Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Curt Walker: A Timeline into Father’s Day

June 17, 2018

Happy Father’s Day 2018, Everyone!

16.5 years after the fact, Rob Zimmerman (R) receives the induction plaque awarded to his great-grandfather, Curt Walker, by the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in December 2001.
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Photo by Bob Dorrill

If they asked me, I could write a book. But they didn’t ask. So, we will settle for a small column on the rich subject of Curt Walker as a timeline into the even taller topic of how culturally bound up the game of baseball was to so many of us when it came down to having a good father figure available when it came down to having a working father figure present in our lives — in some form, or forms — during our critical early time as innocent, but loving-needful boys and girls.

I had to look no further than my own father and his childhood experience to see the waves of paternal need placed into motion in my dad’s life by the loss of his own father early in life. In May 1913, at the age of 2 1/2, and as the 3rd oldest of four children born to William and Elizabeth McCurdy of Beeville, Texas — and only boy — my grandfather William McCurdy died of TB, leaving his family in the hands of my very strong grandmother, but without his presence as a model paternal presence. Grandad was the founder. publisher, editor, and principal writer of The Beeville Bee, the town’s first newspaper.

As a result, Dad got shipped off to boarding school almost as soon as his school age days began. It was there that he discovered his skill and affinity for baseball, a game he also played on the sandlots of Beeville every summer that he was home. It was an interest among the boys of Beeville that found strong reenforcement in the fact that three other slightly older town boys had played their ways to the big leagues by 1925.

Melvin Bert Gallia (YOB: 1891; MLB: 1912-1920), Curt Walker (YOB: 1896; MLB: 1919-1930), and Lefty Lloyd Brown (YOB: 1904; MLB: 1925, 1928-1937, 1940) were the native Beeville trailblazers to big league ball. Because of his own enjoyment of hitting, and also influenced by the fact that he shared the same BL/TR outfield post, easily converted Dad into becoming a big fan of Curt Walker, a condition which apparently worked fine for Walker, who became something of a 14 years older big brother figure to Dad as the two men’s friendship grew over time.

The presence of baseball gave Curt Walker and my dad the basis for a relationship that would last a lifetime. From the late 1920s summer times of Dad and his buddies going down to the Western Union or the Beeville Bee-Picayune offices to get the late afternoon scores for the Cincinnati Reds because that was Curt Walker’s team — to all the cups of coffee they shared later as grown men regular customers of the American Cafe — baseball was healing cultural water that brought new strength to areas of life that could hurt so bad.

Rob and Stacy Zimmerman of Charleston, SC included Houston on their family roots tour of South Texas to participate in the induction materials luncheon ceremony at the Jax Bar and Grill on Shepherd, held as part of our June SABR meeting.
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Photo by The Pecan Park Eagle

We owe a debt of gratitude this Father’s Day to Rob and Stacy Zimmerman of Charleston, South Carolina. Had Rob’s pursuit of information, lost and found, about Curt Walker, the man who turned out to be his great-grandfather, we may have lost the opportunity forever to have been reminded of why baseball is so important to the strength and structure of American culture. Had Stacy not been the patient life partner to Rob that she very obviously is, he might have been inclined to have abandoned the pursuit after we almost got together for a transfer of these awards to him years ago.

To that, I must say this about our newly found brother and sister, with a salute to the service they have each put forth in commitment to the rest of us:

“Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force ~ especially when its aims are supported by patience and resilience!”

A tight framed 8×10 bust of Curt Walker from this September 1919 photo of his brief stay with the Yankees at the tail end of his rookie season was also presented to the SC couple during the ceremony, along with a few other historical goodies and a round of Curt Walker stories. – Photo compliments of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library Collection, Cooperstown.

In addition to the 2001 Curt Walker Induction plaque from the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. Rob Zimmerman accepted possession on Saturday, June 16, 2018, of an 8×10″ tightly framed facial profile of 23 year old Curt Walker dressed out as a 1919 New York Yankee. He also received a replica copy of Curt Walker’s 1926 Cincinnati Reds cap, a signed copy of Curt Walker’s Louisville Slugger bat, and a few books to read on Houston baseball history.

December 15, 2001. The Curt Walker Louisville Slugger bat was signed by Will Clark and all the other living fellow inductees from 2001, plus MLB stars likes Bobby Brown and Texas League icon Bobby Bragan. (Photo by Bob Dorrill.)

The room of our Saturday meeting overflowed with love, appreciation, and good feelings yesterday. And that’s as it should be. Today, Ron and Stacy are in Beeville, where my brother John McCurdy will show them where Curt Walker once lived – and then take them to Glenwood Cemetery to see where Curt Walker is buried.

