Saint Paul artist LeRoy Neimman, considered the American impressionist, died Wednesday at 91 years of age. From theNew York Times:
Mr. Neiman’s kinetic, quickly executed paintings and drawings, many of them published in Playboy, offered his fans gaudily colored visual reports on heavyweight boxing matches, Super Bowl games and Olympic contests, as well as social panoramas like the horse races at Deauville, France, and the Cannes Film Festival.
Quite consciously, he cast himself in the mold of French Impressionists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Degas, chroniclers of public life who found rich social material at racetracks, dance halls and cafes.
LeRoy Neiman Painting of Minnesota Twins Hall Of Famer Harmon Killebrew
I was so sad to hear that Harmon Killebrew is entering hospice care after losing his fight to esophageal cancer. A good friend of mine died of it; it’s nasty.
My first memory of Harmon Killebrew is my first iconic boyhood memory: It was my first ballgame with my father at the old Met Stadium. The Twins were hosting the Baltimore Orioles. We went with a neighbor and our seats were along the third base line, so our neighbor kept telling me to keep an eye on the great Orioles third baseman of the time, Brooks Robinson.
I remember fat men standing around on the concourse drinking beer and the smell of their thick cigar smoke. I remember Tony Oliva breaking a bat by pounding it on home plate after disagreeing with the umpire’s called third strike.
In the bottom of the ninth the Twins were behind by a run. Harmon, in his last years as a Twin and relegated to DH duty, stepped up to bat to the thundering feet of the crowd, stomping in expectation.
Crack. The ball arched high across the sky down the third base line and settled into the upper-deck stands…just foul. Harmon ended up striking out and the Twins lost but I was astonished that a human being could hit the ball so hard and so far.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Harmon Killebrew but from afar he always came off as a kind and gentle man. Thank you, Harmon.
But my favorite player was, of course, Rod Carew. In 1977 I watched him flirt with a .400 batting average.
To this day, he was the best hitter I’ve ever seen. I go crazy watching the current Twins–or most current Major Leaguers, for that matter–bunt because Carew was such a master at it. He was also a master at stealing home.
Not Winning Enough
While I got to watch many talented baseball players, I never got to see the Twins in post-season play. In ’69 and ’70, they made it to the American League Championship Series, but I was five. The only World Series appearance the team had made was in 1965, when the team was four years old.
The Vikings, however, were perennial winners during my childhood. The young Vikings team had advanced to Super Bowl IV, but that was before I started following sports.
I started watching them when I was nine years old, 1973, the year they drafted outstanding running back Chuck Foreman.
The year before, the Vikes traded several players and two draft picks to reacquire quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Those two additions helped the Vikings win their first nine games of 1973, finish the season 12-2, and advance to Super Bowl VIII, where they lost to the Miami Dolphins.
The Vikings returned to the Super Bowl twice more after the 1974 and 1976 seasons, but lost both of those as well. They would have played in the Super Bowl after the 1975 season, were it not for the cheating Dallas Cowboys.
So during my childhood, my professional sports memories are filled with losing and not quite winning enough.
From 1980 to 1986, the Twins never finished better than third place; in 1986, they finished sixth in a seven team division. It was tough, therefore, to be a Twins fan during my college year; particularly because my annoying Chicago classmates were merciless in their teasing me over the Twinkies.
Then came 1987.
At that time, while at college, I also managed a restaurant and did some freelance copywriting. During the World Series, I visited with a copywriter for one of the top advertising agencies in Cedar Rapids, trying to make a name for myself and pry my way into the advertising business.
“How ’bout them boys from St. Louie?!?” he said to one of his coworkers, as I followed him to his office. I bit my lip.
It was interesting being in Cedar Rapids at that time because half of the town was rooting for the Cardinals and half was rooting for the Twins.
I tried, but couldn’t take off work from the restaurant for many of the games of the series, so I was reduced to asking customers the score, then dashing home to watch the highlights on CNN and devouring a copy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in the morning.
I did managed to find someone to work my shift for Game Seven.
My girlfriend, who was also from Minnesota, and I watched the game at our apartment. We watched a nail-biting game featuring a remarkable eight inning pitching performance by Frankie “Sweet Music” Viola and a ninth save by closer Jeff Reardon for the win and the championship.
The elation over my Twins world championship was due as much to the relief that we’d finally won as it was to the joy of winning itself.
You have to understand the context.
No modern Minnesota sports team had ever won a championship. We were always getting a sniff of the ultimate victory, but never the taste.
In baseball, the Twins lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965. Four times the Vikings played in a Super Bowl game and four times they lost. In 1961, the Minnesota Gophers football team lost to Washington in the Rose Bowl.
Long before the Timberwolves, the Minneapolis Lakers won three NBA championships before the team moved to Los Angeles, but I wasn’t born yet, so it doesn’t count.
Losing the big one was not merely confined to sports, though.
My state was a two-time loser in presidential politics as well. In 1968, former Minnesota Senator and then-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey lost the presidential race to Richard Nixon. Again in 1984, former Minnesota Senator and former Vice President Walter Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan.
Add to that the economic uncertainty of the time (Black Monday occurred on the first off-day of the series), and you have not just the winning of a championship but the relief and redemption of an entire state.
I didn’t get to enjoy the subsequent parade but I did watch it from afar. This is someone’s home movie of the parade. There there is no sound.
The photo above is of Barry Bonds hitting the 755th home run, the one that tied Hank Aaron for the career home run record. Notice in the upper left hand corner: There is a person taking a photo who is wearing an asterisk shirt. Yesterday, he hit number 756 to take the record and I couldn’t care less.
I have nothing against Barry Bonds personally. I don’t hate him or anything. I just think he’s a cheater. Yes, I know, I’m supposed to presume innocence but that’s in a court of law, not the court of public opinion. And except for San Francisco, I think the public has returned the verdict on the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Bonds took steroids.
I mean, c’mon! Some argue that every era has it’s cheating and this is just another part of that. But a corked bat or spit on the ball (or, if we’re talkin’ Twins baseball, here, an emery board) is a far cry from artificially improving your body, your power and reflexes, at the expense of your peers who are not taking steroids.
I heard an interview with Patrick Arnold, the convicted designer of the steroid Bonds is accused of taking, The Clear. The steroid is named that because it was specifically designed to be undetectable by steroid tests. Arnold was interviewed on Costas Now and he ridiculed Bonds’ claim that he didn’t know what he was taking. He also said that the steroid does improve reflexes and has the effect of putting athletes "in the zone."
There’s a world of difference between the manipulation of the physical objects within the game and the manipulation of the athlete’s body itself. I think ANYONE caught using steroids should be banned from the game and their records erased.
I’m biased also biased against Barry Bonds, I should disclose. And the reason I’m biased is Hank Aaron. Let me tell you why.
On April 8, 1974, the day that Hammerin’ Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth‘s career home run mark, I was a ten year old kid living in the suburb of New Brighton, Minnesota. My best friend at that time was a black kid named Arthur.
Art’s family was the only black family I knew of in New Brighton. There were some white neighbors the next block down who had adopted a couple of black children, but Art’s was the only black family probably in New Brighton at the time.
The only time I’d see African Americans back then was if we drove into Minneapolis or occasionally there would be a black kid on a little league team against whom we’d play. Mine was nearly an all white world.
As a ten year old kid, I did not think of race at all. Art was my buddy and that was that. The only time I was forced to think about race was when some kid made a racist slur against Art and it did happen sometimes. It was a dangerous thing to do, I thought, because I was pretty sure Art could have absolutely kick those kids asses.
I knew. I played football against him all the time so I knew how punishing he could be just playing a game. All knees and elbows, Art was. But we’d talk trash back and that was the end of it.
So back to April 8, 1974. Art and I were at his house messing around and Art’s father was in the other room watching a baseball game, the Braves against the Dodgers. Art’s father called him into the room:
"You gotta watch this," he said.
And so we watched Hank Aaron’s at-bat. We watched as Aaron took his majestic swing that sent Al Downing‘s ball deep, deep, deep as Dodgers outfielder Bill Buckner scaled the wall, hoping to pull it in, only to watch it drop in the Braves bullpen where reliever Tom House caught it. We watched as the crowd erupted and Aaron rounded the bases and a couple of college students left their seats to trot alongside him. We watched as the crowd around Aaron grew as he approached home plate where his mother awaited him.
And I watched as Art’s dad pumped his fists in the air and scream and dance with delight. I thought, damn, he must really like Hank Aaron! I knew that Aaron had just broken Babe Ruth’s record and I thought it was cool and all, but I was absolutely oblivious about the significance of the home run as a racial equality event. I didn’t comprehend the extent of what Aaron’s accomplishment meant to Art’s father.
Not until later, of course. I found myself thinking of the experience often when my family moved to Indiana during high school and I saw routine, undisguised, in-your-face racism. I was fortunate enough that my parents raised me to treat everyone as I would like to be treated myself. They didn’t say anything about race, they just said to treat people decently.
Because of that upbringing, I was baffled with racism. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could hate–hate–someone they had never met and had done nothing to deserve a drop of vitriol. But my experience in Indiana taught me that racism was inherited, that the racist kids that I knew had racist parents.
So I will forever be thankful for having the good fortune to be in Art’s home at that time. The experience prepared me for later life in so many ways. I was able to understand a lot about people as a result.
So, yeah, I’d rather have the person who breaks Aaron’s record earn it. While Hank Aaron will always be my home run king, I can always hope that Alex Rodriguez stays healthy enough to surpass Bonds.