Posts Tagged ‘Impressions’

At The Ballpark Long Ago

May 13, 2022

Originally posted August 3, 2009

I went to a baseball game forty years ago today. How do I know?

Because I saw something that day at Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium that’s been etched in my memory ever since.

It was a Sunday, and I went to the ball game through a trip sponsored by St. Cloud State. I was fifteen, and my folks – Dad, of course, taught at the college – paid my way and sent me off on the bus to the Cities. It wasn’t the first Minnesota Twins game I’d gone to, but I hadn’t been to many of them. And I’d never gone to one essentially unsupervised. Yeah, there were adults on the bus, but none of them were going to keep track of me. I was basically on my own, and that made me feel pretty good.

And the game promised to be something special, as well. The Twins were playing the Baltimore Orioles, and both teams were in first place as the last two months of the season got underway. That season, 1969, was the first year that the two major leagues were split into divisions, with the division winners set to face each other in playoffs after the regular season. So the series between the Twins and the Orioles was a preview of a likely post-season series.

There was an added attraction: The Orioles’ starting pitcher that Sunday, Dave McNally, had won fifteen games without a loss that season. If he won that Sunday’s game, he’d set a new American League record for consecutive victories at the start of a season. (He was tied at 15-0 with Johnny Allen, who’d pitched for Cleveland in 1937.)

In addition, by winning his sixteenth game in a row, McNally would tie an American League record, set by Walter Johnson in 1912 and tied by Smokey Joe Wood later that same season, as well as by Lefty Grove in 1931 and by Schoolboy Rowe in 1934. (The streaks by Johnson, Wood, Grove and Rowe had come after they’d lost games in those seasons.)

So McNally was trying to become the first American League pitcher to ever have a record of 16-0. (He’d then set his sights on Rube Marquard of the National League Giants, who in 1912 won his first nineteen decisions.)

I wasn’t yet an avid baseball fan, but I was learning. I knew as we drove from St. Cloud that morning about McNally and his chance for history. I also knew that the Twins and the Orioles were two very good baseball teams. A look at the box score from that day’s game reveals the name of four members of the Baseball Hall of Fame: Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew of the Twins and Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson of the Orioles. (There are also some names in the box score of at least two Twins who also deserve to be in the Hall: Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat. Other Orioles? Probably not.)

[Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022. Note added May 13, 2022.]

I had a good seat, about fifteen rows above the third-base dugout, the Orioles’ dugout. And it was a tight game, as might have been expected. As the Twins came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, they trailed 1-0, and McNally had given up just four hits. But in that bottom of the seventh inning, the Twins managed two hits, and then a walk loaded the bases. Rich Reese came to the plate, pinch-hitting for Twins pitcher Kaat. I don’t remember how many pitches McNally threw to Reese, but the last one was decisive: Reese launched the ball over the right-field fence for a grand-slam home run. The Twins had a 4-1 lead, and McNally’s first loss was in sight.

McNally stayed in the game, which I find odd, both in memory and in baseball strategy. (I’m referring as I write this to a box score available at Baseball-Reference.com, an invaluable site, and I find that some details of the game have become fuzzy for me. But my main point, which I’ll actually address in a bit, remains clear.) In the top of the eighth inning, the Orioles closed the gap to 4-2, and McNally went back to the mound to pitch to the Twins in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Twins scored another run, and that was when Orioles manager Earl Weaver came on the field to take McNally out of the game.

The stadium was noisy as the Twins took that 5-2 lead and as Weaver came out of the third-base dugout, right in front of me. The noise lessened a bit as Weaver walked to the mound and took the baseball from McNally. And as McNally headed toward the dugout, his head down and his perfect season gone, two remarkable things happened:

First, the Minnesota fans – more than forty thousand were there that Sunday – stood and applauded. I’ve since learned, of course, that most sports fans in most cities acknowledge historic performances by opposing players, but this was the first time I’d seen that happen, and it made an impression on me. But that was only the first remarkable thing.

McNally crossed the third-base line as the crowd applauded him. He raised his head, and – in a gesture that’s remained vivid in my memory for forty years – took off his cap and tipped it to the fans in the stadium. If there were ever an object lesson in sportsmanship and grace, it came in that moment from Dave McNally.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, August 9, 1969)
“My Pledge of Love” by the Joe Jeffrey Group, Wand 11200 [No. 16]
“Choice of Colors” by the Impressions, Curtom 1943 [No. 24]
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen, Capitol 2482 [No. 44]
“Muddy River” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial 6638 [No. 45]
“Hey Joe” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2648 [No. 59]
“While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” the Honey Cone, Hot Wax 6901 [No. 62]

Joe Jeffrey, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was from Buffalo, New York. There’s a bit more information at All-Music Guide, which notes that the singer, who was born Joe Stafford but changed his name (evidently to avoid confusion with Jo Stafford, even though Jo Stafford sang pop and was female) was a regular in clubs in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. “My Pledge of Love” was the only one of Jeffrey’s four singles on Wand to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 14.