Baseball is the great uniter of different people, even rivals, who are bound together – even in difference – to the importance of historic connectivity – and our shared commitment to the great game of baseball as the saving grace of us all.

Peace. Love. And Play Ball!

And Happy Father’s Day too!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

A Brewster McCloud Review by Wayne R. Roberts

June 12, 2018

Brewster McCloud Soars Again
In the Astrodome, 1970.

A Brewster McCloud Review

By Wayne R. Roberts

Thank you, Wayne, for including me as a recipient of an e-mail that was really an Astrodome and Houston history column that cried out loudly for publication. ~ i.e., Welcome to The Pecan Park Eagle as another fine contributing author! ~ Bill McCurdy, Publisher.

I’ve been waiting for 12 years to get Brewster McCloud from Netflix but for some reason they haven’t carried it.  I was tipped that it is now available on Amazon in a new remastered DVD and ordered it.

In the event you haven’t seen it I’ll spare telling the plot of this surrealistic film made in Houston in 1970 by legendary director Robert Altman.  Never his most popular flick, it apparently was done immediately after MASH and uses many actors that appear  over ad over in Altman movies: Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy, John Schuck, and Stacey Keach and introduces Shelley Duvall who Altman discovered in early film preparation when she was a clerk in the Greenspoint Mall Foley’s.  It also includes Margaret Hamilton who was the wicked witch in, yes, The Wizard of Oz.

Not particularly politically correct (was Altman ever?), it is a must for those who lived in Houston at that time.  For me, the shots in Astroworld are breathtaking—made in the area in which I groundskept, though not when I was there.

Quickly, here’s what I took away in this first viewing in 20 years, in no particular order:

  • Houston skyline, whoa, was it different
  • The Medical Center sure was smaller
  • Chase scenes occur in the South Main, Loop 610, OST area and the cow pastures and fields are shocking
  • Brewster lives in the bomb shelter in the Dome
  • Incredible behind the scenes shots of the Dome
  • On the radio: Hudson & Harrigan and KILT news
  • 1970 Houston Chronicle
  • Drive along South Main includes Ye Olde College Inn
  • North Main includes the old M&M Cotton Exchange (now UH-Downtown)
  • Love Street/Allen’s Landing
  • Astroworld Hotel exterior and rooms
  • Astrodome gift shop, Domeskeller, The Countdown Cafeteria
  • Houston Zoo
  • Game shots of the Astros from the screen where you passed to go from the outfield bleachers to the Mezzanine (or tried to sneak through)
  • Weingarten’s in Montrose
  • Mecom Fountain
  • Pre rehab buildings along Montrose Blvd
  • Uncrowded freeways—many many driving scenes of downtown and SW Houston, OST-Fannin area chase scenes
  • Humble and Esso gas stations
  • Brays Bayou
  • Allen Parkway at early Tranquility Park (I think that’s its name)

For us old-timers, this is a must watch.

This is worth a more elaborate McCurdy report after you see it!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

Astrodome Historical Marker Now In Place

May 31, 2018

 

The Astrodome Plaque Awaits Introduction
May 29, 2018
(Photo by Bob Dorrill)

Aptly Guarded By Two Historical Centurions,
Mike Acosta (L) of the Houston Astros
and
Mike Vance of the Harris County Historical Commission
(Photo by Bob Dorrill)

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett
Was Present to Preside Over a Moment
That His Leadership Helped Make Happen.
(Photo by Mike McCroskey)

Dene Hofheinz and Larry Dierker
Two Astrodome Icons in Their Own Rights
Made the Day Even Brighter.
(Photo by Bob Dorrill)

The Astrodome was a place where dreams gave birth to bigger worlds. Tal and Johnie Smith were both a big part of that condition of great hope that was Houston when it entered the big leagues in 1962 and the Astrodome in 1965.
(Photo by Bob Dorrill)

Dene Hofheinz, Daughter of Judge Roy Hofheinz, takes a turn to speak at the unveiled plaque at “the 8th wonder of the world”.
(Photo by Wayne Chandler)

Smiles and happy faces prevail!
(Photo by Mike McCroskey)

Hail! Hail! The SABR Gang’s All Here! ….
In Spirit at Least!
(Photo by Mike McCroskey)

Two of the Iconic Astrodome’s Greatest Early Franchise Legends,
Tal Smith and Larry Dierker,
Finish the Pictorial Part of our Report with Big and Knowing Smiles.
What better way to end this beautiful picture flow of the big day!
Now stay tuned below for the written report by Bob Dorrill.
(Photo by Wayne Chandler)

