By Jim O'Leary
An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.
April 21, 2003
The ping of spring
In the Easter edition of The Waverly Star for 1933, we learned:
"Jackie Litfin has 14 home runs to his credit already this season. Babe Ruth will have to step on it or Jackie will make him look like a bush leaguer."
Ping? Oops. The "ping of spring" isn't quite accurate, because aluminum bats came in much, much later.
Jackie Litfin came from a marvelous baseball family, including his brothers, Tom and George Litfin. Tom has retired from business and now lives in Milaca, where he and his wife enjoy good health but not much travel.
Tom says the last time he was in Waverly was for Bud Claessens' funeral. Tom was the finest pitcher I ever saw. He took Waverly to the state junior legion championship tournament in 1937.
Jackie played on that same team along with Zip Zeller, Ken Sexton, Jack Reinert, Buck Rogers, Hans Gritz, Gib Main, Johnny Berg, John and Art Hokenson, Jim and Chuck Dahlberg, and Harry Elliot.
Ches Ogle was the head coach, Getz Jolicoeur was the general manager and Clinton Quinn was coach of that team.
In WWII, Jackie saw combat as an ambulance driver in Europe. He returned home safely from the war in Europe only to be killed in an auto accident on Highway 12 at the Great Northern railway underpass just east of Montrose, along with Roger Toussaint, the banker's son.
Babe Ruth? In 1933, he was the highest paid player in baseball. I don't think there was an American alive who would begrudge him a penny of it though. We needed the likes of him to take our minds off the Depression.
He, himself, took a cut in pay because of the Depression. He signed with the New York Yankees that year for $52,000, down from his previous pay of $75,000 the year before.
In 1933, he hit 22 home runs at home and 12 on the road. It is lost to history how many homers Jackie Litfin hit that year, but he was certainly off to a great start.
The Yankees, with Ruth of course, won the World Series in 1934, beating out the Washington Senators, who later became our very own Minnesota Twins.
But 1933 was a great year for baseball. An 18 year old named Joe DiMaggio broke into his first year in major league baseball playing for San Francisco in the Pacific Coast League with an incredible 61-game hitting streak.
It was Bob Decker who turned me into a DiMaggio fan, and a Yankee fan. My loyalty has never wavered, even though they embarrassed our Twins this month by beating our Twins four in a row, even without Derek Jeter.
Waverly was always such a baseball town that I can remember spring training began while the lake was still frozen over.
The boys of St. Mary's would practice catching fly balls on the lake, running over the ice to make the plays. The frozen lake was the only open field they could find without shoveling tons of snow.
The Waverly Community Store, A.S. Mellon, prop., was advertising Easter specials in this issue.
Mr. Mellon was not above a little sermonizing in order to lure customers to his corner grocery: "What a joyous time is Easter!" he wrote. "The world is getting green again and young again. Every moment of life should be enjoyed. Your meals should be enjoyed! They will be, by you and your whole family, if you make it a habit to shop at the Waverly Community Store, where good foods are always procurable and where moderate prices are always maintained."
His raisins were going for seven cents a pound and canned tomah salmon (pink) were at 10 cents. Eggs were seven cents a dozen.
When it came to Mr. Mellon, Mr. Francis ("Marks") McDonnell, "ye olde editor" of "Ye Towne Gossip" seemed to have it in for him.
Even though Mr. Mellon was a highly regarded leading citizen and very popular (in fact, he was elected and re-elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives), Marks never failed to give a weekly negative health report on Mr. Mellon, who did, in fact, live to a ripe old age, despite the gloomy prognosis Marks gave him week after week.
In the Easter issue was this alarming item: "Word was received in Waverly this week stating that Mr. A.S. Mellon, who is a patient at the Mayo Hospital at Rochester, was just holding his own. It will be at least a month before he will be able to return home, if at all. He went to Rochester last week."
Another health report in "Ye Towne Gossip" was that William H. Boland, the young bachelor banker, "left Friday afternoon for West Baden, Indiana, where he will take a course of mud baths."
As a reminder of the down side of the spring of 1933 in Wright County, there was another farm auction advertised in the Easter Waverly Star:
"Auction sale Alfred Swanson, owner. O.C. Chamberlain, auctioneer. 'On Tuesday, April 25 at 1 p.m. I will sell at public auction on the Jandro farm, two miles north of Waverly the following described property: one bay mare, 9 years old, 1,400 lbs.; one dark bay gelding, 9 years old, 1,300 lbs.; one cow, 10 years old; one Minnesota binder, 1,000 feet of lumber, one kitchen cabinet, and one table (along with other items).'"
My father lost his farm in South Dakota in 1936, which is why we moved to Waverly in the first place.
Farms were failing all over the country because of the economy. It was worse than the 1980s. How so many farmers so heroically managed to keep going is a story which still hasn't been told.
Not everyone took it lying down. In the same Easter edition, there was a headline: "Axel Mattson Is Delegate."
The story went on to say that Axel H. Mattson of Cokato was selected to go to Washington, D.C. as part of a delegation that will plead for relief for farmers. The congressional hearings were to begin the following week.
Under the New Deal, the recovery had started, but it had a long way to go.
On April 8, 1935, Congress approved the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the national works program created by President Franklin Roosevelt to relieve the economic hardship of the Great Depression.
The program employed more than 8.5 million people on 1.4 million public projects before it was disbanded in 1943.
Nowadays every time you see a Porta Potty, you can thank OSHA, but every time you see a state park you can thank the WPA.
Until next week, reporting live from Corpus Christi, Texas, this is Jim O'Leary, who never caught a fly ball in his life.
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