As the late 1960s rolled on, Curtis Mayfield of the Impressions was becoming more and more explicit in his songwriting about the racial divide in the United States. “Choice of Colors” may have been the furthest extension of that progression. Listening to it today, I find it remarkable that the song did as well as it did, peaking at No. 21 on the pop chart and reaching No. 1 on the R&B chart. The record is a remarkably frank piece of work.

“Hurt So Bad” was the Lettermen’s remake of the 1965 hit by Little Anthony & the Imperials, which went to No. 10. The Lettermen’s version was more lightweight than Little Anthony’s; it peaked at No. 12 as it floated from radio speakers during the late summer and early autumn of 1969, speaking directly to the life and heart of at least one young listener in the Midwest. It was the Lettermen’s final Top 40 hit.

Johnny Rivers’ “Muddy River” was pulled from his remarkable album Slim Slo Slider, and it’s surprising to me that it didn’t do better than it did. Rivers’ “Summer Rain,” a single that’s high on my all-time list, had gone to No. 14 as 1967 turned into 1968, and “Muddy River,” while not quite of that quality, was a good single. But “Muddy River” sat at No. 45 for one more week and then jumped to No. 41 for a week before falling back down the chart. Rivers wouldn’t hit the Top 40 again until 1972 with “Rockin’ Pneumonia – Boogie Woogie Flu,” which went to No. 6.

Wilson Pickett’s version of “Hey Joe” didn’t reach the Top 40, but it did prove once again that Pickett could to justice to pretty much any song. The record peaked at No. 59 on the pop chart, and went to No. 29 on the R&B chart. It’s also notable for the presence of Duane Allman on guitar. (If you listened to the mp3 before reading this, it’s likely you knew – or at least suspected – that already.)

“While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” is one of the delightful confections with a groove that Honey Cone and the other members of the Invictus stable turned out in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Formed by the one-time Motown team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, Invictus and Hot Wax were also home to Freda Payne, Laura Lee, the Chairmen of the Board and others. “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” was, says Wikipedia, Honey Cone’s first single. It peaked at No. 62 on the pop chart and made it to No. 26 on the R&B chart. The group eventually had four Top 40 hits, including “Want Ads,” which went to No. 1 in 1971.

A Transformational Moment

September 21, 2011

Originally posted November 5, 2008

I don’t inject politics here too often. Thoughtful readers can no doubt figure out the portion of the political arc where I find myself most comfortable. I’m a fairly liberal Democrat. (In Minnesota, that means being a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, an historic label that I like immensely.) As such, I’m pleased by the results from yesterday’s election – well, not entirely: a U.S. Senate race and a Congressional race here in Minnesota aren’t heading the directions I’d hoped.

But the election of Barack Obama as our next president was more important than politics. It was, I think, a transformational moment, a truly historic event. I’m not finding it easy to write about, as everything I think about saying this morning sounds trite or too much like a repetition of what I heard last evening. I think I’m better off summing election night by noting two images that will stay with me longer than the words of any of the reporters, anchorpersons or analysts:

First, the tears of joy on the face of Rev. Jesse Jackson as he waited in a crowd in Chicago’s Grant Park and saw a man with the same skin tones as his elected president of the United States.

Second, the celebration inside Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church as its parishioners and guests saw another portion of the dream of its one-time pastor – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – come to reality.

And maybe it’s a lack of imagination on my part, but – having wandered through the music collection this morning – I can’t think of any two songs more fitting for today than the two below:

“A Change Is Gonna Come” by San Cooke, RCA 8486 [1965]

“People Get Ready” by the Impressions, ABC-Paramount 10622 [1965]

A Baker’s Dozen From 1961

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 16, 2008

We watched the film The Good Shepherd the other evening, the Matt Damon/Angelina Jolie film about one man’s career in U.S. intelligence, from the OSS to the CIA, from 1940 or so to about 1962. Much of story took place in 1961, with Matt Damon’s character and others in the agency trying to find out who had leaked to the Communists – Russian or Cuban – the plans for a U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

While the film’s story is interesting – lots of historical detail done right, for those who enjoy that sort of thing (I am one of them) – and the acting is impeccable, especially Damon’s, what I found most fascinating was the movie’s portrayal of 1961, the details of a time that stands shrouded in mist at the edge of my memory. The look of the city buses, the household décor, the clothing – for men, women and children – all of it was familiar.

One of the film’s details that struck me was men wearing hats: snap-brim fedoras, panamas, trilbys. I remember watching my dad retrieve his hat from the closet shelf moments before heading out the door each morning. I’ve seen pictures of crowds, usually baseball games, during the 1950s and early 1960s, and nearly every man is wearing a hat. Not a cap, a hat. Modern lore has it that the end of the hat as an essential accessory for men began in 1961, when President John Kennedy delivered his Inaugural address outdoors, bare-headed in Washington’s January chill. The hat as an accessory hung on for a while after that, but – according to those who catalog such things – its remaining time was short.

So much of what I saw of 1961 in The Good Shepherd was familiar, but I really recall very little about the year, which was the year I turned eight. I do remember talk about the Berlin Wall going up in August. What else? Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in April, and a month later, Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space. In October, Roger Maris hits his 61st home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s 1927 record by one.

To state the obvious, it was an incredibly different time, and the year’s pop culture reflected that just as much as the events of the year. The top-rated television shows for the season that began in the autumn of 1961 – and yes, there was such a thing as a television season – were:

Wagon Train
Bonanza
Gunsmoke
Hazel
Perry Mason
The Red Skelton Show
The Andy Griffith Show
The Danny Thomas Show
Dr. Kildare
Candid Camera

According to Billboard, the year’s top five singles were:

“Tossin’ and Turnin” by Bobby Lewis
“I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline
“Michael” by the Highwaymen
“Cryin’” by Roy Orbison
“Runaway” by Del Shannon

That listing, in some ways, baffles me. The Lewis, Shannon and Highwaymen singles all went to No. 1 during the year, and Orbison’s single went to No. 2. But “I Fall To Pieces” went no higher than No. 12 on the chart during a ten-week stay. I imagine there’s some explanation, but the presence of the Cline record is especially baffling because the second-longest stay at No. 1 during 1961 was the five weeks by Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John,” which missed the top five. Any chart mavens out there know how that happens?

A few other songs that hit No. 1 for more than a week were: “Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk, “Pony Time” by Chubby Checker, “Surrender” by Elvis Presley, “Blue Moon” by the Marcels, “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson, “Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, “Take Good Care Of My Baby” by Bobby Vee, “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles, “Runaround Sue” by Dion and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens.

And here’s what 1961 sounds like when I listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1961

“Spoonful” by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, Chess single 1771

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit single 632

“Crying in the Rain” by the Everly Brothers, Warner Bros. single 5250

“Voodoo Voodoo” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2119

“One Mint Julep” by Ray Charles, Impulse! single 200

“Catfish Blues” by B.B. King from My Kind Of Blues

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens, RCA single 7954

“Too Much Monkey Business” by Elvis Presley, Flaming Star EP (RCA 128)

“Gypsy Woman” by the Impressions, ABC-Paramount single 10241

“Shake for Me” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1804

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614

“I Done Somebody Wrong” by Elmore James, Fire single 1031

“Honky Tonk, Part II” by Earl Palmer, Liberty single 55356

A few notes:

“Spoonful” came from the pen of Chess studio legend Willie Dixon and was first recorded and released as a single in 1961 by Howlin’ Wolf. Five years after James and Fuqua released their version, the English trio Cream recorded it on Fresh Cream and it became a performance staple for the group, with live versions often going longer than fifteen minutes.

In The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh writes: “‘It Will Stand’ was . . . a boldly defiant stroke. Asserting that rock and roll was great was one thing, but this song actually implied that rock would last because it had meaning. This was far from Danny & the Juniors’ declaration of three years earlier that ‘Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay’ because Danny and the boys explicitly declared that they didn’t know why. [Lead singer General] Johnson’s faith was deeper and his record is an anthem that will last as long as rock and roll is heard.” As to General Johnson, he showed up at least once in the Top 40 – “It Will Stand” went to No. 62 –as the lead singer for the Chairmen of the Board in 1970 when “Give Me Just A Little More Time” went to No. 3.

The Ray Charles single, “One Mint Julep” must have some kind of story behind it. It’s one of two regular singles – according to the generally accurate website Soulful Kinda Music – that Charles released on the Impulse! label, evidently between his stays at Atlantic and at ABC-Paramount. The flip side of “One Mint Julep” was “Let’s Go,” and the other single – also in 1961 – was Impulse! 2002, with “I’ve Got News For You”/“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.” In addition, there was a DJ promo release of “One Mint Julep.”

Latter-day listeners might be more familiar with other versions of at least two of the songs here. In 1970, Brian Hyland had a No. 3 hit with his cover of “Gypsy Woman.” And fans of blues artists John Hammond might recognize Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake for Me” from Hammond’s 1969 album Southern Fried. (Legend Duane Allman sat in on four tracks from Southern Fried, including “Shake For Me.”)

I’ve wondered for years as to whether Earl Palmer’s record is titled “Honky Tonk Part II” or “Honky Tonk Part 11,” as the letters on the record label sure like like a pair of 1’s to me. Or it could be “Honky Tonk Part 1” with a mistaken extra digit. I’ve gone with the Roman numeral here. It’s not something I’ve lost a lot of sleep about, but whenever I see the 45, I wonder. This is one of those 45s I’ve had likely since it came out, when my sister would occasionally come home from the record store with a bag of ten 45s for $1.25 or something like that.*

*The single is clearly “Honky Tonk Part II,” and I knew that. My comment was a lame attempt at typographical humor, as the title mistakently uses Arabic numerals and reads “Honky Tonk Part 11” instead of “Honky Tonk Part II.” Note added June 4, 2011.