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Astrodome Historical Marker Now In Place

By Bob Dorrill

Tuesday afternoon, May 29, 2018, a State Historical Marker provided by the Houston Astros honoring the location of the Houston Astrodome was unveiled by Judge Ed Emmett, Dene Hofheinz, daughter of Judge Roy Hofheinz, who had the original vision for the Astrodome, Larry Dierker, former Astros player, manager, and broadcaster, early dome stadium team construction advisor and administrative magnate Tal Smith, and several others. Mike Vance of the Harris County Historical Commission and Mike Acosta, Astros’ team historian, acted as emcees.

Approximately 100 stalwart fans, including 12 members of the Larry Dierker Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) attended the ceremony where several proclamations were read, stories told and memories relived prior to the unveiling of the marker so craftily worded by Messrs. Vance and Acosta.

On a hot baseball day in Houston we were all so thankful that “The Eighth Wonder of the World” had been built to provide air conditioned comfort for the many venues that were to use the facility over the years. Ironically, our shared memories of the Astrodome’s AC system were of no use to us on this typically hot Houston summer weather day.

The deed has now been done. And even the torrid parking lot heat could not override the smiles of joy that now kicked in over the fact that Houston’s world class contribution to both architecture and the still unfolding history of sporting venue comfort all really started on April 9, 1965, when Houston opened the door to incredible change with an exhibition baseball game played between the newly re-christened Houston Astros and the venerable champions of earlier times, the New York Yankees.

It’s too bad the late Neil Armstrong could not have been with us this Tuesday, May 29, 2018. Perhaps, he may have been able to further anoint today’s event as “one small step for local politics; one giant leap for Houston’s historical respect.”

Mind if we borrow the essence of your spirit, Mr. Armstrong? We’re pretty darn proud of what these people, and others of their “preservationist” minds and voices have done to make this historical marker dedication happen.

The Astrodome is now declared to be a state Antiquities Landmark, and it is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. As Judge Emmett said about the Dome, “Let’s not leave here today thinking just about the history, but about how generations to come will use it – and how it will be part of their lives.

Long Live the Dome!

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Starting Nine for the Windsor Royals

May 19, 2018

 

The Duke of Earl will serve as manager of the newly formed WIndsor Royals club, if they can get their British act off the ground and running in the fine arts of American Baseball play.

Congratulations, Harry and Meghan! Now that the royal wedding’s over, we dedicate this lineup to the both of you. Now it’s your turn to start knocking out a few additions to the already complex line of succession to the Royal Throne of England.

I didn’t exactly wake up to see the Royal Wedding this morning, but that’s pretty much how it worked out, even to the point of inspiring some research into the creation of today’s most recent lineup column, which are always fun for me, even if that’s as far as the merriment goes.

“Now Playing Ball for the Windsor Royals ….”

ROYALS POSITION MLB YEARS CAREER YEAR RECORD
Mel Queen Pitcher 1966-1972 1967 14-8, 2.76
Hal King Catcher 1967-1974 1970 .260, 11 HR
Tom Prince 1st Base 1987-2003 1991 .265, 1 HR
Howard Earl 2nd Base 1890-1891 1890 .247, 7 HR
Ray Knight 3RD Base 1974-1988 1979 .318, 10 HR
Harry Lord Shortstop 1907-1915 1911 .318, 10 HR
Zach Duke Left Field 2005-2018 2011 (pitcher) .300, 2 HR
Duke Snider Center Field 1947-1964 1954 .341, 41 HR *
Ray Noble Right Field 1951-1953 1951 (catcher) .234, 5 HR
  • It’s OK for this club of Royals to have two Dukes, even if one of them only uses “Duke” as a first name, as long as the one first-named “Duke” happens to be Duke Snider. Somebody’s got bat somebody in – even if that only happens when this one great hitting “first-name’s-Duke” star knocks it out of the park.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Larry Miggins: A Man for All Seasons

May 18, 2018

Larry and Kathleen Miggins
St. Patrick’s Day 2017

 

During the early 1940s, our very own Houston SABR baseball treasure was a student at Fordham Prep in New York City, where excelled in baseball, basketball, and football — eventually earning a football scholarship as a tight end, offense and defense in those days, of course, to play for the University of Pittsburgh.

Larry also played baseball at Pitt, but passed on basketball because of the conflict it presented to his scholarship time on the gridiron. And this was in the days in which a young man of 6’4″ in height was considered tall enough to be a dominant force.

