REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST
Once upon a time, 1980 to be exact, a farmer by the name of Andrew Kolarik unearthed the bones of a wooly mammoth in Starke County, Indiana. Now, if Starke County is anything like the rest of Indiana, the discovery of this ancient beast must have added some spice to that wasteland of corn. What it must have been like to plow the fields after that, wondering if those great animals lumbered around your property, foraging for whatever it is they ate. Were ancient hunters stalking them out by the tomato patch? What other strange things came through your stretch of prairie?
We had a similar experience in Minneapolis. Moving here from Michigan in 1994, it seemed as if this humble town lacked a decent baseball history, at least compared to the Detroit. After all, the Tigers go back to 1900, and the dawn of the American League. We had one of the first Hall of Famers, that raging bastard Ty Cobb. Moving right along through the Depression, we saw Hank Greenberg, the first great Jewish baseball player, rise above the anti-Semitism of his time; Hank was part of the great championship teams of 1934 and 35, led by fiery player-manager Mickey Cochrane; even the bumbling wartime heroics during that most comical of World Series', the Tigers v. Cubs in '45. Even more amazing was the '68 crew, led by the last pitcher to win 30, Denny McLain. That Series featured Bob Gibson's amazing 17 strikeout performance, but the Tigers managed to scrape together three straight and win, despite being down 3-1. That comeback victory against the Cardinals united a city torn apart by the '67 riots. Even the '84 victory gave us an edgy thrill, with all the madness that followed. All of this played in old Tiger Stadium.
We tried to look for some glimmers of hope here in the nation's icebox. The Twins have a good history, and we admit that we came at a bad time, right when Kirby was about to leave, and notions of Rick Aguilera throwing 200 innings seemed wise only to the medicated. But even though local fans just won't keep quiet about '87 and '91 (yes, we're bitter about the Tigers '87 loss), we keep wondering why the Twins don't take greater advantage of their distant past? The Twins arent an expansion team, after allthey just act like one. Of course, we're talking about the Senators.
If we had $300 million--and Pohlad were truly interested in selling the team--here's what we'd do: beginning on a miserable day in April (aren't they all in Minnesota?), when school's still on and we're trying to drum up business, you'd see not one, but two opening days--one for the Twins and one for the Senators. On the latter, we'd start with a battalion of Presidential impersonators, ranging from Taft to Truman, who would throw out the day's ball, recalling the old tradition at Griffith Stadium. Then the marching band would play tunes from "Damn Yankees" (because, of course, it was a long-suffering Senators fan who made the deal with the Devil). You would then cheer as banners celebrating the Senators pennant-winning years (1924, 1925 & 1933), and their single championship of 1924, would unfurl. A player with a long gray beard and in Senators garb would come out and shake hands with one of the Twins, a symbolic pairing of past and present.
Later in the season, ceremonies retiring the numbers of the Washington Senators Hall-of-Fame players would take place. There are four, of which three actually wore numbers (a practice that began roughly with the Yankees in 1929). Youd have Sam Rice, Bucky Harris, and Goose Goslin.
Rice was a centerfielder who sprayed hits in every corner, batted .322 lifetime and, and played fantastic defense, so amazing in fact that he had one of the most storied catches in history. In the 1924 series against the Pirates, Rice stole a home run from Earl Smith, falling back into the crowds and emerging with the ball tight in his glove. The ump called Smith out, resulting in one of the most controversial plays in history (in a letter opened at his death, Rice claimed he caught the ball).
Harris, the boy manager, was a fireplug, one of those hot-hitting men when it counted, racking up a .333 average in that '24 series, seven RBIs and two homers (he only hit nine more his entire career), and was elected to the Hall on his status as a manager. Goslin, a mediocre outfielder, is recognized as perhaps the Senators' greatest hitter.
Their numbers are 3, 35, and 4 respectively. Of course, 3 belongs to blitzmeister Harmon Killebrew, which doesnt really pose a problem
just hang Sams jersey out there, and have your day. 35 is Gardys number, which is just too damn bad for the sophomore manager. No one has claims on 4 yet, so Goose would have his number retired, and there you go. Add to this a Walter Johnson day (no number, but you have to do something to celebrate this greatest of all pitchers) and with the way the Twins have been playing as of late, you could have some great times at the Dome. Other teams don't ignore their history--even the Phillies have theirs, and the Senators weren't that bad.
