Jeff Sagarin is the numbers man who ranks college football and basketball teams for USA Today and the NCAA.
He did a good thing when he went back to 1950 and figured out that Bear Bryant’s Kentucky team that ended Oklahoma’s long winning streak in the 1951 Sugar Bowl should be considered the national champion. I am reminded of it every day when I look at the football the Wildcats gave me as an honorary member.
Now I wish Sagarin could work his computer magic, take into consideration war years lost by baseball stars and tell us where they would rank had their careers not been interrupted.
Ted Williams, for instance, missed all of the 1943, ’44 and ’45 seasons as a World War II fighter pilot. He was called back two other times, the last for duty in the Korean War. He played in only 89 games in 1950, just six in 1952 and only 37 the next season.
Williams finished his career with 521 home runs and 2,654 hits.
The career hits leaders are headed, of course, by Pete Rose with 4,256. He missed only about 20 games for military service in 1964. I remember one Sunday when I took my kids to see the Louisville Colonels play at old Fairgrounds Stadium. I looked up and here came Pete hustling up the steps in his Army uniform. He was in the Army Reserves at Fort Knox and wasn’t bothered for autographs – after all this was just his second season with the Reds.
Let’s look at the top 10 hits leaders:
1. Pete Rose 4,256
2. Ty Cobb 4,191
3. Hank Aaron 3,771
4. Stan Musial 3,630
5. Tris Speaker 3,515
6. Honus Wagner 3,430
7. Carl Yastrzemski 3,419
8. Paul Molitor 3,319
9. Eddie Collins 3,314
10. Willie Mays 3,283
Mays played in just 34 games in 1952 and missed all of the 1953 season for Army duty. I was at Fort Meade, Md., in the spring of ’53 waiting for assignment when I read in one of the Baltimore papers that Willie was going to play for a Virginia base against Fort Meade that night. I wasn’t supposed to leave the area, but I walked up a creek bank to get to the ball field. Every player on Willie’s team was a Major Leaguer, and he put on a show. On the way back, it was dark and I wound up muddy, but it was worth it.
Musial missed all of the 1945 season for World War II.
My point is this: Sagarin could figure out approximately how many more hits and how many more home runs the leaders would have and come up with a new list of leaders. Heck, if he can do it with football for UK’s Bob Gain and Babe Parilli and the other legendary Wildcats, he could do it for baseball and attract a lot of attention. For instance, I’d like to see what he could come up with for Joe DiMaggio, who missed all of the 1943, ’44 and ’45 seasons. He would up with a .325 batting average to go with 2,214 hits and 361 home runs.
Ed Diddle story
I wish someone would write a really good book on Ed Diddle, the legendary coach of everything for what is now Western Kentucky University. He coached football and baseball, but is remembered most for his Hall of Fame career as a basketball coach.
He put Western on the map and his Hilltoppers with their colorful shoulder flaps were among the most popular teams to play in New York’s old Madison Square Garden (not the one in use now). By the way, still another Garden is in the planning stages. It will be the fourth.
With public relations help from P.R. geniuses Kelly Thompson and Bob Cochran, Diddle made the Hilltoppers a team that Ned Irish, the man who ran the Garden, always welcomed. Another Kentucky college once wanted a spot in the National Invitational Tournament and asked me to call Irish for its team. Irish thanked me and said, “We’ll take Western anytime, but no thanks on the other one.”
A lost dog yarn
You probably have heard a lot of Diddle stories, but people never get tired of hearing them.
For instance, Mr. Diddle lost his hunting dog, Rex. He had everyone in Bowling Green looking for Rex, even got the radio stations to plead with people to look for the dog. Three or four days later, the famed coach opened his car trunk and there was old Rex, who hopped out.
“Rex!” exclaimed Diddle, “where have you been?”
Another time Western students started using his parking space in front of his home on the campus. The Bowling Green police told him that they would put up a no-parking sign. It worked fine – until the day he took his car to the garage for a tune-up. He was given a loaner. The coach looked out a little later and saw a strange car in his space. He called the police, and they hauled it off!
Charlie Ruter, the international track and field official, played basketball for Diddle. There was a famous house in Bowling Green presided over by a woman named Pauline. She would give grass-cutting jobs to Western basketball players, but Charlie says that Diddle would insist to Pauline that her “girls” leave his basketball players alone.
And lost butter
I made a trip to New York one year when Western was in the Holiday Festival Tournament at the Garden. We stayed at the old New Yorker Hotel, across from the Garden.
Diddle always would take country hams to Garden officials. One year he took several pounds of country butter, which he had in a sack. It was winter, so he put the butter outside and lowered the window on the sack. Everything went fine until someone said, “There’s too much smoke in here” and headed for the window. Mr. Diddle stuttered a bit, and he couldn’t spit out the words fast enough. We always wondered what some New Yorker thought when he found the butter on the sidewalk.