Basketball Force? Miggins could shoot too — once totaling 38 points in a single game. And in baseball, Miggins played third base in those days, taking infield grounders and playing catch with one of the Pitt voluntary coaches — a fellow named Honus Wagner.

Well, this winter, the For Prep football people decided it was a high time they recognized Mr. Miggins for all he did in behalf of their good name on the gridiron back in 1943. They selected 92-year old Larry Miggins for induction into the Fordham Prep Football Hall of Fame.

In his usual humble way, Larry Miggins shared this news with us in Houston at the SABR April 2018 meeting. Fordham wanted Larry and his wife Kathleen to come to NYC for the induction at the annual banquet of their Gridiron Club on May 5, 2018.

As things turned out, Larry wasn’t up to the travel requirement this time, but he did appear on video to deliver this very charming and honest acceptance speech to the offer of this honor.

Do yourselves a favor. Pick out a ten minutes time span you may listen in peace. Then turn on the sound to your video replay equipment in advance and click the link below to watch and listen to Larry Miggins accepting this deserved honor in digital person.

Once you click the link and reach the site’s home page, simply click the middle bar — the one noted as “Larry Miggins ’43 Gridiron Hall of Fame Induction Speech” — to see and hear Larry talk it through from the heart — as he does everything else.

Then, when that’s done, do yourselves another favor and read the eloquently thorough article that David E. Skelton wrote on Larry Miggins in behalf of the SABR biography project in 2015.

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/f925ea43

Larry Miggins turns 93 on August 20, 2018.

God Bless You, Larry! — And May God Bless us for the time He has given us with you!

You are very, very loved — and my own love for you started back in my Pecan Park Eagle days. From that ancient personal time, I am still able to run mental images of you walking to the plate at Buff Stadium, bashing line drives over the left field wall. I just never dreamed back then that you would still be in my life seventy years later.

What a wonderful world this has turned out to be.

Thanks, old friend and hero. From the bottom to the top of our shared Irish being-ness, I thank you too — for being you.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

The Tommy John World We Live In

May 17, 2018

Tommy-John-2

 

“When they operated, I told them to add in a Koufax fastball.

They did, but unfortunately it was Mrs. Koufax’s.”

– Tommy John, N.Y. Yankees, recalling his 1974 arm surgery

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Can you imagine what it must have been like for Tommy John? Or still may be? He went into baseball as a pretty fair pitching prospect, but a common career-ending injury to his arm transported him to a medical doctor who performed a radical surgery on John that not only saved his place as an MLB pitcher for a while longer, It also forever set up his name — “Tommy John” — to become more the identity of this particular surgery than it ever was as the name of the first pitcher who saved his career because of it.

When we hear today that arm injury to a current big league pitcher is going to cause him to miss the rest of this season and possibly most or all of next year because of “Tommy John”, we all know what that means. There is no time wasted blaming the former pitcher named “Tommy John” for the ballplayer’s bad news.

“Tommy John” is surgery first — a ballplayer barely. But it works in our minds and that’s apparently what counts.

At any rate, the “Tommy John” human expression of humor, about coming back to the game with the fastball speed of “Mrs. Koufax”, did pull me back to all the other human beings who have lost their identities to other matters in life, and we’re not talking anything possible in a single column. It would require more of a book, or a book series, to cover all the streets, airports, and cities in America alone that take their identities directly from adopted or applied human names.

JFK and LaGuardia airports in NYC are great examples. But how about the City of Houston?

Texas History teaches us that Texan Army General Sam Houston won the Battle of San Jacinto in eighteen minutes over General Santa Anna and the Mexican Army on April 21, 1836 at a site just east of present day Pasadena. Today that win is celebrated as Texas Independence Day.

The Irony of San Jacinto probably is the fact that the previously described battle was both the first and last time that anyone got anything done anywhere near “Houston” in eighteen minutes. Today, in 2018, I can’t even drive from home to my office in eighteen minutes, — and I live only five miles away.

Houston street names are often the result of names put forth by elected officials who just happened to think of a name from their own histories that was different enough to stand out among the other nearby street names. Gessner Road on the west side, for example, was a name supplied decades ago when that north-south passage was little more than a two-lane passage through a still fairly agricultural part of the county and not the “new downtown” Houston it is becoming.

Harris County Commissioner Squatty Lyons suggested “Gessner” when he recalled having a classmate by that name at then Reagan High School years earlier. There was no other distinguishing reason beyond the fact that Lyons remembered the name and that it fit the name distinction needs during a year in which that sort of thing was declared as important.