What do the Twins think of this? "At the present time, the Twins have no plans to retire the numbers of any Hall of Fame players with the Washington Senators," states Patrick Klinger, Twins Vice-President, Marketing. "However, the organization will permanently recognize its origins and those Senators players when we move (someday) into a new ballpark." He added that while the Twins might not retire the uniform numbers, they would have areas of the new ballpark dedicated to the team's history, all the way back to the Senators. We applaud this, although since that might be some time coming(especially with the state's budget crunch and the Twins unwillingness to build their own park), why not now, when anything that could brighten up the Dome would be welcome?
But this brings us back to the wooly mammoth. While we're digging, let's get the Caterpillars out and really get below the topsoil. For if you insist on staying local, consider that this state had one of the greatest minor league teams in history: The Minneapolis Millers.
Seventeen--count 'em--seventeen Hall-of-Famers wore a Millers flannel. We begin with our fave, Ted Williams, who was sold in 1938 to the Millers (then an independent team) for a tune-up on his way to the Red Sox. He became the first man to win the American Association triple crown, whacking 43 homers and 142 RBIs on top of his .366 average. Willie Mays did not see as much of the grainy city, but still managed a respectable .477 in 38 games before the Giants figured they needed to hop on the kids back en route to the 1951 World Series. Negro League great Ray Dandridge considered to be one of the finest third basemen in historyplayed the hot corner for three seasons, from 1949 to 1952. At Nicollet Park you could have seen Hoyt Wilhem toss his famous knuckler; stood in awe at Monte Irvin out in center; heckled at The Beast, Jimmie Foxx, now coaching; and admire the less-than-colorful Carl Yastrzemski or Orlando Cepeda, to name but a few. The thought of these players at 31st and Nicollet makes that bleak corner seem so much more thrilling. Williams was a chronic walker--what sidewalks did he stroll on? For that matter, where did Ray Dandridge go for a drink? Or Monte Irvin?
Other colorful characters made their way through: future atomic spy Moe Berg, whose photos of Tokyo during a Japanese barnstorming tour helped Doolittle bomb the place in '42; Pumpsie Green, the first African-American to integrate the Boston Red Sox (and the last team to do so); and Van Lingle Mungo, a good player whose name we cant resist placing here. Other teams in the American Association included the St. Paul Saints across the river, who brought in Roy Campanella when they were the Dodgers farm club; and Bill Veecks fabulous Milwaukee Brewers played at Nicollet Park as did Marvelous Marv Throneberry, then of Kansas City (and probably not as error-prone as he was with the Mets).
Before they were taken by Horace Stonehams New York Giants, the Millers were a minor league team of the old fashioned varietythat is, they were independently owned, developing players and then selling them to whoever gave them a good price, either in the minors or the bigs. Supposedly, this made for a team more connected with its community, as players didnt move so much, and settled down more. There are positives and negatives to these types of leagues. Nonetheless, if we had lived in Minneapolis way back when, and didnt have the Twins to rally behind, and found out that Ted Williams had played for the local crew (with our luck wed have missed that season), youd see us there every day.
The Twins should celebrate this history. You've got plaques in the Dome right now, praising the likes of Kent Hrbeck and Jim Kaat: why not add Ted Williams, who did have one of the single greatest offensive seasons in Minnesota Baseball History. Youd have all the guys I mentioned above and more. Anyone of distinction, maybe even a case with some artifacts, anyone who played for a team in the state of Minnesota. This can't be too expensive. Finally, we would retire number 38: the number that Ray Dandridge took into the Hall of Fame. No, he wasnt a Twin, but that doesn't matter. None of the players whose Hall of Fame status rests on their Negro League careers have a number retired. Why can't the Twins be the first?
As usual, if you like these suggestions, don't just wait for them to happen: call or write the Twins with these suggestions. If youre looking for a great book on the Millers, check out Stew Thornleys On To Nicollet, which is well written and beautifully illustrated with black and whites from the glorious years.
THE TOKYO STORY
Sadaharu Oh continues to bother us. After our article (and our plug at the Veterans Committee Page), we received the following letter from someone at the Hall:
Under the current Baseball Hall of Fame rules for election, Mr. Oh is not eligible for consideration. The current rules allow for players, executives, manager or umpires, who spent a specified amount of time in the American major leagues, to be considered for election. At this time, our Board of Directors is satisfied with the rules for election.
