Monday, May 25, 2009
Listening to former Kansas University baseball coach Floyd Temple talk about the old days recalls listening to Tommy Lasorda joke about training rooms of a bygone era.
“There was one trainer, and all he had in there was one bottle of rubbing alcohol,” Lasorda is fond of saying. “By the sixth inning, the bottle was half empty. The trainer drank half of it.”
Temple coached KU baseball for 28 seasons and proudly shares that he never had a full-time assistant coach and was ejected by an umpire only twice. In today’s world, a Big 12 baseball coach would choose among numerous assistants to take over for him. Temple had only one option: bus driver George Thomas, who was behind the wheel for 26 of Temple’s 28 years.
“We’re playing Baylor down there, and in those days there was a lot of home cooking with umpires,” Temple said during a recent interview at a Lawrence coffee house. “We were getting homered pretty good, and I was getting a little testy. The guy thumbed me. So I walked by the bench, told George I needed the keys to the bus, and headed to the bus parked out by left field. I told George to take care of things for me. One inning goes by, and here comes George. He comes onto the bus, and I said, ‘George, you’re supposed to be looking after things.’ He said, ‘He thumbed me, too.’ I said, ‘What’d you say to him?’ He said, ‘Pretty much what you said.’ George Thomas was the only bus driver in the history of the world ever ejected from a college baseball game.”
Like son, like father
Temple’s other ejection came on the heels of one of his players getting tossed. It just so happened to be his favorite player of all-time.
“My son Biff played for me,” Temple said. “Good player. We’re playing in Colorado. Fifth or sixth inning, and there’s a play at first base. Biff was safe, and he got called out. He gave the umpire a little static, and the ump ran him. He told me the umpire said, ‘Hey, you (stink), and so does your old man.’ I told the ump, ‘You rotten S.O.B. I can’t believe you’d tell a player that.’ So he thumbed me. I believed that was the first time in the history of college baseball a son got thrown out and so did his dad.”
Temple was full of stories and laughs, but he’ll be a little on the tense side this morning, along with everyone else emotionally invested in the fortunes of Kansas baseball. Coach Ritch Price’s Jayhawks went a remarkable 25-3 at home this season, but weren’t able to bring that magic on the road. An 0-3 showing in the Big 12 tournament puts KU back on the bubble for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. KU’s fate will be revealed today during ESPN’s selection show, which airs at 11:30 a.m.
Temple, 83, coached KU baseball from 1954 through 1981 and continued working for the athletic department until retiring in 1992. He still drives the red pickup truck he purchased with the check he received for unused sick time he had amassed while working for the university. He has remained a regular at KU home games and has gotten along well with his successors. He appears particularly fond of Price.
“He is probably the best one I’ve seen at KU, and that includes one old boy who was there for 28 years,” Temple said. “I like his enthusiasm and his coaching staff. The way those kids play, it’s exciting. I’m an old coach, and even I get excited. I admire him and I think he’s got an outstanding staff that he relies on. If I have a hope for anybody to beat my 28 years, it would be Ritchie Price.”
Temple, who lives in Lawrence with wife Beverly, played football and baseball at KU after already having served as a Marine during World War II.
“I don’t talk much about it,” he said of his combat time in Japan. “I was 17 when I went in and 20 going on 30 when I came out. To see the things I saw ... it was brutal. But that six weeks (of boot camp) and almost two years in the Marine Corps turned this little smart-ass kid from Coffeyville into a realist about what this world is about.”
Temple ranks getting to know Phog Allen and coaching Bob Allison among the highlights of his years working for KU.
“Doc Allen called me in and congratulated me on being named the new baseball coach,” Temple said. “He said, ‘Let me tell you something, you want to be a good coach, get you good players. You want to be a great coach, get you great players. You want to be a poor coach, get you poor players.’ He said, ‘You cannot coach ability. It’s an in-born trait. You can hone it to a level, but you can’t make a great player out of an average player.’ He said to make sure to take honesty, loyalty and dedication with you. And he always said to recruit the mother. He said, ‘Floyd, you go into that home, and here comes daddy. And you and the boy are in there and daddy’s asking you all these questions and around the corner is momma. She’s listening to the whole conversation. So what you put out there has to be something momma wants to hear because when you leave she’s going to come around that corner and she’s going to say, ‘Now, this is what we’re going to do.’ And that was probably 90-percent true.”
Temple, who also served as an assistant football coach at Kansas, didn’t recruit all the athletes who played for him. Sometimes, they were recruited by the football coach or the basketball coach. Hall of Fame football player John Riggins played left field for him. Dave Robisch, a professional basketball player for 13 seasons, pitched.
“John Riggins, you know how big he was, he went one solid year, and it wasn’t until the last game, playing Iowa State in Ames, he got his first extra-base hit,” Temple said. “Can you imagine that, a guy that big? Everything he hit were ’tweenners he’d beat out. When he finally got one, a double, the whole team jumped up to applaud him like he had hit a grand slam.”
Robisch, Temple said, could have pitched in the big leagues.
“He threw heat,” Temple said of the 6-foot-10 center. “He threw 95 (mph), 98. I told him, ‘Dave, when I visit you during the game, I want you to get down off that rubber and stand where you stride to, and I’m going to be standing on the rubber so I can talk to you eyeball-to-eyeball.’ I’m only 5-7.”
Not all coaches, Temple said, were so understanding about letting their athletes play baseball.
“Bobby Allison was not only a great player, he was one of the best kids I ever coached,” Temple said. “Spring started, and Chuck Mather, the football coach, said he couldn’t play baseball. He said, ‘You’re going to spring football practice.’ That was the end of football for him. We were playing Arkansas on the road, and they had barracks beyond the left-field fence, about 450 to 500 feet from home plate. Allison hit the first pitch — I’ve never seen a harder baseball shot — he hit it through a window of those barracks on the fly.”
Many fences just weren’t deep enough to contain the likes of Allison, who spent 13 seasons with the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins. Back in the day, at Kansas, the fence wasn’t always built to keep outfielders in the park. Literally.
Temple related how he and others constructed a wooden outfield fence out of old stadium bleachers.
“Several years later, when the wood was rotting, there was a flyball to left-center,” Temple said. “The outfielder jumps up, catches the ball and pow! He disappears through the fence and came back through it holding the ball up.”
Temple marvels at the baseball program’s new McCarthy Family Clubhouse, saying, “Everything in it is for the players. It’s the nicest one I’ve ever seen.”
He’s hoping to see Price take one more step today toward fulfilling his goal of building a Big 12 baseball power. He’d like to see Price’s team earn its second NCAA Tournament berth in four years and the fourth in school history.