We do have a baseball byway in Houston. The Nolan Ryan Expressway, a north-south artery on the southeast side of town, has proved an apt name for the several miles long section of State Highway 288 that runs near to Minute Maid Park, the home of the Houston Astros, but it certainly hasn’t “Tommy Johned” the old Alvin Strikeout King’s primary ownership of that identity.

Personally, I would like to see the Katy Freeway, from downtown Columbus, Texas, given back its local bullet train parallel track, – all the way to downtown Houston with three strategic stops along the way in Sealy, Katy, and Gessner for passengers prepared to travel at bullet-train speed over short distances. Call it the Larry Dierker49Fastball Line and make it so workable that consumers will reference themselves as being Dierkered to the office for a special meeting with the boss.”

Then just watch the suburbs between here and Columbus continue to grow at an even faster rate.

Along those same lines —

Maybe, if they can get sign-off approval from former Astros great Jimmy Wynn, they could christen that bullet train’s Houston to Dallas ride as The Toy Cannon. Sounds pretty strong and fast to me. What do you think? Of course, if we could get the Dallas people to sign off on the other side, this would be a great place for a railed extension of The Nolan Ryan Expressway as the north to south version of the trip. After all, Nolie and Son did sort of come back to Houston when all was said and done. Did they not?

Lou Gehrig’s Disease comes to mind far easier for what it is in reality. We doubt that many people know it’s scientific name, — or likely would there be many of us shouting out the answer to this question: “What is a more common name for a disease catalogued as “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis”?

That’s it for now from our side, but we would love your help in further Tommy Johning the world with the individual name identities that are more associated with the action or event itself than the formal name that goes with whatever it may have been called in scientific or legal language.

Have a hope-floating night, Astro friends, as we slide toward the weekend home series with the Indians. If we could simply “Justin Verlander” all our Astro starters into pitching the kind of game that the original “JV” threw against the Angels on the wings of a 2-0 complete game shutout on Wednesday night —  and get the same results — where do you suppose we might be this coming November 1st?

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

Drew Blake’s Entry: Greatest HR Ever!

May 16, 2018

And Drew Blake didn’t even have to call the shot he hit to his own dad in his last collegiate game.

 

Infielder Drew Blake Hits HR to His Dad in Lasr College Game

 

https://www.mlb.com/cut4/in-the-final-home-game-of-his-career-this-college-senior-hit-a-hr-right-into-his-dads-arms/c-276897800

Note: Just another example of why baseball mythology sticks so hard, so fast. — It’s because even the real stories of baseball, like this one, are so often incredible to the nth degree.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

Rest In Peace, Patrick Lopez

April 16, 2018

Rest in Peace, Patrick Lopez!
Your Devotion to Family, Your Love of Life, and Your Artistic Always Growing Gifts to the World Are Your Ongoing Legacy!

Patrick George Lopez
1937-2018

Patrick George Lopez died on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 after a brief stay in hospice. He was born in Houston on January 7, 1937 to Manuel and Carmen Lopez.

He married Barbara Jean Holman in 1961. Survivors include his wife of 57 years, his children (Claudia, Patrick, and Sarah), his grandchildren (Patrick Joey and Justin), and his brother (John David).

As an architectural delineator, he worked with some of the most important national and local architects and architectural firms of the post WWII era, including Skidmore Owings and Merrill, Johnson Burgee, and Helmut Jahn.

He loved his family, his lifelong home of Houston, his pets (Oso!), baseball, the Astros, art, buildings, music (he was a lifelong piano player), fishing, plants (he grew orchids, bromeliads, succulents), and a good meal.

A public memorial will be held in the future at an as-yet undetermined date.

Published in Houston Chronicle on Apr. 15, 2018

Title: “Buffalo Walking” or “Travis Street Park” By Patrick Lopez (at Fair Grounds Base Ball Park), One of Several Works that Patrick did for the 2014 “Early Houston” Baseball History Book researched and written by members of the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR and published in 2014.

Patrick Lopez finished a year ahead of me at St. Thomas High School in 1955. Although we never really knew each other at St. Thomas, Patrick always impressed me then as a very nice and thoughtful person. He could often be seen staring across the front lawn during classroom breaks, looking far to the south, beyond Buffalo Bayou. We never actually met until the Houston Early Baseball book project arose, nearly 55 years later, but it was only then that the question clarified about this true 21st century Renaissance man came to roost. — He could have been thinking about anything much earlier in life — as long as it was artistic, giving of itself in part to some greater whole idea, then it probably was getting the attention of the naturally artistic Patrick Lopez.

