Posts Tagged ‘Elvis Presley’

Baseball, Las Vegas, and Area 51

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Glitz, glamour, and gambling—escalated, somewhat, by gaudiness, garishness, and greed—fuel Las Vegas.  It is, after all, a desert metropolis built on a foundation of fantasy.  It is also where Elvis Presley made his live performance comeback after eight years of concentrating on movies and albums; where Frank Sinatra led a group of his former Army buddies to rob five casinos on New Year’s Eve in the original Ocean’s 11 film; where the television shows Las VegasDr. VegasCrime StoryVegasVega$CSI, and The Player were set; where the Partridges made their professional début in The Partridge Family; and where Michael Corleone sought to expand his family’s operations by buying out casino owner Moe Greene in the 1972 movie The Godfather.

A destination city for vacationers looking for a hint of sin—if not sin incarnate—Las Vegas also offers recreation for its natives; baseball lovers have the 51s ball club, which traces its genesis to the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League.  From 1903 to 1972—except for the 1919 season, which they played in the Pacific Coast International League—the Beavers formed a cornerstone of the PCL.

In 1973, the team’s tenure shifted to Spokane, where it became the Indians.  After the 1982 season, the Indians moved to Las Vegas and underwent a name change—Stars.  This label lasted until 2001, when the 51s name emerged.  Future stars have populated the 51s, including Jayson Werth, Nomar Garciaparra, and Andruw Jones.

Las Vegas’s baseball team takes its name from Area 51, a part of Nevada about 150 miles from the famed Las Vegas Strip—the stretch of road with the iconic “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign.

Area 51—also known as Groom Lake—is the subject of conjecture, controversy, and conspiracy.  UFO believers maintain that the United States government houses aliens, alien spacecraft, and time travel experiments at Area 51.  NASA’s Administrator Major Charles Bolden—the top of the space agency hierarchy—dismisses those theories.

“There is an Area 51.  It’s not what many people think,” said Bolden in a 2015 article by Sarah Knapton for Great Britain’s newspaper The Telegraph; Knapton is the paper’s Science Editor.  “I’ve been to a place called that but it’s a normal research and development place.  I never saw any aliens or alien spacecraft or anything when I was there.

“I think because of the secrecy of the aeronautics research that goes on there it’s ripe for people to talk about aliens being there.”

In 2013, the Central Intelligence Agency released a declassified report affirming the existence of Area 51 at Groom Lake; theretofore, the United States government maintained silence about it.  “The report, released after eight years of prodding by a George Washington University archivist researching the history of the U-2 [spy plane], made no mention of colonies of alien life, suggesting that the secret base was dedicated to the relatively more mundane task of testing spy planes,” wrote Adam Nagourney in his 2013 article “C.I.A. Acknowledges Area 51 Exists, but What About Those Little Green Men?” for the New York Times.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 16, 2016.

The Last Eagle

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

Once upon a decade—the one that introduced Elvis Presley, car tail fins, and McDonald’s franchises—a ballplayer blessed with speed, grace, and athleticism rivaling Orsippus’s climbed to the apex of baseball, popular culture, and media.

The year was 1951.  The place was New York City.  The ballplayer was Willie Mays.

Talent alone does not make a major leaguer, however.  Responding to this reality, Leo Durocher, manager of the New York Giants, selected a member of his Polo Grounds posse to shepherd the 20-year-old Mays upon the rookie’s ascension from the Minneapolis Millers—the Giants’ AAA team.

Monford Merrill Irvin.  Monte.

In his 1975 book The Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff, Thomas Kiernan wrote, “Irvin not only accepted responsibility for Mays, he took the move as a challenge.  For the first time as a Giant he had a teammate who, it appeared, was every bit as talented as he was.”

Under Irvin’s tutelage, Mays matured into the professional that Durocher et al. hoped he would be.  “Irvin would instruct Mays on game situations, shout out which bases the rookie should throw to, position against each enemy hitter—to make it easy for Mays to turn what would be extra-base hits with anyone else in center field into outs,” stated Kiernan.

Irvin played in the Negro Leagues before desegregating the New York Giants with Hank Thompson in 1949.  Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles, testified, “Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team.  We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences ad physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s.  Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”

Appropriately, Manley’s statement is on Irvin’s Baseball Hall of Fame web site page.

Irvin led the Eagles to the 1946 Negro Leagues World Series championship against the Kansas City Monarchs—a shining moment for the kid from Orange, New Jersey, for whom playing playing baseball was oxygen.

When Irvin died on January 11, 2016, he took with him the status of being the last living monument to the Eagles.  In a statement, Mays said that his mentor “was like a second father to me.”

Jerry Izenberg, an iconic New Jersey sports writer, eulogized Irvin in the Star-Ledger, which gained international recognition when Tony Soprano ambled down his driveway in a robe and slippers to pick it up, often thumbing through the pages for the latest news on mafia arrests.

