"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, July 29, 2016

Why couldn't movie give Pedro Ramos his due?

The movie "61*" is one of the great all-time cinematic offerings about baseball. It was a labor of love by Billy Crystal.
The New York Yankees of the early 1960s gained fame beyond their sheer talent level. New York City was full of newspapers competing for stories. The teeming members of (my) boomer generation were getting fascinated by baseball, not to mention Cassius Clay.
Yes, the movie "61*" is a classic. There is a strange historical error though. Is it a "goof?" Movie summary websites often list "goofs." One of the Titanic movies had so many goofs, I didn't see the point in listing them. The review could have just stated that "the moviemakers took considerable artistic license with the facts." For example, there was no horn section in the music group on the big doomed boat! Well, who cares, I guess.
The movie "61*" depicts the opening day of 1961 at Yankee Stadium, NYC. A season was about to unfold that had Fargo's Roger Maris hitting 61 home runs, breaking Babe Ruth's record. Many middle-age fans at the time could remember seeing the Babe play, in person. Many did not accept this new guy, Maris, who seemed completely lacking in the kind of charisma that the Babe exuded. My generation, Billy Crystal included, decided to embrace Maris for the long run. He was "our guy." We loved Mickey Mantle too.
"61*" shows us opening day with the distinctive radio voices of the Yanks depicted: the steady Mel Allen and the eccentric Phil Rizzuto, the latter often inserting his daily trivial tidbits of life that were separate from baseball. Mel Allen goes around the diamond to recite the names of the iconic Yankee players of that time.
The Yankees were destined to have this period of dynasty end in the mid-1960s. It was our Twins who knocked the Yankees off their perch in 1965. In a short period of time, the Yankees went from being best in the American League to being totally pedestrian. In 1966 they finished last! They did so even with some familiar names left over, as if they were ghosts, from the dynastic days. It felt odd.
The Minnesota Twins were a new team in 1961. Let's apply an asterisk there, as these new Twins were actually the old Washington Senators. Minnesota gave this tired old franchise a chance to stretch its legs, taking advantage of better support and a better stadium. Our Twins played their 1961 opener at "The House that Ruth Built" in NYC.
The movie shows the Twins watching wide-eyed as Mickey Mantle steps into the cage for batting practice. At one point he signals to the pitcher that he's going from batting right-handed to left. Right-handed seemed more natural to Mick - he'd attack the ball as if he were wielding a tomahawk, whereas as a lefty he had more of an upper-cut swing. Mantle made his switch in the batting cage, whereupon the actor playing Yogi Berra said "look, he's 'ambidextrial.' " Elston Howard was bemused.
The memories of early 1960s baseball rushed to the fore as we consumed this scene in the movie. Maybe I got a little misty. Then the movie moves on to the April 11 game itself. The movie doesn't tell us the final score but it indicates the Yankees were struggling.
"Pascual with the pitch" we hear the Mel Allen character say. Pascual? Camilo Pascual? I'm one of those Twins fans who still remembers the original Twins well. I noticed that "Pascual" in the movie was dark-skinned in a way that he'd be characterized as black. He was Cuban. But the real Camilo Pascual was rather light-skinned.
But here's the biggest problem: Camilo Pascual was not the Twins' opening day pitcher in 1961! I understand how moviemakers take artistic license. But why was there a need to present Pascual as our historic (first-ever) opening day pitcher when in fact it was Pedro Ramos? Yes, it was "The Cuban Cowboy" Ramos who pitched and in fact humiliated Mantle, Maris and the other Yankees. My goodness, Ramos pitched a complete game shutout in a 6-0 Twins victory! So why doesn't he get acknowledged properly in the movie "61*?" Beats me.
Is it based on Pascual being better-remembered than Ramos? Pascual ended up having more impact with the Twins. But it's such a long-ago time. Most young fans of today are probably unfamiliar with either of those early names.
A mainstay for original Twins
Pedro Ramos was a very interesting player who had a 15-year career beginning in 1955. He was an American League All-Star in 1959. He led the A.L. in losses four times, in 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961. He lost 20 games for our inaugural edition of the Twins in 1961. Is this a huge black mark? Well, not necessarily. I have read that you have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games, really.
Ramos was a Yankee in the closing stages of the 1964 season, the team's last (for that time period) as kingpin in the A.L. He was in fact a sensation for the Bronx Bombers in the pennant drive of '64. He was traded from the Indians to the Yankees for $75,000 and two players to be named later. Ramos worked out of the bullpen in the Yankees' stretch drive. He saved eight games and posted a 1.25 earned run average in 13 appearances, during a stretch when New York needed all the help they could get. They barely held off the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
In 21 innings, Ramos struck out 21 batters and, amazingly, walked none. But because the trade happened after August 31, Ramos was not eligible to pitch in the World Series. The Yanks were edged by the Cardinals in seven games in the Fall Classic. Take away two errors by the normally slick-fielding Bobby Richardson, the second baseman, and the Yankees could well have won.
In 1960, Ramos made history by being part of an "all-Cuban triple play." It happened at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. in the Senators' last season there, before coming to Minnesota. The Senators were playing the Kansas City Athletics (the future Oakland A's). The date was July 23. In the top of the third inning, Whitey Herzog came to bat for K.C. There's a full count. Jerry Lumpe - remember him? - was on first base and Bill Tuttle at second. Herzog hit a liner to Ramos. Ramos whirled and threw to first baseman Julio Becquer. Lumpe was doubled up for out No. 2. Becquer fired the ball to second base where the shortstop, Jose Valdivielso, tripled up the slow-of-foot Tuttle. An all-Cuban triple play!
Calvin Griffith's franchise was known to be very accommodating for Cuban talent. Jim Kaat joked that the "TC" on the Twins caps stood for "twenty Cubans."
Ramos was held back for most of his career playing for inferior teams with inferior defense. He definitely made his mark, though. His outstanding shutout performance in the Twins' first-ever game, at the hallowed Yankee Stadium, ought to elevate him higher in the Twins' historic pantheon than where he is.
- Brian Willliams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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