When our team member Mike Vance, with some independent discovery work help from Darrell Pittman, finally found that the Travis Street Ballpark was our best bet as Houston’s first true organized baseball park, we had no pictures of the same, but we did possess some very detailed newspaper writing on the construction of the place.

Patrick Lopez was able to let his creative mind go to bed with all these black worn sentences on fading white paper and put together for our eyes — and the whole world — to see — how it was meant to be seen. The watercolor work featured here is only one of the many he did that gave us all a vision into how the typical game day looked to Houstonians back in the 19th century. If you can hear the sound of horse hooves making a steady beat up and down Travis — and if you can hear the thud of a bat and ball joyously, or sorrowfully, interrupting every now and then, you may actually be able to allow your own mind to travel back to the corner of Travis and McGowan at many spring afternoons of those late 19th century years and actually experience the presence of old time Houston for yourself. And, if you get there, try to remember — the now late Patrick Lopez probably helped you make the trip.

Patrick Lopez
1937-2018

Thank you, Patrick Lopez! All of us are the richer for having known you even a smidgen’s amount of eternity’s time.

And God Bless you too, Barbara! Patrick was lucky to have found and never lost you. That doesn’t always happen.

Sincerely,

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Maxwell Kates: “42” – A Film Review

April 16, 2018

“42” – THE FILM REVIEW

A CELEBRATION OF JACKIE ROBINSON DAY

By Maxwell Kates

Maxwell Kates

Five years ago, in April 2013, Legendary Pictures released a film called “42”. Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, the film documented Jackie Robinson’s first season in the major leagues while emphasizing the trials and tribulations involved with breaking the colour barrier.

“42”

The story behind “42” is well known among baseball fans and American historians alike.  After declaring victory over Nazi Germany in May 1945 and Imperialist Japan three months later, American soldiers returned from the Second World War to a country that could not defeat its own Jim Crow laws.  A ‘gentleman’s agreement’ had existed in professional baseball which segregated white and black players into different leagues.

Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the President of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is a shrewd businessman, a lawyer, and a devout Methodist.  We learn in the context of the movie that he is haunted by not having done enough to fight segregation as a baseball coach some four decades earlier.  Partly out of religious conviction and partly out of opportunism, he vows to promote a black player to the Dodgers late in the 1945 season.  Rickey admires Jack Roosevelt Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a shortstop on the segregated Kansas City Monarchs, for his talent and his hardnosed style of play, but warns him that the inability to control his volatile temper is tantamount to failure for Rickey’s ‘Great Experiment.’  In other words, Rickey did not need a player not tough enough to fight back, but one tough enough not to fight back.

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey

The plot line begins by covering Robinson in spring training both with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ top minor league affiliate, and the Dodgers. After he is promoted to Brooklyn in 1947, the film narrates how Robinson led the Dodgers to the National League pennant in spite of vitriolic players and fans, racially motivated hate mail, and the ubiquity of the press.

The movie was criticized for its lack of character development, a claim I perceived to have been justified.  The Rickey character was developed well, as was Leo Durocher (Chris Meloni), the tenacious yet morally bankrupt manager of the Dodgers who aimed to win at all costs.  However, the movie could have benefit from a more vivid portrayal of Wendell Smith (Andre Holland). Smith worked as a journalist for the Pittsburgh Courier, covering Robinson throughout the 1947 season while attempting to break barriers of his own.  A more thorough description of Robinson’s wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) would have also improved the plotline, as her support was crucial to the success of Robinson’s campaign.

Jackie and Rachel in “42”

“42” shows balance between the players who supported Robinson from those who did not.  Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black), Gene Hermanski (Blake Sanders), and Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater) were three Dodger teammates depicted to have supported Robinson but their characters were scarcely developed beyond that.  The movie did address the difficult matter of Dixie Walker’s (Ryan Merriman) harsh disapproval of Robinson, arguing it to be economic rather than racial.  However, it does not expand on the complexities of the anti-Robinson camp. This group which includes Brooklyn pitcher Kirby Higbe (Brad Beyer) who circulated a petition aimed to prevent Robinson from taking the field, Philadelphia manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) and general manager Herb Pennock (Mark Harelik), and St. Louis outfielder Enos Slaughter (David Thoms).

The film aptly portrayed fans in opposing National League cities such as Philadelphia, St. Louis, or Cincinnati to be vociferous in their hatred of Robinson but did not show balance – there were many white fans in those and other cities who supported Robinson.

