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Archive for Sunday, October 3, 1999

MAYER COLUMN

October 3, 1999

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There is no measuring device fast enough to clock how soon speculation about a coaching change would surface after Kansas's lopsided football losses to Colorado and San Diego State.

You combine fan impatience with the speed with which airheads can project and communicate on computers and a stopwatch is obsolete.

Sure, Kansas is going to have a terrible time winning as many as four games (three might even be good) with the Murderer's Row it's facing. But under Terry Allen, the Jayhawks are still trying to replenish a talent bin that was pretty empty three years ago. Until there is much more leadership, skill, consistency and spark at the quarterback, the painful struggle will continue. Other positions also need help, but QB has to improve drastically. By next year, Dylen Smith should have enough combat time to run a much better show. Olathe's Zach Dyer, being held back, is considered a comer.

But all these guys are one play away from disaster, as we've seen so often in colleges and the pros in recent times. Little wonder that so many coaches are adopting two-QB rotations.

Don't count on any miracles this fall. Anything is possible but don't bet the farm. Things look better for next fall; if there's not a solid upturn, then coaching speculation is legitimate. But for now, basketball is going to have to close the emotional gap for Jayhawk fans.

For those in deep despair, recognize how the mysterious Bill Snyder brought Kansas State from the rating as the worst program in college history to one of the best. KU has the wherewithal to do something like that. And while the Wildcats have won six in a row, KU still leads the series at 61-30-5.

Times have been a lot harder, like some of those difficult times in the 1930s. The Jayhawks were a ghastly 0-10 in 1954 after KU chased off popular coach J.V. Sikes. Then there were 3-6-1's the next two seasons. It took Jack Mitchell to restore enthusiasm starting in 1958 when he signed that fabulous freshman crew featuring John Hadl.

Coach Pepper Rodgers had a 1-9 in 1969; Bud Moore was 1-10 in 1978; Don Fambrough had a 2-7 in 1982; Bob Valesente was 1-9 in 1987; Glen Mason, 1-10 in 1988.

Times have been grim; this is among 'em. But again, look what the guys about 80 miles up the river have done and take heart. KU will never have a football program commensurate with its basketball brilliance. But keep in mind there was a time when K-State was also best-known as a basketball school.

  • Most kids don't understand it, but often you need a few years to fully appreciate what you originally have taken somewhat for granted. Like Ted Williams, among many other people, places and things, in my case.

Numerous younger people may some day think back and realize just how terrific a Michael Jordan or a John Elway was when they accepted them as stars but didn't fully fathom their merits. They'll continue to gain stature.

This happens to me all the time, particularly when there are so many overpaid, fly-by-nights, sociopaths, phonies and wanna-be's who think you should kiss their ring and bless them for even smiling -- or staying out of court. They prance in after marginal achievements, puff out their chests and declare "Love me!" But back to Teddy Ballgame.

USA Today noted last Tuesday that with the 1941 American League baseball pennant races already decided, only two months before Pearl Harbor, Ted Williams could have accepted Boston manager Joe Cronin's offer to sit out a season-ending doubleheader. Ted had a .39955 batting average that would have been rounded off at the magical .400. Williams was too proud. He played both games, went 6-for-8 and finished at .406, the game's last .400 striker. In typical Teddy fashion, he remarked:

"If I was being paid $30,000 a year, the very least I could do was hit .400."

Today, somebody in a similar situation would sit down or if successful would howl for a $5 million salary raise to compensate for the feat and ease the long pain from difficult potty-training, bed-wetting and the lack of a date for the high school prom.

(There was also Hall of Fame Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller who, after four years of World War II Navy service, called for a salary cut the next year because with a 15-10 he hadn't lived up to his personal expectations.)

Ted Williams gave up three seasons to WWII and two to the Korean War as a Marine fighter pilot, then provided another kicker in 1958. At age 40, he went 2-for-4 with a double and home run on the last day of the season to finish at .328. He beat out teammate Pete Runnels for the AL batting title, Ted's sixth.

I saw a Boston-Kansas City game at old Municipal Stadium in '58 when the aging Ted was used as a pinch-hitter. He sat quietly in the dugout until he was called to the plate; his sudden burst of enthusiasm was electrifying. You'd have thought he was a mere rookie being given a golden opportunity to break in instead of winding up a career. You don't find enough people anymore with that intensity of love for the game.

-- Bill Mayer's phone number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is bmayer@ljworld.com.

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