Sunday, November 11, 2012

MILLER TIME

Today its Miller time!

My tribute to the veterans of our country is in the form of my fave servant of freedom, my dear old departed dad. He was a marine and also served in the airforce during the two wars of the mid-2oth century. He never saw action in either, but did spend time overseas and stateside in the military efforts to defend our future.
So for him I have dedicated the background of the page, as well as  todays content to his favorite minor league team - his hometown Minneapolis Millers!
Minneapolis Millers bench in 1948 after a no hitter by Monte Kennedy vs Louisville

The WayBack Machine

The Millers date back to the 1880s, and quickly developed a rivalry with nearby St.Paul. The Saint Paul Saints are still playing today in an independent league, while the Millers folded when the Washington Senators came to town and renamed themselves the Twins.

By the time my dad came along to join the knothole gang, the Millers had already developed a nice history as a farm team for the Red Sox, but following the second world war the Millers were affiliated with the New York Giants. Ted Williams had come and gone, but the Giants brought some solid farmhands and big league veterans on the back side of their careers to Minneapolis.
Nicolette Park - home of the Minneapolis Millers

Say Hey

1951 was a year I often head about from dad. It was the year he and the rest of the city of Minneapolis went crazy for Willie Mays. Mays was so popular that when he was called to the Giants there was a full page apology from the big league team to the citizens of Minneapolis. Whats amazing about that is the fact that Willie was only in triple-A for less than two months, he made his Giants debut on May 25th!
Willie Mays score a run for the Millers April 1951 - Ray Dandridge is on the right



Willie was known to stay after games to play catch with the kids until the sun went down, Nicollet park didnt have lights. The kids all felt that Mays was their best friend and I imagine each of them carried that sentiment with them for the rest of their lives, as children remember that kind of thing and hold to it strongly - like my meeting with Mickey Mantle stuck with me.


Old Sarge


Also on that team were future hall of famers Hoyt Wilhelm and Ray Dandridge.

Wilhelm was one of the greatest knuckleballers of all time, and taught it to kids who wanted to learn it. My dad was among those who took lessons in the butterfly pitch. Being lefthanded, dads knuckler was kind of goofy, fun to watch but not to catch and almost impossible for me to hit in the backyard! I love thinking that I was able to strike out on a pitch my dad learned from a hall of famer.

Leo Durocher goes to his closer, Hoyt Wilhelm - catcher is Bill Rigney, I think the umpire is Jocko Conlan ca 1951

Wilhelm threw over 200 innings for the Millers in 51, and would the next year redefine baseball by winning 15 games for the Giants out of the bullpen. Before Hoyt the bullpen was where ineffective starting pitchers were sent, nobody had used a relief pitcher as an effective weapon late in games. A large part of Leo Durochers legacy is his mouth but he invented the Closers role and Hoyt Wilhelm was the first really effective closer on a championship team in the modern era.

Oh, btw, Wilhelm was a WWII veteran, earning a purple heart for being wounded during the famous Battle of the Bulge.


Hooks

Ray Dandridge was a negro league great even before playing with white guys, an amazing player who has become one of my personal favorites. Sadly Dandridge never got a chance to play at the major league level, but his career numbers are fantastic no matter where he plays.

Ray Dandridge as a Minneapolis Miller ca 1950


At the time of Mays callup, I think Dandridge was actually a better choice to get the call, but it went to Mays and worked out pretty well for most everyone involved. Later I will get into why I think that, but Dandridge was the reigning MVP of triple-A and at the top of his game that season.

I'm told Dandridge possessed a cannon arm and developed flashy habits to show it off. For dads Millers he played third base which gave him plenty of opportunities. He seemed to have a great intuition for how fast a hitter could run and toy with them, fielding a grounder and waiting to throw to first until the very last moment to get them by an eyelash. He loved to see the hitter run harder as he tried to beat the throw.

He just LOOKS like a dangerous hitter!


