Death has owned the sports news in recent weeks, nationally with Hall of Fame baseball players, and also regionally. Columns past, emails and other communiques inspired this addition to the blogosphere:
Julio Becquer, not quite an original Twin, died on Sunday at 88. He had been with the Griffith organization in Washington and was claimed by the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft before the 1961 season. He wound being sold to the Phillies in May. He was stuck in the minors before Twins owner Calvin Griffith purchased Becquer's contract on June 2, 1961 and brought him to Minnesota.
As pointed out in obits, Becquer’s moment of Twins’ infamy was a pinch-hit grand slam with two outs in the ninth to beat the White Sox, 6-4, in the first game of a doubleheader on July 4 of that year.
Julio stayed with the Twins through that first season, then wound up in the minors and the Mexican League through 1964.
I didn’t meet him as a player, and I never bought a suit from him in his 30 years working for Dayton’s (as a couple of emailers report to have done), but I did get to know him well through Tony Oliva, and Becquer was an all-time good guy.
I wrote a Julio column on July 4, 2010, and recalled that it was Calvin and his Cuban scout, Joe Cambria, that were able to get Becquer’s wife Edith out of Castro’s Cuba in 1962.
What had been forgotten was this revelation from Julio:
“I was playing for Vera Cruz in the Mexican League (in September 1963). Calvin Griffith called and said, ‘I’ve already bought your contract. Can you get up here?’ I said, ‘I’ll be there.’
“Calvin did that for me because I was one week shy of qualifying for my major league pension. You needed five years. The Twins put me on the roster for two weeks and that gave me my pension. I hadn’t even asked.’’
Another Minnesota newspapering legend – Harry Hanson of the Sauk Centre Herald – died in mid-September, one month before Sid Hartman.
Harry was 95. He had been a coach, a teacher and contributed his tales to the Herald for six decades. I was able to hang out with Harry before and after a Sauk Centre football game in September 2007.
The athletic teams carry a great nickname, the Mainstreeters, in recognition of Sinclair Lewis’ notorious 1925 novel, "Main Street.''
Lewis called his location “Gopher Priaire,’’ but people from Sauk Centre, his hometown, saw themselves being impugned and did not like it.
Harry assured me in ’07 that, 80 years later, all those resentments had long ago disappeared in Sauk Centre, but then he added this:
“I remember his funeral in January ’51. He was cremated. They took Sinclair’s ashes to the cemetery to bury them. There was a blizzard. The snow was blowing sideways. Somehow, the urn was opened and the ashes blew away.
“Sinclair’s tombstone is at the cemetery here, but his ashes wound up in Melrose.’’
Bob McDonald, the Chisholm basketball-coaching legend, died last month at age 87. Dick Garmaker, another giant figure of Iron Range basketball, died in mid-June also at 87.
Tom Dwyer sent an email with this reminder: Hibbing Junior College lost, 78-76, to Wharton County of Tyler, Texas in the 1954 championship game of the National JUCO tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
Hibbing’s Garmaker and Chisholm’s McDonald were two of the starters, along with Bill Manney (Hibbing), Bill Guidarelli (Buhl) and Leo Hartman (Chisholm).
Garmaker then went to Minneapolis, where he became an all-time great Gopher, as well as four-time NBA All-Star (1957-60) with the Lakers.
On the occasion of my 75th birthday on Oct. 17th, I wrote a column requesting this gift: super utility player Cesar Tovar, reliever Al Worthington and broadcaster Halsey Hall becoming members of the Twins Hall of Fame.
Numerous emails supporting this idea were received, and also this small anecdote from Jim Gryniewski:
“My dad and mom were at Chanhassen Dinner Theater one night in the 1970s, when the emcee stopped the show to acknowledge that Halsey Hall was in attendance.
“My dad was a big fan of Halsey. He didn’t want people to think badly of Halsey, so he stood up and waved to the crowd.’’
Daniel Tonder emailed with his vivid memories of that trio: Halsey Hall’s laugh, Al Worthington sliding his glove up his arm when rubbing the baseball, and Cesar Tovar’s energy.
Daniel also added: “I have written to you before and shared the fact my dad could not stand you. He was very conservative, a total 'homer' when it came to the Twins, and an 'America, Love it or Leave It' type of guy. Some way or another, you offended him a lot.’’
Don’t worry, Daniel. You pointed out three ways I could have offended Dad.
The great Ira Berkow, author, long-time New York Times sports columnist and feature writer, was a rookie sports writer at the Minneapolis Morning Tribiune in the mid-‘60s. Sid Hartman was the sports editor and notes columnist, with a far different view of sentences that were descriptive and contained cultural references than Berkow, a wordsmith waiting to be unleashed.
Ira sent an email on the occasion of Sid’s death, and then another after my response.
Berkow 1: “Just read your very honest obit on Sid. In the end, while he was the ultimate homer, a semi-literate writer and even less a grammarian, his energy, his devotion to his "work" and his odd cultivation of friends made him, finally at age 100, a certain kind of marvel.
“I'll always remember my two years with Sid … For quite a while he wouldn't let me write and stuck me on the (copy) desk. One day, some sports writer on the staff had departed, and he had me do a prep story.
“The next day, he gave me my one and only compliment from him, with a slap on the back as I sat at the desk, editing copy, ‘Good story. Keep ‘em short.’ “
Berkow 2: “So many Sid stories, like when he kept asking Zoilo Versalles, week after week, in a solicitous manner, if he was having any success in getting his wife moved from Cuba to America.
“And Zoilo finally said (suspiciously], ‘Seeed, why you keep asking about my wife?’ ‘’