Indians

Tribe, Tunes and Transport – One Fan’s Memories: May, 1974

Each installment of this series is presented as a snapshot of a specific recollection involving the Cleveland Indians, along with thoughts on what (s)he was driving and the music (s)he was listening to.

Today, our lightly edited discussion is with Al Terego.

GREG: If you were asked for a particular memory involving the Cleveland Indians, what would come to mind?

AL: Ask me another day, I might come up with another memory. But right now, I’m thinking of May 31, 1974.

GREG: Ten Cent Beer Night?

AL: Nope – it was the night Karl Wallenda walked across the top of old Cleveland Municipal Stadium on a tightrope. We knew he’d done similar walks across other ballparks. In 1972, when I was ten, he performed at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and at Atlanta Stadium. Tigers Stadium in Detroit, too, I think. He performed at an Akron Zips-Butler Bulldogs game in the Akron Rubber Bowl in 1973. (It was that year’s annual Acme-Zip game.) I later learned that Akron had been where his family’s act first became known as “The Flying Wallendas.”

GREG: Here’s where I stay quiet to let you expand on what you just said.

AL: Karl, his wife Helen, his brother Herman, and an assistant named Josef Geiger were performing for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1930 – they’d begun doing stunts with the circus two years prior. 1 In the middle of a three-level pyramid routine in Akron, the wire slipped and they all fell, each grabbing onto the wire. Reportedly, Karl Wallenda never really liked the name “Flying Wallendas” because that was a term normally used for trapeze artists.

But in 1974, everyone knew that the Wallendas had had tightrope accidents over the years. Nephews, his son, a couple sons-in-law had died in falls. A notably tragic fall occurred in Detroit, in 1962. Two died there, and others suffered varying levels of paralysis and concussions. Another three-level pyramid. Those were extra dangerous. Karl and a couple others performed the next day, thrilling the appreciative crowd.

GREG: Imagine marrying into that family.

AL: Oh, I know. Karl himself would meet his demise while performing in Puerto Rico 1978.

So, picture sitting in Cleveland Stadium as a kid, watching a man who is almost 70 years old walking the high wire across the stadium grass. From right field to left field, where we were sitting. There was no safety net. I don’t think he ever performed with a net.

GREG: The 20th Century will forever be known for daredevil stunts. Tightrope walking, stunt car driving, motorcycle jumping, riding Niagara Falls in a barrel. We put men on the moon, for crying out loud.

Karl Wallenda and Evel Knievel

Was the high wire walk uneventful?

AL: You know, that’s interesting- it was very tense, yet kind of boring although you were glad it was, of course. Wallenda traversed the stadium without any problem. When he got about half-way, he performed a headstand. I think he commonly did this. The PA announcer informed the crowd that Wallenda needed to rest his feet!

GREG: There was a game that night?

AL: Yes. Wallenda was the final act of the night. The pre-installed high wire had captured our imagination and held it throughout the ballgame, which included a half-hour rain delay. “Can you picture yourself up there, walking on that?” “Are they going to use a safety net?”

The opponent was the Kansas City Royals of George Brett, Hal McRae, Amos Otis and Cookie Rojas. I had all of their baseball cards. They, like the Indians, were about a .500 team, around 45 games in. KC’s starting pitcher was the solid (and future Tribesman) Al Fitzmorris. The Indians countered with Steve Kline, whom they’d just received in the ill-fated trade of Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow to the New York Yankees.

The Royals drew first blood in the second inning. McRae and ex-Indian Vada Pinson each singled- the slugger McRae surprising third baseman John Lowenstein with a bunt. Jim Wohlford scored the run with a groundout.

KC should have scored in the top of the third. They had runners on the corners with nobody out. Freddie Patek tried to steal second, but catcher Dave Duncan gunned him down. Rojas then hit a grounder to short, and Fran Healy got caught in a rundown between third and home before Kline retired Otis and the Royals.

The rain stopped play in the third, but eventually, the Tribe tied the game that same inning. Shortstop Frank Duffy singled to left, only to be thrown out trying to steal. Lowenstein then doubled to right; the ball coming to rest in a mud puddle in the corner. Second baseman Jack Brohamer singled him home.

The top of the fourth was a treat. After a one-out walk to McRae, Pinson hit a short fly ball to left field. He hit it about 125 feet high. I feel certain about this, since Karl Wallenda’s high wire stretched 125 feet above the field, and Pinson’s pop fly hit it. It came straight down, and nearly struck the unaware Duffy in the head. As he looked around for the ball, McRae steamed around second and reached third before the throw finally reached Lowenstein. Only: the animated umpire Ron Luciano called him out, for some reason.

GREG: They should have had Wallenda and Pinson pose for a photo.

I always liked Vada Pinson. As you know, I consider Frank Robinson to be the most underrated major league hitter of all time. MVP in each league, Triple Crown winner, played on World Series winning teams. Retired with the fourth most career home runs in history. I don’t hear him spoken of in the same way as Mays or Aaron, but he should be.

Vida Pinson

Well, Vada Pinson was a decent major leaguer. He led the National League in hits, twice. His game boasted power and speed. But he was stuck in Frank Robinson’s shadow almost his entire life. He was from the same high school as Robinson, and played with the Cincinnati Reds when they both broke into the major leagues.

AL: Robinson has said that Vada Pinson belongs in the Hall of Fame. I don’t see it, but he does deserve more recognition.

In the fifth inning of that “Wallenda game,” Kansas City scored two on an Otis single that plated Healy and Patek. Lowenstein hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth that drew the Indians to within one.

But John Mayberry crushed a home run to right center in the sixth to close the scoring. Ex-Indian Steve Mingori was the star for the Royals in relief. Four hitless innings after taking over Fitzmorris with the bases loaded and none out in the sixth.

GREG: I took a look, and even with the rain delay, that game only took three hours to play.

What were you listening to in 1974?

AL: It was the golden age of WMMS. However, I was 13. I was still listening to AM pop music radio.
Pete Franklin at night, when there wasn’t an Indians or Cleveland Crusaders hockey game on. You know the image of an American kid with a transistor radio under his pillow, catching late baseball games when he should be sleeping? That was me, with the Crusaders for a couple years there. I loved Gerry Cheevers and Bob Whidden. Goalie play was what I understood in regards to hockey.

We actually listened to CKLW out of Detroit, most mornings. I remember “Farmer Jack’s Saving Time” (they’d tell you the time, and it was sponsored by the Farmer Jack supermarket chain). And Gary Burbank.

I don’t know if it was our car, or the AM radio signals, but if my memory serves, the radio would briefly fade any time we passed under a bridge. That typically meant Route 2 or I-90.

GREG: (Hands Al a list of the top hits of 1974.) Any of these songs pop out at you?

AL: OK, sure. I still have the 45s of Bennie and the Jets and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, somewhere.
I remember The Way We Were and Seasons in the Sun playing all year. Come and Get Your Love. Dancing Machine by the Jackson 5.

The Loco-Motion. Was it ever a hit in the ‘90s or later? I doubt it. I seem to recall that separate recordings had been in the U.S. top 5 in three different decades: the ‘60s, the ‘70s, and the ‘80s.

Huh. I guess disco must have begun in 1974.

I see Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot on there. I saw Kiefer Sutherland’s band on PBS last week.
Very, very good. I never knew he was a musician. They played a nice rocking version of Sundown.

That’s an interesting list. Cher was popular. Olivia Newton-John. Paul and Ringo were cranking out hits. Stevie Wonder was really putting out timeless stuff.

GREG: What was the family car in 1974?

AL: Well Mom had a gold 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass, and Dad had a blue 1967 Chevelle. It looked a little like this.

1967 Chevelle

He used stacks of IBM cards for his job near E185th in Cleveland, so he always had lots of rubber bands. His thin, chrome-colored turn signal switch would always have a row of rubber bands hanging from it.

Here is News5 footage of the Karl Wallenda high wire stunt at Cleveland Stadium.
He gets a huge martini afterwards. Note the upcoming Ten Cent Beer Night promo poster on the wall at about the 2:28 mark.
http://www.news5cleveland.com/news/news-archives/video-vault-karl-wallendas-1974-walk-across-cleveland-stadium-on-a-wire

Sources
1 http://www.ohio.com/lifestyle/history/local-history-wallenda-patriarch-walked-a-tightrope-across-rubber-bowl-in-1973-1.314342

2 Royals Dump Indians, The Kansas City Times, Gib Twyman, June 1, 1974

3 Baseball-reference.com

  1. The Wallendas had helped open Radio City Music Hall, in 1928. []

  • tsm

    I was also at that game. Since it had rained, I was concerned that they would have to cancel his act due to a potentially wet wire as well as winds. When he got to the middle and did the headstand, I was amazed. This is probably the non baseball highlight of any portion of an Indians game, and I can’t imagine anything else supplanting it.

  • Chris

    He’s just a giant balancing on a bridge? Tower Bridge is two lanes wide plus pedestrian lanes… that’s not very impressive!

  • tigersbrowns2

    i am thrilled that the younger generation likes / prefers music from the 60’s & 70’s … “Come And Get Your Love” is huge again thanks to Guardians Of The Galaxy … what a great soundtrack.

    and as a side note for you Indians fans : the group (Redbone) that sang “Come And Get Your Love” , were all true American Indians.

  • Harv

    Vada Pinson was a really good player, did everything well, similar to Sidney Moncrief in the NBA.

    I remember everyone being so tense about Wallenda, and Knievel. My adult viewpoint is different – way less admiration. Now it’s like: you’re choosing this for attention and money, dude? Enjoy yourself, just please be so kind not to leave your splatter on me.

  • Chris

    What about that time Onion whapped Ketchup with her purse with less than 50 feet to go to take the lead and secure the victory! Classic!

  • Petefranklin

    I remember seeing Wallenda cross the stadium although I think it was in a later year, probably around 77. It was pretty amazing as most anything that had to do with the stadium was. I just wish that I was old enough to have attended the World Series of Rock around that time. I heard a story of a guy falling off the upper deck behind the press box into the screen and just rolling his way down. Good times!

  • Petefranklin

    Upon further review I was indeed there that night. The other time he crossed the stadium it was at half that height and I’ll never forget him crossing the roof line.

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