With twelve errors in over a hundred games in 1951, his .951 fielding percentage was much better than what the Giants had in 3b Hank Thompson's .925 at the big league level. He could hit a little bit too, starting at age 36 when he joined integrated minor league ball he hit .312 until he was 41, and this after his long and storied Negro League career.

IMPO BARNHILL

I would be remiss if I didnt mention my fave negro league pitcher, who also plays with the '51 Millers - David Barnhill.

Dave Barnhill with the New York Cubans


I found Barnhills name not only on the 1951 Minneapolis Millers roster, but signed on a program from a Millers game that my dad attended and it got me started looking at who he was.

Dave Barnhill was from North Carolina and was as great a pitcher as there ever was. What kept him from being a household name was simply one thing  - Satchel Paige.

1943 East West Negro League All Star Game Starters


While with the Negro League he faced off against Satchel in the AllStar Game in 1943, the East-West game of that year being one of the most legendary of Negro League games in history.  Somehow everyone remembered Satchel, but Barnhill fell off the radar in spite of having 20 win seasons and making All Star game appearances three straight years.

Later with the Ethiopian Clowns he used his slight build to his advantage, developing the "Impo" character by wearing facepaint and proving the Homestead Grays wrong in passing him up for his smaller frame not being durable. Some scholars have called the Clowns the entertainment side of the Negro League games, but I suspect that in the heat of the afternoon when the facepaint starts to melt the cute and funny clowns are downright scary to the point of intimidation.

Barnhill was one of the first to be described as "throwing asprin tablets". He, like Dandridge and many others, played also in Cuba and Mexico with much success and achieving more fame abroad than he got in the States.
rare shot of Barnhill in Cuba


It was a good year...

1951 was the year of Robby Thompsons "Shot heard round the world", Mays won the Rookie of the Year award. Well, except for the fact that the Giants lost the World Series. Kind of let the air out, but still a nice year!


Go West....

or

I'll trade ya my triple-A affiliate for your triple-a affiliate

you can keep the Senators or take what's behind the curtain

A few years after that big 1951 season, in 1958, the New York Giants became the SF Giants and the Millers were part of a deal that saw two whole teams traded. The Giants gave Minneapolis to Boston for the San Francisco Seals and moved their whole base of operations there to become the San Francisco Giants.

A new minor league affilliate was set up, since the need was there after dealing away the Millers home. This was became the Phoenix Giants, who later moved around, but thats another story.

I asked my dad how he took the move, as some in baseball consider the Giants leaving New York to be the end of the golden era of the game. He said that his work with the military relocated him to Arizona in 1958, that he and the Giants and the Millers all went west at the same time!


The good guys

Dad claimed the Millers were all good guys, that they always had time to say hi to a kid and were known around the town. There were times the team would volunteer for civic events that would require strong guys or heavy lifting, and players were often in the volunteer fire brigade.

I heard alot about Babe Barna being a easy to talk to, about Wilhelm showing how to toss the knuckler, Dixie Howell and Bama Rowell having funny accents and the doubleheader days when teams would play in Minneapolis in the morning and St.Paul in the afternoon.
1950 Millers, as close as I have, so sue me


ONE BAD APPLE

There was one guy who left an impression much different than the others. After much prodding, dad told me about meeting Hall of Famer Johnny Mize. After an exhibition game against the Millers in Minneapolis, back when that actually happened, dad was excited to get this big league greats signature on a baseball card. Mize told him "Get lost, kid."

Even The Big Cat can be a crab


Many years afterwards, dad said he came across the Hall of Famer at a baseball card show signing for a fee. Dad said he had wanted to buy a ticket to get Mize to sign a card only to tear it up in Mize's face, just to get back at him and remind him of how he broke a kids heart in 1947.

But when he got to the front of the line, The Big Cat was just an old man. A tired old man who had his whole life in the past. Dad said it was just so sad, he couldn't bring himself to go through with it, and just left, taking the high road forty years later.

I learned alot from dad!
 



Well folks, thats about long enough, right?
Check ya on the flipside!
Chico Esquela - Beisbol been berry good to me

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