Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bobby Thomson, R.I.P.

In part because I was a nerdy little kid, I immersed myself in baseball history as a youngster, and parents and grandparents nurtured the habit by buying me great baseball books. Not too many six-year-olds in my neighborhood could discuss Don Larsen's perfect game, Pepper Martin's 1931 World Series performance or the Philadelphia A's scoring 10 runs in an inning to beat the Cubs 10-8 in the 1929 World Series.

And one moment that always fascinated me was Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" home run. I read everything I could find about the moment, watched it hundreds of time on tape and memorized everything I could about a homer that happened five years before I was born. The story in a nutshell:

In the 1951 National League pennant race, the Brooklyn Dodgers had a 13-1/2 game lead over the New York Giants, but the Giants went 37-7 over the last few weeks and caught the Dodgers on the last day of the season, setting up a three-game playoff for the pennant. Each team won a game, and the Dodgers had a 4-2 lead in the 9th inning of Game Three. In the bottom of the 9th, Thomson hit a three-run homer off of Ralph Branca for a 5-4 win that gave the Giants the pennant. You've probably heard the immortal call of announcer Russ Hodges screaming "The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant."

Across town, the American League Champion Yankees were waiting, and a week later they won the World Series in six games, but Thomson's homer had become a milestone in baseball history. For the rest of his life, he was known for that home run. He and Branca became friends, and spent a lot of time at baseball card shows, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

The above photo was signed by the both of them, and I've always liked this picture because it illustrates the short distance the ball had to travel to the left-field porch at the Polo Grounds. Home of the Giants, the Polo Grounds was sort of a bathtub-shaped stadium, and the dimensions were bizarre: 279 feet down the left-field line, and only 259 feet down the right-field line, but an incredible 483 feet to straightaway center field. (Much of Willie Mays' greatness was found in the fact that he could cover ground adequately in the massive center field.)

Thomson passed away today at the age of 86, and a great summary of the home run and his subsequent life is found in this AP dispatch here.

A few of my favorite little tidbits from the day:

1) Red Smith, the Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter for the New York Times (and IMHO, the greatest sportswriter ever) wrote this incredible lead for his account of the day:

"Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again."

They don't write leads like that any more.

2) A little bit of trivia: The on-deck hitter, who later admitted he was afraid he would be forced to come to bat with the game on the line, was a young rookie named Willie Mays.

3) Even more trivial: As all of this was going on, a thousand miles away in St. Paul, Minnesota, a young woman named Arline Winfield was giving birth to her son, Dave, who would grow up to be perhaps the greatest athlete Minnesota has ever produced (though a first-rate a**hole as a person) and later took his place in the Hall of Fame.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

10 minutes of happiness

Here, via YouTube, is 10 minutes of video that will put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye. Enjoy.


Wow. The DFL voters think that now, in the midst of a huge fiscal crisis, the best solution is to put an alcoholic with mental health problems in charge of the state? Really?

I'm sympathetic to both those who struggle with alcoholism, and to those who face mental health challenges. Lord knows we all have our flaws and our shortcomings. But putting Mark Dayton in the governor's office sounds like an even bigger risk than taking a young one-term senator with no private-sector experience and putting him in the White House. And we all know how well that's worked out.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Goodbye Target, Hello Walmart

Here in Red Wing, we have two of the great discount retailers - Target and Walmart - sitting just a few hundred yards apart on opposite sides of Hwy. 61. Local shoppers have a clear choice, with both stores offering ample selection and low prices. There is a general sense that Walmart's prices are generally a bit lower, but at Target you almost never have to stand in long, slow lines to check out, so there are tradeoffs.

Personally, I tend to go to whichever is most convenient. If I'm coming back into town and need to stop for milk or a couple items, I'll take the right turn to Walmart instead of waiting for a left turn into Target. If I'm westbound on Hwy. 61, Target is easier. I've never made much of a distinction between the two.

Until now.

Goodbye, Target. Hello, Walmart.

The decision could have easily gone the other way, but Target drove me away with this week's bit of political theater, and a lack of corporate backbone.

As you may have read, Target made a political donation of $150,000 to a group known as MN Forward. The group is supporting candidates - including GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer - who are dedicated to improving the business climate in Minnesota. As a high-tax, high-regulation state, Minnesota has long been hostile to business and job creation.

So far, so good. But a group of local fascists known as decided they didn't like the contribution, because Emmer has spoken out against same-sex marriage. and other gay rights groups said they might boycott Target, and a few flaming militants - according to the Star-Tribune - even went so far as to go into Target and tear up their charge cards in protest.

Now, consumers certainly have a right to boycott any retailer they so choose. Nobody can be forced to shop anywhere (except, of course, Obamacare is going to force you to shop for health insurance, but that's a story for another time.) But the hypocrisy of and the others is quite evident: They have no problem with teachers and other union members being forced to contribute to a union that makes political donations to causes the members oppose. But when Target exercises its right to become involved in the political process, the lefties throw a hissy fit.

So I should be happy with Target, right? They supported the right cause, and they backed it up with cash.

But then they backed down. CEO Gregg Steinhafel issued an apology to Target employees for making the contribution, saying he was "genuinely sorry" that some had been offended, and restated Target's strong committment to gay causes.

What he should have done - and what would have been best in the long run for Target's shareholders - would have been to say something like: "Anyone who wants to boycott us has the right to do so, but we won't be bullied or intimidated into giving up our First Amendment right to participate in the political process. We're here to provide service to our customers, jobs for our employees and returns for our shareholders, and this contribution is a way we feel we can accomplish our goals. If you don't like the way we do business, feel free to shop elsewhere."

Instead, he caved in to the bullying of the left-wing thought police, who have no respect for the rights of others.

And because of that, I have to take my business across the road to Walmart.