Decades after his career in the Negro Leagues, Irving maintained joyousness that could light up Chancellor Avenue.  Irvin’s exclamations occurred repeatedly in conversations with Izenberg, who recalled the thread of joy running through them, including an excerpt of a conversation from the early 1990s:  “I played in three countries.  I played in two World Series.  But I never found anything to match the joy and the laughter those years with the Eagles brought me.”

Monte Irvin retired with a .293 batting average after eight seasons in the major leagues; the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted him in 1973.  “I hope my induction will help to ease the pain of all those players who never got a chance to play in the majors,” stated the man largely responsible for the career of Willie Mays.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 9, 2016.

Rhapsody in Blue and Orange

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

Débuting concurrently with the New York Mets in 1962, the song Meet the Mets struck the tone—no pun intended—required to capture excitement for New Yorkers still suffering from the exodus committed by the Giants and the Dodgers after the 1957 season.  Music, indeed, is a powerful conduit for emotion, inspiration, and passion.  A title from the soundtrack to the Elvis Presley movie Speedway conveys the power of music—There Ain’t Nothing Like a Song.

Imagine Rocky Balboa without the accompaniment of Bill Conti’s masterpiece Gonna Fly Now.  Imagine the television show The Wonder Years without Joe Cocker’s rendition of I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends as the theme song reflecting the show’s late 1960s and early 1970s setting awash in nostalgia.  Imagine a baseball game without the National Anthem.

When the Mets front office executives chose Meet the Mets in a contest involving 19 entries, it carved a foothold for worshippers in a culture colored blue and orange.  Written by Ruth Roberts and Bill Katz, Meet the Mets immediately conveyed an invitation to become familiar with the th nascent National League team through its title.

This new squad created to fill the void, heal the wound, and revive the fervor in New York City’s baseball psyche needed an identity for a National League fan base knocked on the canvas by the twin blows of Horace Stoneham and Walter O’Malley moving the Giants to San Francisco and the Dodgers to Los Angeles, respectively.  Meet the Mets fulfilled its obligation to render affection for an infant team with a highly significant number of players past their prime—and many who would never see a prime.

Meet the Mets uses lyrics harmless for a pre-feminist society soaked in the traditional dynamic of a father working and a mother staying home to take care of the kids, clean the house, and volunteer in the community, perhaps for the PTA.  Undeniably, the lyrics indicate a message to the male baseball fan, ignoring the female populus.  Or at least submitting it.  Advocating for a man to have his kiddies and his wife join him in a day at the ballpark symbolized the male dominance structure reinforced in the Eisenhower decade of the 1950s through popular culture, for example, the television shows Leave It to BeaverFather Knows Best, and I Love Lucy.  Today, the lyrics seem antiquated. Condescending, even.

In a 1963 critique, New York Times scribe Leonard Koppett analyzed how classical music icons might have fared in creating a song for the team.  “Think of the Mets as they really are,” wrote Koppett.  Puccini would have oversentimalized them; Wagner could write for the Giants or perhaps the Yankees, but not the Mets; Beethoven would have become too furious; Brahms, poor soul, would have tried and tried; Verdi might have captured the essence of a Chris Cannizzaro and a Cookie Lavagetto, but a Charles Dillon Stengel would have been beyond him.

“Only Mozart could have done it, because, like so many others, would have loved the Mets—with genius added.”

A new version of Meet the Mets débuted in the mid-1980s with an updated arrangement plus lyrics indicating the appeal of the Mets throughout the New York City metropolitan area, with the exception of the Bronx, however, because of its status as the Yankees’ home.  Certain tribal loyalties set by geographical boundaries cannot be crossed, not even by the power of a song.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 16, 2015.

Indianapolis, Bush Stadium, and the Clowns

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

More than the site of a world-famous automobile race, Indianapolis is a Midwestern bedrock of popular culture.  Its benchmarks include being the hometown for David Letterman, the site of Elvis Presley’s last concert, and the setting for the CBS situation comedy One Day at a Time.

Additionally, Indianapolis enjoys prominence in baseball history as the home of the Clowns, a Negro League team perhaps best known as a starting point for Hank Aaron’s career; Aaron spent a few months with the Clowns in 1952 before the Boston Braves organization signed him.  A day at Bush Stadium, the home field for the Clowns, provided entertainment beyond good baseball.  In the biography The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron, Howard Bryant wrote, “The Clowns were a legendary Negro League team, known for being the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball.  The team featured good ballplayers but also high circus-style entertainment.  Toni Stone, a woman, played second base.  King Tut, an enormous man with a round belly, served as a mascot, wearing nothing but a grass skirt.”

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson played for the Clowns; she was the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues.  In addition to Johnson and Stone, Connie Morgan also wore a Clowns uniform; with three women, the Indianapolis Clowns predated the women’s liberation movement by a decade.

With her height of 5’3″ inspiring her “Peanut” moniker, Johnson lured fans to the ballpark by being a solid ballplayer.  In the article “Breaking Gender Barriers in the Negro Leagues in the June 12, 2010 edition of the New York Times, Alan Schwarz quotes Arthur Hamilton, the Clowns catcher:  “She was a drawing card, I have to say.  She didn’t have that much of a fastball, but she could put the ball over the plate.  She’d get out of the inning.  A lot of guys hit her, but she got a lot of guys out, too.  The Kansas City Monarchs and the Birmingham Black Barons loved to play the Clowns, because we’d have a big crowd.”