The Pee Wee-Jackie Moment —
As depicted in “42”

Another opportunity was missed in the side plot involving Dodgers infielder Bobby Bragan (Derek Phillips).  As the scion of a prominent family in Birmingham, Alabama, Bragan was raised with segregation and was thereby a vocal opponent of integration.  Accordingly, he refused to initially play with Robinson but later recanted.  A fact which would better drive the point but ignored in the movie is that when Jackie Robinson passed away in 1972, Bragan was among his pall bearers.

A poignant scene in the movie took place on the field at Ebbets Field as the Dodgers hosted the Philadelphia Phillies.  Manager Ben Chapman was among Robinson’s most tyrannical opponents and was not afraid to voice his opinion.  Only with the intervention of Dodgers’ infielder Eddie Stanky (Jesse Luken) a Philadelphia native and former teammate of Chapman’s did the Philadelphia manager back down.  In actuality, Stanky had been one of the players to sign Higbe’s petition but felt compelled to defend Robinson as one of his teammates.

Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson

Another opportunity missed was during a brawl following a beaning by Pittsburgh pitcher Fritz Ostermueller (Linc Hand).  At no point did the movie refer to prominent National League opponents who supported Jackie Robinson and the brawl scene would have presented this player in Ostermueller’s teammate Hank Greenberg.  The veteran 1st baseman discussed the racism he encountered in his own career with Robinson as the Dodgers rookie led off the base in a game with Pittsburgh.  Cardinals outfielder Stan Musial was another Hall of Famer who supported Robinson.

The movie included several historical errors and inaccuracies.  For example, the Mississippi bred broadcaster Red Barber (John McGinley) did not speak with the brogue of a New York Irishman.  Nor did Robinson wear number 9 with the Montreal Royals – he actually wore number 20.  It is unfortunate that the movie did not expand on Robinson’s time in Montreal, where he led the Royals to the International League pennant in 1946. According to Montreal sportswriter Sam Maltin, “it was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a mob with love instead of lynching on his mind.” Lastly, in light of Robinson’s pact with Rickey to be tough enough not to fight back, the altercation with Dixie Walker in front of the Ben Franklin Hotel could never have taken place.

The real Jackie Robinson at Montreal in 1946.

Why did they make “42”?  For one thing, the events took place in 1947.  Infants born the day Robinson took the field are now 71 years old.  Of the journalists in the Ebbets Field pressbox that afternoon, only Jim Becker of the Associated Press is still alive and he is 92 years old.  The story of Jackie Robinson is an important one and it is important that the legacy of Jackie Robinson and what he stood for continues.  The film received criticism for its liberal use of ‘the N-word.’ To understand history is to understand context. It is only by exposure to unpleasant aspects of the English language, like ‘the N-word,’ that we become aware of their meaning and why they should not be used.

Whom did they make “42” for?  The answer to that question can be expressed by discussing the character whom I understood to have been the most important in the movie. That was the young African American child in Florida who saw Jackie Robinson in a spring training game with his mother.  Viewers learn at the end of the film that the young fellow grew up to be Ed Charles, clubhouse leader of the World Champion 1969 New York Mets. Charles, who died earlier this year, credited Robinson as an inspiration for him growing up in segregated Florida. It was important to bridge the gap with this young fan to show why Jackie Robinson was inspiration to him and many others.

Ed Charles

Of equal significance, there was one scene where Rickey tells Robinson about the white fan on a Brooklyn street who tried to be like Jackie Robinson when he played.  Robinson broke into the major leagues in 1947, seven years before Brown v. Board of Education and seventeen years before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.   Therefore, it is important to understand the context of the odds Jackie Robinson faced and the insurmountable mental toughness he required to overcome them.  The movie was made for young people of all races and nationalities to understand the harshness of prejudice and that any individual is capable of achieving personal triumph in spite of it.

“42” is definitely worth the price of admission and is an enjoyable movie to watch with an important message to convey.  At one point in the movie, Pee Wee Reese, a Kentucky native, tells Jackie Robinson that “maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42 so that nobody can tell us apart.” Tomorrow being April 15, Pee Wee’s oracle will see the light of day.

Toronto, Canada

April 14, 2013

EPILOGUE

Young Boston Bombing Victim Martin Richard and Family.

One day after I wrote this film review of “42”, the city of Boston was rocked by an unthinkable tragedy. At the finish line of the Boston Marathon, two brothers detonated two homemade explosives, killing three and injuring hundreds. One of the victims, eight year old Martin Richard, lost his life as he awaited his father Bill to complete the marathon. After his death, a photo of young Martin holding a placard bearing the message “No more hurting people. Peace” circulated around the four corners of the globe. In doing so, Martin was carrying out Jackie Robinson’s legacy. His life remains important as it continues to have an impact on others.

