and Vic guaranteed he'd get there to field it! I wonder if he gave like instructions to Rich Rollins, Zoilo Versalles and Bernie Allen, early Twins infielders.
In perhaps the most charming photo ever taken for Twins baseball, appearing in the yearbook, a kneeling Vic is shown displaying the ball like a magician, while Rollins, Allen and Versalles all look befuddled around him. The photo said it all, as far as Power's importance with the '62 and '63 Twins teams. Those early and heady days were priceless, never to be repeated.
I had occasion to work Vic's name into my writing for the Morris MN newspaper once. The next time I saw Jim McRoberts at Willie's Super Valu, he had a gleam in his eyes. He told me about those "old days" when he appreciated Power's talents at Met Stadium in Bloomington.
Vic stole home twice in one game against the Tigers in 1958. He stole home to tie the game in the eighth, and then to win it in the tenth.
He eventually had a ballpark named for him in Puerto Rico.
He left us for that baseball diamond in the sky on November 29, 2005, in San Juan. He was 78 years old.
Victor Pellot Power RIP. We'll never have another first baseman like him.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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