Johnson’s story symbolizes perseverance, certainly, in an era that saw America take its first steps, albeit tentatively, toward equality, no matter one’s race or gender.  “In the face of ‘no,’ she pursued her passion.  You can get derailed by people who don’t believe in you.  Her legacy is not well-known because we lose our heroes.  Today, there are instant stars because short attention spans impact how information is packaged and, consequently, how we consume it.  But Mamie Johnson represented a time that gave us the heart and soul of the game,” says Yvette Miley, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of MSNBC.

Bush Stadium stands today, decades after its prime as a Negro League fixture.  Partially, anyway.  Real estate developers demolished part of the stadium, renovated the remaining part for lofts, and preserved stadium icons, including Art Deco columns and iron turnstiles at the main entrance.  Further, the developers preserved the infield diamond, a lure for any baseball fan wanting to look out the living room window and imagine the Clowns playing one more time.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 6, 2015.

The Decade of Baseball Migration

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

The 1950s was a decade of change.

Elvis Presley spearheaded the introduction of rock and roll, television replaced radio as the preferred mass medium for news and entertainment, and several baseball teams migrated westward—way westward for two teams, mid-westward for two others.

With a pedigree dating back to 1871, the Braves resided in Boston until moving to Milwaukee after the 1952 season.  Milwaukee offered abundant parking spaces, a welcoming fan base, and a new stadium.  When the Braves went on the migration warpath from Braves Field to Milwaukee County Stadium, it ignited Midwestern pride throughout a minor league city elated at graduating to the next level of professional baseball.  Boston still had the Red Sox, though.

Until it lost the Athletics to Kansas City, Philadelphia was also a two-team town.  After the 1954 season, the A’s said goodbye to Shibe Park, bolted the City of Brotherly Love, and left the Phillies behind for the folks from the Liberty Bell to the Main Line suburbs.

Once a bedrock of baseball, the Philadelphia A’s racked up nine National League pennants and five World Series championships.  Connie Mack managed the A’s from 1901 to 1950.  It is the longest managerial tenure in Major League Baseball.

After the 1967 season, the A’s left Kansas City for Oakland.

New York City suffered the loss of two teams when the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants moved to California after the 1957 season.  The Giants played in the cavernous Polo Grounds, with a distance of 483 feet between home plate and the center field fence.  The distances down the foul lines were 279 feet for left field and 258 for right field.

As manager of the Giants, John McGraw defined a pugnacious approach to early 20th century baseball at the Polo Grounds.  It was, indeed, a site synonymous with baseball history.  Bobby Thomson hit his Shot Heard ‘Round the World to win the 1951 National League pennant against the Dodgers.  Willie Mays made his famous catch of a Vic Wertz drive in the 1954 World Series with his back to home plate while sprinting toward the center field fence.

San Francisco inherited the rich history of the Giants, opened its arms, and helped further set the Manifest Destiny mentality of baseball.

When the Dodgers left Brooklyn, they found an exploding southern California population base ready to move up the ranks of professional sports.  In their first 10 years with “Los Angeles” as part of the team’s full name, the Dodgers won three National League pennants and two World Series championships.

From 1958 to 1961, the Dodgers played at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  In 1962, Dodger Stadium débuted in Chavez Ravine once a massive abyss in the middle of Los Angeles.

Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley thought about staying in Brooklyn, albeit with a new stadium to replace aging Ebbets Field.  He evaluated proposals, but ultimately chose to move 3,000 miles west of the baseball nirvana where Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and several others became, as author Roger Kahn knighted them, the boys of summer.

Not all migrating teams planted their flags in the Pacific time zone.  After the 1953 season, the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 15, 2014.

John Stamos

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

RemingtonJohn Stamos launched his career in 1980s daytime television as Blackie Parrish on General Hospital.  In turn, Stamos became a heartthrob.  And he’s never looked back.

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Before He Was Colonel Potter

Friday, February 6th, 2015

RemingtonBefore he was Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H, Harry Morgan was one of Hollywood’s cornerstone character actors.  He shared the silver screen with legends.

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Happy Anniversary, Elvis!

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

On this date in 1954, the Memphis airwaves debuted a singer.  And rock and roll was never the same.

The singer was Elvis Presley.

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Nancy Sinatra and Elvis Presley

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

When Nancy Sinatra co-starred with Elvis Presley in the 1968 film Speedway, she fulfilled a prophecy of sorts that began about eight years prior. (more…)

Nancy Sinatra Goes To Vietnam

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Seductive songs.  Soft sounds.  Sex symbol.  Sinatra.

No, not that one!  Nancy Sinatra.

Any discussion of Nancy Sinatra logically begins with the song turned anthem for the women’s lib set.  Undeniably, Nancy Sinatra secured her place in popular culture with her #1 song — These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ in 1966.

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