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By Lawrence Henry
When I was in seventh grade, the Washington Senators moved to Minneapolis and were renamed "The Twins," for the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
A pal of mine, impressed that I was studying Spanish, asked me how to say "We want the Twins to win" in Spanish.
"Deseamos El Twins ganar," I said. (Hey, I was in seventh grade.)
Bad Spanish or no, the sentiment was widespread. After a childhood spent rooting for major league ballteams hundreds of miles away, like the Milwaukee Braves or the Cleveland Indians, I was going to get to root for a team of my own.
I recall this now because the owners of major league baseball met two weeks ago and decided to "deconstruct" - oops, no, that's not the word - "contract" baseball by two teams. Buy 'em out, at $250 million per. Get rid of them. Prime candidates include the two new teams in Florida, the Montreal Expos, and the Minnesota Twins.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Does anyone remember how bad the old Washington Senators were? "First in war, first in peace, last in the American League."
My baseball excitement shortly got an unbelievable boost. My dad, who ran the advertising department for a chain of suburban newspapers, came home one day and told us he had hired Harmon Killebrew's older brother, Gene, to be a columnist for the papers. Gene proved to be a witty and graceful writer. And Dad had done a favor for the Killebrew family. Gene had had personal troubles (I know what kind of troubles, but won't say here), and Harmon had always worried about him.
My father and mother used to visit Gene and his wife in the basement house they rented. Basement houses were finished, roofed basements, left that way and rented out by the builders till the whole house could be finished above - not uncommon in the midwest in those days. My sister and I waited in the car while Mom and Dad went in, carrying a couple of kitchen chairs and a Bible.
Harmon and Elaine Killebrew became our friends. Harmon Killebrew came to dinner at our house, always dressed in a jacket and tie, propping his enormous forearms on our dining room table. We got to go to the ballpark just about whenever we wanted to, and to sit with the players' wives and families behind home plate. We found out what the guys on the team talked about. Harmon was bewildered that the fans would boo Twins outfielder Bob Lemon. "I don't understand it," he said. "He's the nicest guy in the world."
And we got to see Jack Kralick pitch a no-hitter. Still a young man, Kralick had not yet adopted the no-windup delivery that saved his later career. He mowed down his opponents, the then-Kansas City Athletics, in methodical fashion, through six and two-thirds innings. With two outs in the seventh, he walked a batter on a three-two count, for what would be the only blemish on a perfect game.
The stunningly beautiful woman sitting in front of me - you know what major league ballplayers' wives look like - threw down her handkerchief in disgust and said, "Shit!" It was about the most thrilling thing I had ever experienced.
At least until the ninth inning, when Kralick got the last two batters to pop up in foul territory outside first. Vic Power caught both popups as he always did, with one hand, most unusual in those days. Kralick had done it.
The Kansas City Athletics are gone, morphed into the Oakland As. Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, is gone. It was a dignified, no-nonsense ballpark, much like Milwaukee's County Stadium, which is gone, too. Where Kralick pitched a no hitter now stands the Mall of America. The Twins play in a downtown park called the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, "like playing inside a Hefty bag," as Garrison Keillor has said, a plastic dome eponymously held up by hot air.
Harmon lives in Florida these days and works as a broadcaster. I don't know what happened to Gene. My Dad died in a Leisure Village in 1985. His newspapers were eventually sold to a conglomerate. My grandmother, a Bible-thumping teetotaler, used to like to sit behind a man with a good cigar at the ballpark. They don't let you smoke in ballparks any more. Instead, they play painfully loud rock and roll and try to make the whole experience as much like TV as possible.
What has happened to baseball is not so much a matter of too much this or too much that. It's simply the pursuit of too much. The worship of the endless "more" winds up at zero, when nothing is worth anything any more. So major league baseball's owners will pony up half a billion dollars to buy out and dissolve two teams.
It fits. Unfortunately, it fits.
Lawrence Henry is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.
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