Sunday, February 1, 2015

Traded for Nine Paragraphs

The New York Times published yesterday an obituary of Charlie Williams, "a pitcher best known as the trade bait the Mets used to land Willie Mays in the twilight of his career...." Two-thirds of the nine paragraph obit is related in one way or another to the May 1972 trade.

Even the summation of Williams' career—23-22 in 268 games, 31 with the Mets—is preceded by the statistics for the Giants Hall of Famer. It must be strange to be remembered for something that was entirely outside of your control, although all reports indicate Williams wore it well.

Image: Associated Press

The remaining three paragraphs provide Williams' place and cause of death, survivors, and place of birth. Williams was born in Flushing, but 17 years before the Mets moved to Shea Stadium.

Image: centerfieldmaz

According to Brian Joura at Mets360, Williams is the only player in team history to hail from the Queens neighborhood. Joura's obituary runs to 14 paragraphs, provides more detail about his career—including the minors—and generally treats the player with more humanity.

One fact that intrigued me was Williams' debut in Mankato. Visalia? Been there. Memphis? There too. This was the first I had heard of professional baseball in the city 75 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The 1968 season was the second of two years during which the Mankato Mets played in the six-team, Short-Season-A Northern League.

Ballpark Digest has a fine history of the Mankato Mets, tucked into a review of the Mankato MoonDogs at Franklin Rogers Park. The MoonDogs play in the Northwoods League, a wood bat, collegiate summer circuit.

Image: Ballpark Digest

The Northern League operated from 1933 to 1971 except for three years during the second world war. Miles Wolff, the baseball jack-of-all-trades, founded an independent Northern League in 1993. Expansion, merger, and team defection eventually lead to the dissolution of the league after the 2010 season.

Many teams in Wolff's Northern League and successors like the American Association and Frontier League, as well as the amateur Northwoods League, operate in towns that once were home to teams in the Midwest, Northern and other lower level leagues. As minor league baseball has become a big business and leagues require—and fans expect—more amenities, many of these stadiums have settled for more modest operations.

Melvin and I love architecturally distinguished stadiums with concessions that serve every imaginable food and a choice of craft beer. At the same time, I am increasingly charmed by wooden grandstands that hark back to another time. They're not gone yet, so it's not yet nostalgia.

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