Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Clinching the Old Fashioned American (League) Way

There was a time when pennants weren't decided in a best-of-7 game series.  Or best-of-5, either.  Teams used to win their league's pennant in a winner-take-all best of 162 game series known as "having the best record in your league".*  Of course, this is also when there were only 20 teams in baseball.  With the advent of divisional play in baseball, the game forever changed with the expansion of the playoffs to include 4 teams (and eventually to today's number of 10 teams).

*until divisional play, the AL had seen only one playoff series in 1948.

There was also a time when the New York Yankees seemed to be the only team to win the American League pennant.  From 1949 to 1964, the New York Yankees were AL Champions all but twice ( '54 Indians, '59 ChiSox).  Much like the Iron Curtain, this too did pass.  When it did, with the Twins representing the American League in 1965, we saw a different team win the pennant each year from 1965 until the creation of divisions in 1969.

What we also have is a bit of a serendipitous collection of the final outs (or seconds after) of the final 4 American League pennants before divisional play in 1965, '66, '67 and '68.  More about each after the jump.

For a frame of reference, there is a touch of irony that the Minnesota Twins clinched the AL pennant in Washington D.C.  Calvin Griffith, the successor of his uncle (and stadium namesake) Clark Griffith, started plans to move the Senators from Washington shortly after he seized control of the team.  Of the places under consideration for relocation were the two west coast cities of Los Angeles and San Fransisco, along with Louisville and Minneapolis.  Griffith’s efforts were initially blocked, forcing him to miss out on the move out west but he eventually moved his team to Minnesota following the 1960 season.  This forced Major League Baseball to expand for the first time in its history in order to ensure that a baseball team stayed in Washington.  The new Senators continued the 32 years of futility the previous incarnation had wallowed in following the 1933 World Series.  The Twins would begin a 10 year stretch in which they would finish 3rd or higher seven times.

On this late September afternoon in 1965, Griffith’s current team found themselves in the municipal stadium he said wouldn’t placate his desire to relocate, facing the team that MLB had to create to replace his vacancy, on the television broadcast that was part of a television deal he could never get in Washington.

There are so many great things going on in this footage.  Amazingly, we get the tail-end of the Top of the 9th of this game.  That continues on, uninterrupted, through the bottom of the 9th and into the locker room.  The bottom of the 9th shows an exhausted looking Jim Kaat finishing off his 7th complete game of the season.  Also as a footnote of this historic inning, Don Zimmer is the batter that recorded the final out in the Twin’s clincher.  It would be the 3rd to last at-bat of Zimmer’s career.   

The two stars of this find are the great quality this video master is in and the views of D.C. Stadium.  Seeing the beautiful monster-sized scoreboard in RF, along with one of the last Longines clocks to be used in big league parks is a great nostalgic treat.

The video itself has such great clarity.  You can begin to tell the difference in high definition scans of archival footage, as opposed to some of the transfers done using previous methods.  The detail is much more apparent during the on-field action than in the postgame interviews, but both are amazing.   The infield grass, worn from the long season, the turning weather on the Delmarva Peninsula and the beginning of the NFL season appears crisp to the point that you feel you can see each blade of grass individually.

The most recent discovery of this group comes from the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in Minnesota.  The people at Pavek created a high quality transfer of a 2-inch video tape donated by Frank Buetel.  Frank Buetel was the radio broadcaster for many Minnesota sports teams, most importantly the Twins.  On September 26th, Buetel got to step out in front of the cameras as he helped Ray Scott cover the postgame celebration from inside the visitor’s locker room at D.C. Stadium. 

Being a sports logo/graphics obsessive, there is another great treat tucked away in this broadcast.  Twin Cities Federal Savings, the broadcast sponsor of WTCN Twins broadcasts has prepared a special recognition flyer for the AL Champion Twins.  On it, we get some great 60’s graphic art featuring the interlocking ‘TC’ logo.

In 1965, the Baltimore Orioles finished 8 games behind the champion Minnesota Twins.  On December 9th, they made a franchise changing trade in acquiring Frank Robinson from the Cincinnati Reds.  Robinson would instantly pay dividends, winning the Triple Crown and MVP in his first year with the club.  He would be worth 8.3 WAR playing RF for the O's, nearly 7 'wins' better than the man he replaced in Russ Snyder (1.4).

The Orioles would lead the American League from early June on, culminating in clinching the pennant on September 22, 1966 vs the Kansas City Athletics.  On the mound that day, second year starter Jim Palmer would go the distance, scattering 5 hits with 8 strikeouts.  The most important out of the day, the final one would find it's way into the glove of tumbling Paul Blair off the bat of Dick Green.

This clip comes to us courtesy of the 90's VHS release of "Miracles on 33rd Street".  The broadcast is from the Orioles flagship network WJZ.  WJZ is currently the over-the-air home of the Orioles, and served in the same capacity from 1954 to 1978.   The call is television audio by Bill O'Donnell who worked the WJZ games from 1966 to 1977.

A fun factoid about this game is that a young James Hunter, better known as "Catfish" would pitch an inning of relief for the A's.  He gave up 2 doubles (one to Frank Robinson) as well as 2 runs in the inning he pitched.  None of this is shown in the 15 second clip.

The Orioles would go on to defeat the defending World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers in 4 games to win the franchise's first World Championship.  The 1966 AL Pennant would also be the team's first since moving from St. Louis to Baltimore and the first since the Brownies won in 1944.

As I said back at Christmas time in 2012, the 1967 AL Pennant race came down to the final game (162).

"The Impossible Dream Red Sox, Killebrew's Twins and soon-to-be World Champion Detroit Tigers all entered the final day of the season tied for the AL's top spot.  Technically the Tigers were a half game back and a win on their part would have forced a playoff with the winner of the Red Sox/Twins games at Fenway that weekend."
Much of the pennant clincher on October 1, 1967 has survived in little clips.  The part we are concerned with is the very end.  Here is how I showed it in the original post:

"Rollins pop out for Final Out and on-field celebration: Impossible Dream (38 seconds)
For the final Ninth inning clip, the Impossible Dream features voiceover work, while the Impossible to Forget clips feature the original broadcast audio.  That leads me to believe that these original clips survived as they were broadcast, not just the Impossible Dream documentary."

The "original broadcast audio" I referenced was from Boston flagship WHDH.  The announcers were Ken Coleman and Ned Martin. It is important to remember that also on that day the game was shown on NBC and we have surviving NBC audio of the game featuring former WHDH broadcaster Curt Gowdy.  

On July 22, 2013, MLB uploaded the clip of the clincher to their YouTube channel. 

The 1967 Boston Red Sox, despite all the on-field theatrics discussed above still had to wait to see the outcome of the second game between the Tigers and Angels in a Sunday doubleheader.  The Tigers would lose that game and the 1967 AL Pennant.  Starting 1968, both the city of Detroit and the Tigers would be on fire, so to speak.  Detroit was in the midst of high racial tension and seemingly the only thing bringing the city together was the great play of the hometown Tigers.  While the Tigers made it a habit of winning on late-game, dramatic comebacks and homeruns, they wouldn't leave the pennant open for anyone to steal this time.  

On September 17th, the Tigers stood 10.5 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.  This date is important for this blog, as it comes up twice in two separate posts.  The Tigers took on the Yankees and would once again win in dramatic walk-off fashion.  I highlighted what we actually saw in the clip, but to summarize:
The footage included the scoreboard, which shows a Yankees player caught in a rundown. The scoreboard tells us that #41 Jake Gibbs batting. Earlier in the clip we see the batter is lefthanded, which fits Gibbs. It is the 6th inning with 2 outs. I could delve further into when and why it could be but honestly, this one is fairly easy. 
The footage from this game comes from two separate sources.  The first, a locally produced end of season highlight film, features inter-cut footage from color film and television broadcast footage from WJBK-TV and WWJ-TV.  From this, we get various television broadcast snippets of the 9th inning of this game but the real treat is the brief glimpse from the television broadcast of Don Wert scoring the pennant clinching run!

The rest we have jumps in right after the final out as fans begin to storm the field.  I described it in the original post as such:
The video picks up with the fans storming the field and then quickly cuts to the players in the locker room. Standing on a podium (the Tigers were 11 games up on the Orioles and Boston had already eliminated Baltimore with a victory earlier in the night), the interviews flow in one after another [...]

The videotape, which was saved/discovered by a former Detroit television producer, goes on for 26 minutes.   The quality of the game action (which may be from The Year of the Tiger special) and the postgame celebration are superb considering their age.  

The clinching footage from both 1965 and 1968 would be spectacular bonus material to include with a boxset for both World Series.  These two CBC sourced kinescope collections are the complete 7 game series.  Neither of which has been released by Major League Baseball, unfortunately.  Major League Baseball has seen a change in their distribution arrangement over the last two years which has resulted in a complete lack of classic game releases.  This is the 50th anniversary of the Twins/Dodgers World Series and no better a time to finally get the entire series released with this pennant clinching footage included.


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