"Though he is not eligible for election, Mr. Oh's contributions are recognized in our Museum and Library, as he is an integral part of baseball history. Among the artifacts in the Hall of Fame are the first baseman's glove he wore when he broke Hank Aaron's home run mark, several signed baseballs, and volumes of literature on his career as a player and manager. Our Museum's mission is to preserve and present baseball history and as such. We are pleased to have Mr. Oh and other Japanese leagues stars represented in Cooperstown.
Does all writing from Baseball, and especially the Hall, have to be so dry and formal? This isn't a Supreme Court decision. Even more troublesome, however, is their doublespeak. To state that Oh is ineligible because of laws determined by that very organization, and then conclude with were fine with these laws is saying 'we don't want him here' in a roundabout way. And by the "American major leagues", that must mean the Negro and Major Leagues, yes? So it must be his foreign status that keeps him out, for surely it cannot be a question of how whether or not the Japanese Leagues are of major league caliber.
These rules will change only when the Hall recognizes that baseball has become an international pastime. Sadly, like most things in baseballincluding Jackie Robinsons breaking the color barriermoney will be at the root of this change. Sadaharu Oh will probably be one of the first elected when scores of Japanese fans demand it, and baseball sees that theres a buck to me made. That may sound cynical, but anyone who knows baseball history knows that the dollar speaks loudest. Until that time, well have to be satisfied with Ohs little spot, unmentioned in the Hall of Fame yearbook and web site.
THE CROOKED PITCH
Major League Baseballs decision to add some juice to the All-Star Game--giving the victor home field advantage in the World Series--is a decent idea, though virtually worthless. Home field advantage seems like cold comfort for most of the players, and the fans, if you ask us.
Its sad that such action is deemed necessary. Though we try to eschew the things were better in my day arguments, the All-Star Game does seem to be victim to a new sense of indifference from todays player, especially pitchers. Would any of the greats from the 1970s and before have decided not to play so they could simply rest up? Unlikely.
Laughable, too, is the fact that Spinmeister Bud Selig successfully called for this change, while making it appear as if this were a necessary solution to a problem that he in fact created. We can never allow the All-Star Game to result in a tie, he proclaimed with a straight face, having been the man who pulled the plug. Of course, few, if any, in the media called him on this. While its true that both sides had run out of pitchers to replace the men who had toiled for a couple of innings, it seems unlikely that allowing the teams to keep going, even into late innings, would have not been such a blow to everyones roster.
Even worse than the owners' indifference is the players'. During the All-Star game, why didn't the players rise to the occasion, informing the Commissioner that, in spite of his decision, they were going to keep playing, fatigue or no. This would have resulted in great p.r. for a Union threatening strike (and who, we believe, conceded to the owners mostly because of fear of fan reprisals). Even now, the players appear as if in some thick fog of confusion as to the positives of the so-called All-Star solution.
It's not something I'm in favor of," spoke Tom Glavine. I would find it hard to believe that most players would want the outcome of the All-Star Game to determine home-field advantage for the World Series. Most players would have the mind-set that that's something that should be decided by what you do over the course of the 162-game season, not who wins the All-Star Game."
Of course, he means in the future, right? He is aware that currently home field advantage in the World Series has nothing to do with the regular season, and that it is on a rotating, every-other-year basis right? He also knows that it would be nearly impossible to determine this based on your yearly standings, as neither league plays one another except during that brief point mid-season? And Mr. Glavine must be blinded by the bright lights of Broadway, for he certainly is aware that NO SINGLE PROFESSIONAL SPORT IN AMERICA DETERMINES ITS CHAMPIONSHIP'S HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE THIS WAY? Sure he does
We dont have any solutions to the All-Star mess, except perhaps to keep trying to come up with ideas. But the reality of the situation tells us that the intensity of the Midsummer Classic will return when the players make it so, and not from any other outside source telling them to sweat harder. You want a change? We'll keep on beating this drum: write the players. Let them know the customer's not happy.
Winter is indeed a bleak time for the baseball enthusiast, especially January, when all prose turns to the excesses of the Super Bowl. We turn you to Baseball's Hall of Fame, which you can join for a mere $40 and receive a plethora of trinkets and reading material to keep you occupied for at least a good twenty minutes. Although membership is a great bargain (and tax deductible), the yearbook, which comes free with every membership, is filled with some tired writing. And what's with the giant margins? Couldn't they have layered in a few more photos from their vault, or statistic? Stodgy is the word we'd use to describe the Hall, and its publication. Still, a good buy.