Fenway Park, Boston
Jackie Robinson Day
2013

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Post Note. The Pecan Park Eagle also did a review of “42” after attending one of the opening day matinee features in the company of one of the very few remaining survivors who played in that earlier landmark color line-breaking game in 1946, when Jackie Robinson broke the organized baseball race barrier as a member of the Montreal Royals. It was our lucky day at the Eagle to watch the flim with our own Larry Miggins, who played third base for Jersey City that historical day. The date of our first publication on this topic was April 13, 2013. And here’s the link to its contents:

https://bill37mccurdy.com/2013/04/13/42-a-beautiful-profile-in-courage/

Hope you enjoy this doubleheader.

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Cell Phones as History Changers

April 2, 2018

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear,
Of a phone call made by Paul Revere.”

Have you ever thought about how much cell phones might have changed history, had they been around earlier? Or how about all those times in fictional books and movies in which the plot evolved around mysterious phone calls or the mad search for a usable phone booth during a point of crisis?

With a cell phone handy back in the 18th century, there would have been no need for a  “midnight ride.” Paul Revere could have called it in: “Hello, is this Major Tom Brady? – Paul Revere here. It’s by sea. The Brits are pouring into Boston Harbor right now. I can see ’em getting off at the dock, even as we speak. OK? – Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got a great dart game to finish over here at Sullivan’s Pub before I scat home to finish polishing some silver. – What’s that? – No problem! Glad to help.”

Perhaps, the following could serve as a few other examples:

1) Non-Fiction / Pearl Harbor, Dec. 1, 1941, A call comes in from Cell Phone Float Tower 29, about 180 miles NW of Oahu, at 7:39 AM:

“HELLO, PEARL! Listen up. This is Cappy Hunt, and I’m out here NW of Honolulu, doing a little fishing off the banks of Tower 29. – Listen real good. – You’re going to need to get some people out here to see what I’m looking at right now as the dawn comes up on us. – It looks like Hirohito has sent the whole dad-gum Japanese Navy out to greet us and it don’t look friendly in any way. As far as my eyes can see, they got destroyers, cruisers, battle ships, and flat tops – and one way and another – they is all loaded to the gills with big guns or them Mitsubishi Zero planes – as they is all decked out to fly, fire, and bomb. Send enough men to do the roadkill work and get everybody braced at Hickam Field and Pearl ready to defend everything we’ve got – with every thing lethal that we’ve got. I’ll hang loose as your lookout for as long as I can out here, but, granddad gummit, I forgot to charge this phone last night.”

2) Fiction / Barbara Stanwyck plays a disabled New York socialite who accidentally over-hears plans for a woman’s murder in the 1948 big movie, “Sorry, Wrong Number”. By the time she learns that she is the intended victim, it’s the last scene in the script and the killer is standing over her bedside, as her husband also calls to check on her, gets the killer, only to hear him say, “Sorry, wrong number” as he finishes the job and the movie through her screams. Had there been digital cell phones in 1948, Stanwyck would have had a suspicious phone number or a GPS on the scary caller – or something early enough – to have saved herself from starring in one of the creepiest bad ending movies of all time.

3) Weather News / Remember the old days, when some really bad storms, like the deadly tornado that struck Waco, Texas in 1953? As per usual, there were plenty of horrifying, but few, if any actual newsreel photos of the twister itself in real time. And we would always say or think: “It’s too bad someone didn’t have a camera handy when this monster hit!” – Now. in 2018,  there are no shortages of cameras – anywhere there are people. It’s all about the digital phone and how we now use them.

4) Cell Phones & The Bullpen / Do we really still need those clunky dugout wall phone land lines to be in touch with the bullpens during big league games? It’s imaginable the bullpen coach could even reply to a manager’s call with a phone video if he really wanted to see for himself if a certain reliever appeared ready.

5) The Cell Phone Immediacy App / (Maybe we already have this app and I just haven’t gotten the word on it.) How about a cell phone app that shuts the instrument down once it detects that the phone is moving through space that exceeds the power and speed of human assistance alone. – And maybe the same app could have the same capacity for broadcasting to the first 100 car-length of phones behind you why everyone is stuck on the freeway and not moving at other times. And it may also throw in some alternate route suggestions to boot.

Footnote: The problem with effective need-serving phone apps is that they immediately convert from need service into entitlements – and we start treating them immediately as desirable conditions of life that we have a right to expect every day from womb-to-tomb that we spend alive on Planet Earth.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle