Cardboard Tigers: T. Walker, G. Wilson, Wockenfuss

Seventeenth and last in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.

Tom Walker – 1976 Topps #186

Tom Walker pitched in 36 games for the 1975 Tigers, starting 9 of them and finishing 17 others. He had a 3-8 record, a 4.45 ERA, and didn’t record a single save despite closing out those 17 contests. He came to Detroit in the deal that sent Woodie Fryman to Montréal that also brought Terry Humphrey to the Tigers. To be honest, though I followed the Tigers pretty closely in the mid-seventies, I don’t have any memory of Tom Walker with the team at all.

While this is Tom’s 1976 Topps card, by the time the spring training started that year he was with the Cardinals, who purchased his contract that February. He spent most of the season in Tulsa as a starter, but ended up saving three games for the big league team in only 19 2/3 innings. He split 1977 with Montreal again, then the California Angels, before briefly playing for the Columbus Clippers (then the Pirates’ AAA farm team) in 1978.

Tom’s career was fairly uneventful, other than the uniqueness of the final batter he faced in the big leagues, as Lyman Bostock lined into a triple play. He had a 18-23 lifetime record with a 3.87 ERA and struck out 262 batters.

In 1972, Walker was one of several major leaguers who helped Roberto Clemente load an airplane full of food and other supplies destined for Nicaragua after the Christmas earthquake that winter. Tom offered to go along to assist with the distribution, but Clemente told him to stay home and enjoy his New Year’s Eve celebration. When he returned home, Walker found out that Clemente’s plane had crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico.

Walker’s son, Neil, was a second baseman for the Pirates, Mets, Brewers, Yankees, Marlins, and Phillies over an eleven-year major league career.

Of more significance to Tigers’ fans is the fact that Tom’s daughter Carrie married former Tiger Don Kelly (currently the bench coach for the Pirates), making Tom his father-in-law and Neil his brother-in-law.

Glenn Wilson – 1984 Topps #563
Johnny Wockenfuss – 1984 Topps #119

Glenn Wilson and Johnny Wockenfuss finish out our Cardboard Tigers series due to the fact that their last names put them at the bottom of the deck. Coincidentally, they share a connection beyond having names near the end of the alphabet: They were traded together at the end of spring training in 1984 to the Phillies for first baseman Dave Bergman and closer Willie Hernandez. Bergman, of course, was a key utility component for the Tigers’ World Series championship team, playing first base and the corner outfield spots while hitting .273 in 121 at-bats, while all Hernandez did was win both the Cy Young Award and American League MVP while saving 32 games and posting an ERA of 1.92.

So again, as we’ve seen several times in this series, the cards for the 1984 Tigers feature a lot of guys who weren’t even on that team, including Wilson and Wockenfuss.

Wilson was coming off a good season for Detroit in 1983 where he hit .268 with 11 homers, playing 144 games in mostly right field with a few appearances in left and center. He went on to have a decent year in Philly in ’84 as well, but his best year was 1985, when he hit .275, knocked in 104 runs, made the National League All-Star team, and finished 23rd in the NL MVP voting. He played through 1990 with the Phillies, Mariners, Pirates, and Astros, and made a brief comeback in 1994 with Pittsburgh. For his career, he batted .265 with 98 home runs, and 521 RBI. He also pitched once: in 1987 he threw a 1-2-3 inning including a strikeout, giving him a lifetime 0.00 ERA.

After retiring from baseball, Wilson owned a gas station in Texas, managed independent league baseball in the Frontier League, and became an ordained minister.

Wockenfuss was tougher for me to deal with when he was traded to Philadelphia. He was one of my favorite Tigers, having been with the team since 1974, mostly as Bill Freehan’s (and later Lance Parrish’s) backup at catcher, and platooning for a couple of years with Milt May. He was versatile, making appearances in the outfield and at first base and serving as a capable designated hitter when needed as well. While he only averaged around 200 plate appearances per season (the exception was 1980, when he had 444 plate appearances while playing mostly first base – also his best season as he hit .274 with 16 homers and 65 RBI), he was always fun to watch, with his curly hair and mustache making him stand out on the field. As a catcher myself, Wockenfuss was they guy whose receiving style I copied. He also had a rather unusual batting stance, which I also copied (not that it did me any good). I was pretty upset when the Tigers traded him, especially right before the team headed north from Florida.

In the end, I got over it, considering the great start the 1984 team got off to and the contributions from both Bergman and Hernandez. Wockenfuss had a good year in Philadelphia, hitting .289 in 180 at-bats, playing mostly first base with some catcher and a couple of brief appearances at third base. He finished his major league career in 1985 with the Phillies at the age of 35. For his career, he hit .262 with 86 home runs, and 310 RBI.

In 1986, however, Wockenfuss decided he wasn’t done quite yet and paid his own way to Lakeland, hoping the Tigers would give him a shot. When they weren’t interested, he headed down the road to Winter Haven to see if the Red Sox would be willing, but they also said no. So he caught on with the Single-A Miami Marlins of the Florida State League, who in those days had no major league affiliation. He spent the whole season in south Florida, hitting .269 with 10 home runs and 80 RBI and was considered the “anchor of the Marlins’ team,” according to Miami sportswriter Tom Archdeacon.

After finally ending his playing career, he managed the Lakeland Tigers (A) in 1986 and 1987; the Glens Falls Tigers (AA) in 1988; and the Toledo Mud Hens (AAA) in 1989. He was fired early in the 1990 season after the Mud Hens got off to a 10-14 start, but later managed in the Pirates’ minor league system and with the independent Albany-Colonies Diamond Dogs in 1996-97.

Today, Wockenfuss, 72, suffers from dementia, believed to be a product of years of head contact as a football and baseball player, especially at the catcher position. His former teammate, Bill Freehan, also suffered from dementia for several years before his death this summer at the age of 79. He does remember much about his baseball career, though, including the disappointment he felt when the Tigers traded him in 1984. When his former team went on to win the World Series, Wockenfuss was frustrated with how close he’d come to winning a championship.

“I knew I was (close to) getting a (World Series) ring, you know, and that hurt, because I had been with them for so many years,” Wockenfuss said. “We were getting better and better and better and Sparky (manager Sparky Anderson) and I were good friends. I couldn’t believe it what he did to me. Because I was in the minors for a long time.”

From NNY360.com, November 18, 2019, article by Gregory Gay

Elida Yakeley, higher education pioneer

My day job is Director of Admissions for a community college in Michigan. In that role, I’ve been a member of the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (MACRAO) for several years, and am serving as the group’s president for 2021, our 100th anniversary year. Last week, I wrote the following item for our website, celebrating the career of the association’s first president. Because she was such a pioneer for women in higher education, I thought I’d share it here as well.

Elida Yakeley

MACRAO was born in 1921 on the campus of the Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti. America’s colleges and universities were experiencing rapid change, and the college registrars were responding by expanding and modernizing their work. These challenges motivated registrars from of four of the state’s colleges to meet in person to share ideas and work on standardizing processes between institutions. Besides the hosts from Michigan State Normal (later to become Eastern Michigan University), registrars from Michigan Agricultural College (later Michigan State University), the Detroit Teachers College (which later merged with other Detroit colleges to create Wayne University, then later Wayne State University), and Kalamazoo College attended.

After discussing their shared interests, the group decided to create a formal organization. About a decade earlier, Michigan had also been the first meeting place of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars (AACR), and since that group had grown to national prominence, it seemed like a good idea to have a similar group that would deal with the specific issues of colleges in Michigan. So the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars (MACR) was born.

Of course, every good organization needs leadership, and the newly minted MACR membership turned to one of the state’s pioneers in the profession: Elida Yakeley from M.A.C.

Elida Yakeley was born on April 4, 1876, in Trenton, Michigan, but grew up in Montana. After graduating from high school in Big Sky Country, she returned to her home state to attend college at Ferris Institute in Big Rapids, where she studied business. After graduation she worked in a series of short-term positions until she was hired in 1903 as the secretary to Jonathan L. Snyder, the president of what was then known as the State Agricultural College in East Lansing.

The 1923 MACR meeting was held in East Lansing

Yakeley was a diminutive woman, so sitting behind the huge desk in the anteroom of Snyder’s office meant she had to stand to greet everyone who came in. This made her the face of the college, which in those days had only about 500 students, and she quickly came to know each of them personally and was a great resource for them. As she pointed out later in life, registering students wasn’t terribly difficult in those days, since there were so few students and only three choices for programs to follow: agriculture, engineering, and the “women’s course.”

Over the next several years, however, the school added new programs and its enrollment started to grow significantly. Soon the registration process was becoming more difficult, and Yakeley took it upon herself to come up with a way to automate the system – at least as much as it could be in an age well before computers. Recognizing her genius in setting up one of the first modern registration systems of its kind in the country, Snyder appointed her the first registrar in the college’s history in 1908, just before the institution became Michigan Agricultural College the following year. This not only made her one of the first female college administrators in Michigan, but also in the United States.

In charge of all student records, she continued to make it a point to talk to nearly every student at the school throughout her 30 years at M.A.C. She also kept in touch with alumni, taking an interest in their success after they’d left East Lansing. Students were very fond of her and thought of her as a “thoroughly just, broad-hearted friend.”

She took a 27,000-mile journey around the world in the fall of 1923 with M.A.C. history and political science professor E.H. Ryder, his wife, and home economics associate professor Anna Bayha. During the trip, they were feared to have been lost during the Great Kantō Earthquake but had left Japan just five days before the disaster. They toured Japan, Korea, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Palestine, France, Italy, Switerland, and England. The travelers returned safely to East Lansing in January 1924.

Yakeley was elected Vice President of AACR at their annual meeting in Seattle in April 1929. Later that year in November, she was seriously injured while attending the AACR meeting in Buffalo. According to newspaper accounts of the time, she was struck by a car and thrown into the path of another vehicle and suffered head and chest injuries. Clemens P. Steimle, another early president of MACR, reported that she was barely conscious and was unable to speak. She did recover, though, and returned to her work at the newly renamed Michigan State College of Agriculture and Science (M.S.C.).

As registrar at M.A.C./M.S.C. she was also instrumental in maintaining the early history of the college. After turning over the registrar’s duties in 1939, she continued as a historical research associate at the college until she retired in 1941 due to ill health and moved to southern California.

Elida Yakeley in 1951

In 1949, M.S.C. named a new women’s dormitory after its first registrar. Yakeley Hall is in the North Neighborhood, which at the time was all housing for female students; Yakeley is today the only remaining all-female residence hall on the MSU campus. Although the college named the building after her, they neglected to let her know about the honor! She found out during a visit to Lansing shortly after the building opened to students, reading about it in the State Journal while staying with friends.

Elida Yakeley died on April 18, 1970, in Chula Vista, California. She was 94 years old.

Back to the future

Nostalgia for the 1950s is nothing new. In the seventies, we had George Lucas’s American Graffiti, which led to ABC’s Happy Days and it’s successful spin-off Laverne & Shirley. The first Back to the Future sent Marty back to 1955. Even 70 years later, we’re still harkening back to those idyllic, simpler days of the 1950s, when Ike was president, women still wore cocktail dresses all the time and cooked a roast every night for dinner, and kids walked to school, respected their teachers, and all got above-average grades.

Which is nonsense, of course. The fifties weren’t perfect. For one thing, while Eisenhower was president from 1953 to 1961, that mean that Dick Nixon was vice president for that same period. The economy grew, but it grew a lot more if you were involved in an industry that supplied the rapidly growing Cold War military/industrial complex, the same one Ike warned us against.

1954 saw the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that overturned the Jim Crow concept of “separate but equal” and required desegregation of public schools. That didn’t happen overnight, and the battle over the racial makeup of schools continued into the 1970s – and in many ways, continues even today.

As recounted in David Halberstam’s epic 1993 book The Fifties, many other changes started in that decade, including the beginning of the fast food and tourism chains with the rise of McDonald’s and Holiday Inn, the launch of the sexual revolution that would come to fruition in the next decade with the development of an effective and affordable birth control pill, and hints of the coming counter-culture with the birth of rock and roll and the popularity of actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean, who played anti-heroes to great popular acclaim. The poetry of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (championed by the recently-departed Lawrence Ferlinghetti) suggested that American life was perhaps a bit more complex and imperfect than the dominant culture suggested.

So while many people view the changes that started in that decade as positive steps toward a more diverse and equitable American society, there are still those, embodied by the sedition wing of the the “Republican” party, who long for the mythical fifties I described earlier. The time when women, blacks, Hispanics, and pretty much everyone who isn’t white and male, knew their place – and if they didn’t, you could help them remember it through force if needed, and society, and most of the time the judicial system, would back you up.

It’s all about power, and it’s always been about power. As America’s traditional ruling class continues to watch their political authority wane due to demographic changes and more progressive societal norms, they will continue to demand that the clock be turned back to a time that really never existed except on television and in the movies.

Minimum wage mythology

Nothing beats getting lectured by White Guys in Suits about how they scrambled up the ladder by paying for college with their minimum wage jobs. Apparently they didn’t take any economics classes that might have explained inflation to them or even a math class that went over how percentages work:

Sen. Thune was born in 1961, so adjusting for inflation, his $6.00 per hour wage in the late seventies (when the minimum wage, incidentally, was around $2.90 per hour) would be about $24.00 per hour today. So a $15.00 minimum wage doesn’t even bring us close to parity with that.

As Timothy Burke notes, tuition at K-State has grown more than 11 times what it was when Sen. Marshall graduated, while the federal minimum wage has only doubled.

Some other things that have increased much faster than the minimum wage and might be considered critical parts of basic existence:

  • $500 worth of groceries in 1981 would cost about $1,400 today, an increase of nearly 190 percent.
  • Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Port Huron, Michigan (the county seat of St. Clair County, where I live) was $150/month at the low end in 1981; today the low-end of similar apartment rents is $650/month – an increase of 433%.
  • Community college tuition in St. Clair County increased by 735% ($18.50 per contact hour in 1981 vs. $136.00 per contact hour in 2021); university tuition at Central Michigan University (my alma mater) went from $31.50 per hour in 1981 to $417.00 per hour this academic year, an increase of 1324%.
  • Admittedly, the doubling of the minimum wage has allowed consumers to keep pace with the price of some common items: gasoline prices are about 90 percent higher today than in 1981 (adjusted for inflation); new car prices are up only about 55% over the last forty years; the price of technology-related items have, in many cases, actually gone down.

My point, however, is that the cost of basic life necessities – housing, food, and education – have grown well beyond the ability of the minimum wage to keep up. The $3.35 per hour federal minimum wage that was in effect when I started college in 1981 would need to be $9.64 today. And that $9.64/hour wage would result in an annual income for an individual of $20,051.20, assuming 40 hours per week times 52 weeks. The cutoff for eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is 130 percent of the federally-established poverty guideline, which works out to $16,744. So you’re above the poverty line, you’re not eligible for SNAP or many other assistance programs, but you’re supposed to live on about $1,670 per month.

A minimum wage shouldn’t just be a “subsistence wage.” It should be significant enough to allow for a decent living standard, some savings, some room for investment in education or other self-improvement. Reducing economic insecurity would have positive impacts on many social problems, including crime.

We hear, usually from the White Guys in Suits, that raising the minimum wage would cause small businesses to cut jobs to compensate, or that the additional costs would be passed on to consumers. These effects can happen, but may also be offset by having more money in the pockets of both current and potentially new customers. Henry Ford, hardly a social progressive (to put it mildly), did have it right when he observed

The owner, the employees, and the buying public are all one and the same, and unless an industry can so manage itself as to keep wages high and prices low it destroys itself, for otherwise it limits the number of its customers. One’s own employees ought to be one’s own best customers.

Henry Ford, 1926

Why do we assume that it’s a zero-sum game? If we pay people better, doesn’t that give them more money to spend in the overall economy?

When the federal Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938, the minimum wage was 25 cents per hour, and the intent was for that to be not just a “minimum” but a living wage, as described by President Roosevelt at the beginning of the Great Depression:

It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

I’d like to be charitable and assume that Sens. Thune and Marshall are just not experts on the history of labor and compensation, but that’s why they have staff, so I’m more inclined to think that they’re being intentionally obtuse because they hope their constituents will take their “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” nonsense to heart. But nearly 60% of Americans are in favor of raising the minimum wage, either all at once or gradually over several years, to $15.00 per hour.

While many states and cities have their own, higher, minimum wage, the federal standard of $7.25 per hour hasn’t changed since 2009. It’s long overdue to be adjusted to an amount that reflects not just the value but the dignity of all work and all workers.

“Do not go naked into that good night”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti died on Monday at the age of 101. He was a wonderful poet in his own right, but was probably better known as the long-time proprietor of City Lights, a bookstore located in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco that was the heart of the Beat Generation’s writers and thinkers in the fifties and sixties and has endured the rise of chain bookstores in the eighties and Amazon in the 21st century.

I was introduced to his work in college, when my girlfriend, who had read some of his poems in high school, lent me Endless Life: Selected Poems, a compendium of his work through 1981. I was taking one of the best courses I took at Central Michigan University, TAI 270 Oral Interpretation of Literature, with professor Jill Taft-Kaufman. It was an alternative to the standard speech class needed to complete a graduation requirement, and since I was also considering majoring in Theater and Interpretation, it would work for that as well.

After doing some unmemorable prose piece for my first performance assignment, I pulled Ferlinghetti’s book out to find a poem for the second reading. I considered several poems as possibilities. It was difficult, because I loved so many of them, then and now, and what I really wanted to do was read the entire collection aloud, but I was pretty sure that would exceed my classmates’ reservoir of patience.

After trying out “Dog” (“The dog trots freely in the street, past puddles and babies, cats and cigars, poolrooms and policemen He doesn’t hate cops He merely has no use for them”), “Underwear” (“Underwear with spots very suspicious Underwear with bulges very shocking Underwear on clothesline a great flag of freedom Someone has escaped his Underwear May be naked somewhere Help! But don’t worry Everybody’s still hung up in it”), and “Autobiography” (“I have read the Reader’s Digest from cover to cover and noted the close identification of the United States and the Promised Land where every coin is marked In God We Trust but the dollar bills do not have it being gods unto themselves.”), I chose “I Am Waiting.”

“I Am Waiting” was from his 1958 collection A Coney Island of the Mind, which was intended to be performed with a jazz background and became one of the best-selling books of poetry in American history. The poem was inspired by his impending trial on obscenity charges that had been leveled against him after City Lights published Allen Ginsberg’s poem/manifesto “Howl.”

I have nothing against Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, or Edgar Allan Poe, but let’s say my presentation of Ferlinghetti surprised the class a bit. My girlfriend also chose to present some of Ferlinghetti’s work when she took the same class and got an even stronger reaction, perhaps because it was even stranger for a female student to be reading such unexpected words. (For this and many other reasons, I married her!)

Years later, when I was teaching theater arts at St. Clair County Community College, I had the chance to revive the dormant Oral Interpretation of Literature course there. I modeled the course after Dr. Taft-Kaufman’s, which I still had my notes and syllabus from. I began each semester with a performance of Ferlinghetti’s poetry, to set the bar a bit beyond the usual choices from the start.

Thanks, Lawrence, for the words and the courage and the inspiration. You not only moved me forward when I was younger but were the connection between now and then for me. I suspected you might live forever and am more than a bit disappointed to discover that you didn’t.

Here’s “I Am Waiting” read by author Abu B. Rafique: