Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Last Innocents

"So we shall let the reader answer the question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed."  Hunter S. Thompson, "The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967"

In "The Last Innocents: The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers" Michael Leahy employs the Hunter S. Thompson quote to open his narrative along with this one by slick-fielding first baseman Wes Parker, a Dodger for nine years beginning in 1964: "I had one shot to make it in life - not in baseball - in life.  I was fighting for my survival. . . .  So if this didn't work out, I don't know . . . .  My life would have been over."
Maury Wills, who stole 104 bases in 1962
While the "age of innocence" concept is much overused, as if the decade preceding JFK's assassination fit the TV stereotype "Happy Days," I believe it applies to the African American baseball players Leahy wrote about - including MVP Maury Wills and batting champion Tommy Davis, who during the era before free agency each made less than $50,000 a year.  Reared in the Washington, D.C.,  Parkside ghetto, Wills struggled for eight years as a minor leaguer until coach Bobby Bragan worked patiently with him to become a switch hitter while managing the Spokane Indians of the Pacific Coast League.  An Alabaman, Bragan in 1947 had signed a petition objecting to Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers, and he had come to regret doing so.  Leahy wrote: "Bragan's life had taught Wills about the possibility for change and redemption in his own."  In 1962 the year he broke Ty Cobb's base stealing record, Wills received racist hate mail, and when Dodger management learned of his affair with blond actress Doris Day, he was ordered to break it off.

Coming from New York City's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Tommy Davis organized a demonstration that ended segregation in the Vero Beach ball park where the Dodgers played spring training games.  Raised by abusive parents in the affluent L.A. Brentwood neighborhood (where O. J. Simpson later purchased a house), Wes Parker was handsome and talented but prone to depression and directionless until he embarked on a longshot gamble to become a professional baseball player, starting in a winter league where, according to Leahy, "a ragtag bunch of dreamers and nobodies - mostly former collegiate and high school players who'd never attracted  the interest of professional teams - competed in unpublicized games with a few journeymen minor leaguers."
Wes Parker and adult entertainer Morganna in 1970
In a chapter titled "The Riotous Season" Leahy mentioned the 1965 Watts riot erupting from a confrontation between white LAPD officers and ghetto residents.  Driving home from Dodger Stadium, Maury Wills, John Roseboro, and Lou Johnson wore their uniforms so cops wouldn't mistake them for troublemakers.  The  second baseman spent hours in front of his Maury Wills Stolen base Cleaners to discourage brothers from torching it.  One day when his car wouldn't start, Wes Parker drove from Brentwood through burnt-out neighborhoods to pick him up, marveling at a world he'd never before imagined.  Career minor leaguer Lou Johnson, called up from Spokane when Tommy Davis broke his leg sliding into second, had an improbably successful year, culminating in the winning home run in the seventh game of the World Series against Minnesota.  During his abbreviated season, leaning over home plate, he was hit by a pitched ball 16 times, second only to Frank Robinson.  When a reporter asked him why he attacked the ball so ferociously in batting practice, he replied, "because it's fuckin' white," a remark that went unreported.  Of Maury Wills Johnson said: "He would piss off Gad to win.  He was the leader of the band.  He showed everybody how to do it.  Need a  steal and a run?  He got the motherfuckin' steal and a run."

In August 1965 in San Fransisco an infamous brawl occurred with Giant pitcher Juan Marichal on the mound.  After the Dominican star threw fastballs at Wills and Ron Fairly, Dodger catcher John Roseboro threw a fastball inches from Marichal's head while he was at bat.  The two exchanged words, Roseboro advanced toward Marichal, who began to retreat and then raised his bat and clubbed Roseboro several times on the head.  Both benches emptied.  Giant Willie Mays, a friend of Roseboro's and future Hall of Famer,  rushed to him and, fearing that his eye was out of his socket, cradled his head in his arms as tears streamed down his face.  Wes Parker later said, "If it hadn't been for Mays, there would've been a riot in the ballpark."  Marichal received a ten-game suspension.  Roseboro was back in the lineup four games later.  He subsequently became friends, and Marichal was an honorary pallbearer at Roseboro's funeral.

Wills is not in baseball's Hall of Fame despite reinvigorating a stodgy sport with "small ball" tactics reminiscent of the Negro leagues in their heyday.  His statistics compare favorably with Hall of Fame shortstops Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, and Luis Aparicio and he was a role model for premier base stealers such as Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who eclipsed Wills' single-season stolen base record and Ty Cobb's career mark.

At the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Portage Toni and I registered the new Corolla and transferred title to the 2004 Toyota to son Dave.  Afterwards Angie made hamburgers for all of us.  That evening I played duplicate bridge Charlie Halberstadt at the Chesterton Y.  My most interesting hand was a three No-Trump bid.  I had eight tricks but needed a three-three split in either clubs or diamonds to make the contract.  I had four diamonds, Ace-King in my hand and three small diamonds in dummy, whereas that hand contained five clubs led by the Ace-King while I held just two small clubs.  I chose to play the diamonds since I only had one entry to the board.  It worked and I made the bid for a middle board.  One couple had been set at three No-Trump and another stopped at two No-Trump, but two others made four No-Trump. choosing, I guess, to go for the club split.

Much to my surprise, the Cubs-Reds game was still in progress while I was driving home.  In fact, it lasted 15 innings, with Chicago finally scoring five runs in Cincinnati, climaxed by a grand slam by Javier Baez, for a 7-2 win.  He had gone 0 for six and struggled all night on curve balls, but on an 0-2 count Javy crushed a heater right down the middle.

The chair I use at the Sears desk is on four rollers, and occasionally for no apparent reason one  comes off, causing the chair to tilt.  I have to get down on the floor to fix the problem, but no sooner do I lift the chair to put the roller back than the one opposite falls out.  After much cursing, I announced that I was going to throw the chair out - it wasn't that comfortable anyway.  With more patience than I, Toni subsequently fixed it, so I'll give it another chance.

At Gelsosomo's for a condo board meeting, the main topics were whether to hire a management company plus issues of landscaping, painting, and wasps in a resident's attic.  We intend to hire a management company but put off the vote until a representative makes a presentation at the next owners meeting.  One person complained that landscapers cut down her raspberry and azalea bushes while another claimed her overgrown bushes had been untended (we authorized $100 to have the area cleared so the owner could have her deck painted).  A painter evidently fell off a ladder and his paint bucket went flying, splashing paint onto deck furniture.  We debated whether the board was responsible for wasp eradication since they were inside the unit but had must have gotten in from outside.  I repeated a story about Harry S Truman waiting a day before sending letters he wrote in anger and then not mailing most of them and also quoted LBJ about preferring FBI director J. Edgar Hoover being inside the tent pissing out than outside posing in.
Rhea Melrose of green castle, Indiana, was among the fans who gathered at 2300 Jackson Street in Gary on the seventh anniversary of Michael Jackson's death.  Post-Trib photo by Jim Karczewski

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