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Archive for Friday, August 18, 2006

Mayer: Auker fantastic story

August 18, 2006

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This is an unabashed boost for a terrific sports book written by a local guy I happen to work with - about one of the greatest athletes in Kansas (or anybody else's) history.

The author is Tom Keegan, Journal-World sports editor. The subject is the late Elden Auker. At Kansas State College, Auker was all-Big Six in football, basketball and baseball, then posted 130 pitching victories in 10 Major League Baseball seasons (1933-42). Elden died recently at the age of 95, and I went back to re-read some of the material Keegan provides in his lively, fast-moving biography, "Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms."

Auker not only pitched against the immortal Babe Ruth, but knew him well enough to accrue nifty personal stories. Elden played in the '34 and '35 World Series and got a title ring with Detroit in '35.

Pressure? The Sultan of Swat was the first hitter Auker, a submariner, faced as a 1933 rookie. Elden struck out the Bambino on four pitches and forced the next guy, Lou Gehrig, to pop out.

Ruth, Gehrig, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove, Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, Joe Cronin - and Leo Durocher. Auker knew them all personally. Elden related how fortunate the scheming, conniving Durocher was to live long enough to become a manager, say things like "The G'ints is dead" and "Nice guys finish last," and convince a dish like Laraine Day to be his wife.

In 1929, the Yankees were desperate for a road roommate for Babe Ruth. Not only was he up at all hours, eating and servicing groupies; the major problem was his constant burping and passing gas. Finally, a young shortstop was forced to share the quarters.

Soon, Ruth noticed he seemed to be spending his money even faster than normal. Guys in the clubhouse started missing things like money, watches, rings. There was honor in the ranks, theft strictly taboo.

After a pet pocket watch vanished, Ruth marked five $100 bills and went out on the town. Upon returning about 2 a.m., he went straight to the bag of his bunkmate, checked a "secret" compartment, and out tumbled the watch and the marked bills.

The Battering Bambino made such a noise combing over the culprit that, fortunately, security broke in before fatality set in. The Yankees managed to keep it out of the papers; the shortstop was released immediately. Blackballed in the American League, the guy found sympathy with the famed Branch Rickey in the NL. He achieved success mainly as manager Leo Durocher.

Keegan notes that some labeled him Leo the Lip. Auker considered him Leo the Lout. When you stole from a teammate, you were untouchable. Successful as Durocher may have become, old-timers like the straight-and-narrow, honest Elden Auker shook their heads derisively whenever his name came up.

That's just one of the insights Auker offers in "Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms." The versatile submariner from little Norcatur, Kan., is a hall-of-famer we can all be proud of. Kansas State people, in particular, should read Keegan's book to learn more about this fantastic icon on their athletic honor roll.

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