Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Applauding our heroes as they go by


Will Rogers is credited with the idea that we all can’t be heroes.

“Because somebody has to sit on the curb and applaud when they go by.”

Several times over the last few years, I have written about a character from the early days of organized athletics that I have found fascinating, not only because of who he was, but because of who he came into contact with, who he influenced, and the public perception of this fellow.

World Champion Greco–Roman Wrestler William Muldoon influenced great men and befriended the likes of Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Teddy Roosevelt, Jack Dempsey and Ralph Pulitzer.

Apparently others share my fascination.

“We had read Muldoon - The Solid Man of Sport, while researching William, a few years ago. I and other members of St. Patrick's Church, in Belfast, N.Y., at the time were attempting to gain state recognition of the Sullivan Training Barns, at the time still located on our church property. This effort fell thru due to our bishop's unfounded fear that such a move might have an adverse effect on the church property the barns stood on,” wrote John Nangle, in an email to me recently.

After completing research on William Muldoon and reading his biography, (with a forward by Jack Dempsey,) Nangle noted that Bill Muldoon devoted an entire chapter to his "combat" experiences while serving with the 6th N.Y. Cavalry Regiment.

“We pursued this by finding a book of the history of said regiment and found that, while there is no record of William serving in any capacity in that regiment during the Civil War, his brother, John, did and valiantly. He was singled out as having captured an enemy flag and two prisoners while seriously wounded at the Battle of Royal Front, Virginia. John subsequently died of his wound in 1873. Wm. did not make his first claim to Civil War service claim until at least 10 years after John died and followed this up in 1928 in his biography.

“John's name is prominently displayed on our Belfast Civil War Monument along with other area residents who also served in that conflict. William Muldoon's name is only conspicuous by its absence and is no longer a matter of a curiosity as it has been for years.”

According to Nangle, there is no record of our William ever having served in any other regiment in any capacity during the Civil War in the Adjutant General Civil War records.

“The few living relatives of Wm. we were able to contact all agreed that he would have been at home on Muldoon homestead during that conflict and never served in said conflict in any capacity.”

Nangle says the 1865 N.Y. State census contained the question as to whether the listed had or was in the military service. Of the Muldoon family, William, age 12, at home, and only his older brother, John, was listed in the affirmative.

“Our Bishop sold the Sullivan Training Barns to the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame, who in turn had the barns move locally in Belfast where they stand today. We believe that the spokesman for the B.K.B. Hall of Fame has maintained a deafening silence about Muldoon's claim to Civil War service only because we posted a photograph of Muldoon at his brother's grave in a local newspaper and made note of Wm. not being a veteran of that conflict. This was in Dec. 2008, and our findings have not been challenged or rebuffed by the Belfast B.K.B. Hall of Fame spokesman. Our original intent was never to damage William Muldoon's credibility or integrity, but I guess that anything might be expected once Pandora's box has been opened.

Muldoon military Civil War service was modified in most of his obituaries to that of having been only a drummer boy, in his obituaries, though up to a year before his death he still doggedly maintained he served as a soldier in that conflict, says Nangle.

“William had been inducted into quite a few other halls of fame in recent years, all espousing his Civil War feats, some as a drummer boy and others as being a combat soldier in the 6th Cavalry Regiment. They surely must read each other's websites and it is difficult to understand, under the circumstances, why they have not done at least some very basic research to verify or disclaim Wm.'s alleged military service.”

Nangle says William Muldoon in his biography falsely gave his birth as being May 25, 1845, when it was, according to the Muldoon family Bible, May 25, 1852, which is verified in the 1860, 1865, and 1870 censuses.

“Wm. made a monumental blunder in choosing the year 1845, because his sister, Mary, is listed as born May 16, 1845, in said family bible, also verified by the above censuses,” writes Nangle.

I guess information such as this is important to consider when you are sitting on the curb and applauding your heroes as they go by.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

It is a small thing but baseball is not right


Little League baseball came to Dolores the first year I was eligible to play — when I was eight-years-old, and about three-feet tall.
Four teams, new uniforms and practice fields ripped out of the alfalfa patches on the upriver edge of town characterized that first season. New dugouts at the high school diamond were built out of plywood and 2” x 4s,” painted with green-colored paint and the floors lined with new sawdust and wood shavings. Most fathers and (a lot of mothers) around town picked up hammer and saw, rake and shovel, brush and fence tool to make that first season happen.
Empire Electric, Nielsons, Inc., Dolores State Bank and others ponied up the cash to pay for the new uniforms, and as a result, had the company logos sewn on to the back. But the new unis didn’t arrive until late in the season, just in time for the parade at the annual celebration. Fungo bats, regular ‘Louisville Sluggers” from 28 to 32, chest protectors, catchers masks, boxes of balls, and ‘special’ gear were provided for from either Howard’s or Jerry’s in Cortez. A concession stand was built and schedule set for parents willing to work it to raise more money for more improvements.
Orioles, Tigers, Twins and, of course, Yankees.
Some kind of draft, based on age, ability, siblings? … I’m not sure what all … was conducted and the aspiring hall of famers donned blue, black, navy or red caps.
I ended up a Yankee, which is good, because my Grandma (who spent a lifetime following Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and the like) always wanted me to be a Yankee. Fortunately, I didn’t disappoint.
Most of us were new to baseball and it showed. Couldn’t hit, couldn’t catch, couldn’t throw, and in some cases couldn’t stay out of the way. That first summer, as an Oriole, I believe, Bill Butler sported one of the meanest, purple and black, puffed-up shiners I have ever seen (before or since) when he caught a pop fly with his eye socket, rather than a glove, in practice one day. Others displayed various ball- or bat-induced maladies as well.
In time, we learned most elements of the game and could put on a passable show four days a week at 5:30 sharp with alternating schedule. It was competitive (It is not baseball without competition) but encouraging, for the talented and others. The older players saw more playing time but rules required that others make an appearance as well.
As an eight year old, I was very fortunate, because or my unique talent, or trait.
Yankee Coaches Earl Carver and Ray Stevinson, must have been James Thurber fans, or perhaps followers of the St. Louis Browns, because right from game one of that season, I found myself not only starting in right field for the Yankees, but in the line-up as lead off batter.
Reasoning was tied directly to the 1941 short story by Thurber, “You Could Look It Up,” and indirectly to the strange case of Edward Carl “Eddie” Gaedel.
Thurber's story was about a midget’s appearance in the big leagues, and Eddie Gaedel gained immortality in the second game of a double header between St. Louis and Detroit on Sunday, August 19, 1951.
Gaedel, who was 3 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed 65 pounds, was the shortest to ever play the game in the major leagues. He appeared at the plate only once and walked on 4 consecutive balls. A pinch runner replaced him on first. His jersey, with the number 1/8, now is displayed in the baseball hall of fame.
Gaedel, who had worked as a riveter during World War II because he was able to crawl inside the airplane wings, was secretly hired by Browns owner, Bill Veeck.
In a promotion for Falstaff Beer, the small player came out of a cake between games and his appearance was first considered a major disappointment until the first pitch of the second game, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell .
“But before Cain could throw the first pitch, the P.A. announcer introduced a pinch-hitter, No. 1/8 -- Eddie Gaedel,” wrote Rovell.
“Umpire Ed Hurley questioned Gaedel's ability to play, but Taylor came out with Gaedel’s contract in hand. Gaedel got in his crouch. Veeck, in his autobiography, said he had instructed Gaedel to make his strike zone as small as possible -- about 1½ inches -- but Gaedel was excited and stood up a bit.Gaedel did follow the other important instruction, though. "Eddie, I'm going to be up on the roof with a high-powered rifle watching every move you make," Veeck wrote. "If you so much as look as if you're going to swing, I'm going to shoot you dead.
"Ball. Ball.
"(Bob) Cain is laughing so hard that he's practically falling off the mound with each pitch," Bill Christine, a Browns fan in attendance during the game, told ESPN.
"Ball. Ball."
According to Rovell's story, all four pitches sailed over Gaedel's head.
That was pretty similar to my experience in that first season in Dolores Little League. Although I don’t think they ever threatened to shoot me if I were to swing the bat.
But they did have extensive instruction on how to tell a strike from a ball.
Baseball is not right, I thought to myself. Everybody knows a man with four balls can't walk.
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Monday, June 7, 2010

GIs jam state's schools after World War II



"Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity."
__ Aristotle, 4th Century B.C.


With the G.I. Bill authorized by Congress in 1944 and signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22 of that year, returning veterans flooded into Colorado institutions of higher education after World War II. The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, as it was officially labeled, provided for college or vocational education and a year of unemployment compensation.
My father, graduating from high school just as the war was ending, tells of a freshman year sleeping in the Field House on College Avenue in Fort Collins. The building had been set up as a makeshift dormitory at Colorado A & M (before it was Colorado State University) because the influx of returning soldiers.
“All told, some 117,000 Colorado veterans took advantage of the opportunities the nation offered them (both World War II returnees and, later, those returning from the Korean conflict) to study at college or a university,” according to “A Colorado History,” by Carl Ubbelohde, Maxine Benson, and Duane Smith.
“But this was only a part of the story. Another 9,400 veterans received vocational rehabilitation training; another 77,800 used the home loan benefits provided; 5,200 qualified for similar facilities for purchasing farms, and 2,200 for business loans. The impact on the state’s economy, its educational facilities, and on the returning veterans themselves, stands a marked contrast to the earlier experience of the month’s and years that followed the Armistice of 1918.”
At Colorado A & M, the school switched from a semester to a quarter system to expedite the enrollment of former servicemen and the enrollment almost doubled in a single year. About 1,040 students began in the fall of 1945 but by spring, 1946, 1600 were enrolled and two thirds of the new student population was veterans in need of immediate place to stay. By late 1946, 3,500 students jammed the institution and in an effort to provide quick and cheap housing, Quonset huts had been set up at the corners of West Laurel and Shields Street. A trailer court also appeared beside Veteran Village in the fall of 1946. Additionally, the school lost nearly 50 faculty to other colleges and universities that were able to attract them away higher salaries as they struggled with their own swelling student populations brought on by the same circumstances across the country.
The University of Colorado at Boulder also experienced doubling of its enrolled population and they established a similar Quonset hut village.
“Trailers, followed by 60 Quonset huts purchased from the Federal Housing Authority, were installed on land at the corner of 24th (now Folsom) and Arapahoe for married students and their families; the area quickly became known as ‘Vetsville,’” according to Coloradan, The University of Colorado alumni magazine.
“Vetsville Council, children’s holiday parties and P.H.T. (Putting Hubby Through) commencement ceremonies for supportive wives helped establish a close-knit community. To the regret of students who paid only $62 rent each month, the Quonset huts were demolished in 1973.”
There was still a few remaining Quonset huts on campus in the early 1980s in Fort Collins when I attended Colorado State University, though I think they were used for storage, rather than housing. With only 400 square feet of living space, cold steel walls, and the odd rounded corners to deal with, former students I’ve spoken with who lived in them (though they appreciate the experience and the low rent at the time) tell me the understand why they were abandoned.
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