One evening with Willie Nelson

Topeka Capital-Journal.
April 23, 1997

Willie Nelson was on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, having a lot of fun with the fact he has finished paying the settlement for the $32 million he owed the IRS in back taxes, interest and penalties. He got into that mess because, for one thing, he was a little naive earlier in his singing career, and this column is here to tell you I don’t know him now, but I knew him then, slightly, and briefly. Continue reading

Fields of dreams and delusions.

Topeka Metro News
March 25, 2005

Devere Nelson, known to his millions of fans worldwide as Dev, used to sit in a little closet-sized control room, or studio, or whatever they called it, at WIBW and recreate baseball games that Topeka’s professional team was playing on the road. Continue reading

The Olympic trials nobody saw.

Topeka Capital-Journal.
Feb. 8, 2002

In the fall of 1979, Vickers Petroleum Corp. of Wichita needed crude oil and decided to use the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, NY, to help get it. Vickers would entertain some of the world’s top crude oil suppliers in an effort to win friends and influence them to do business with us. Continue reading

Reliving the toughest hour in network television

Topeka Capital Journal
August 21, 1995

HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. – Three men who once were responsible for the production of “the toughest hour in network television” had a reunion here this week. They recalled the horror stories, the good times and bad, and marveled once again that even one show got on the air, and agreed it was a miracle that more than 190 shows made it without a mishap over a 13-year period.

We met here because this is where Bill Flemming, the former ABC-TV sports announcer, spends the summers. Kemper Peacock, the New York City film editor and producer, and yours truly made the long trek here to the far reaches of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

When we were involved in the show, Flemming was the host and Peacock led the production team that actually did the work period as executive producer of NCAA films, I was responsible for the overall operation and for delivering the show to ABC on time. That meant I carried the beads and led the prayers that nothing would go wrong.

The show was College Football Highlights, which aired each Sunday morning during the season.

What we did was film six or seven college football games all over the country on Saturday afternoon, and then put highlights of those games on the air Sunday morning in a neat one-hour package. A sympathetic TV critic gave it the “toughest hour” label.

It sounds pretty simple, and it would be now, but back when we started in the late 1960s, it was considerably more complicated than planning and pulling off the invasion of Normandy. Continue reading

After Philly, before Oakland, Finley, Bauer and the A’s

Topeka Daily Capital
June 28, 1961

WASHINGTON – When the Kansas City A’s last played here, about three weeks ago, one of the things I heard while visiting with them was that owner Charles O. Finley had wanted to release Hank Bauer before the season opened.

They say that the loudest protests came from Joe Gordon, then the manager. He said Bauer not only was a good ballplayer, but also was a good influence on the younger players and was popular with Kansas City fans.

They say, too, that general manager Frank Lane agreed with Gordon and the two of them combined to save Bauer’s job. Continue reading

O’Neill on Paige and the National Pastime

Topeka Daily Capital
May 14, 1958

Jackie Robinson’s recent uproar over when and how Negroes reached the major leagues brings to mind again the great number of Negro stars who came along too early to take advantage of the memorable day when Branch Rickey erased the color line.

One of those is John (Buck) O’Neill, who played with and saw the biggest names in baseball for 18 years. He was a star first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs for 17 of those years, and managed them for seven years. He now is a scout for the Chicago Cubs.

John (Buck) O’Neil

He had a lifetime batting average of .300 in the Negro major league and twice led the league in hitting with a mark of .350. He once was telling Sec Taylor of the Des Moines Register about life in the league, and the conversation went like this:

Is Satchel Paige the best pitcher Buck has seen? “I haven’t seen anyone better than old Satch,” O’Neill declared. “He was a competitor when he got in that ballpark. The trouble was to get him in it.

“Time meant nothing to him. He might go fishing just before an important game or he might get to the park gate, see you or anybody else and stand there and talk till after the game had started. Continue reading

Bud Wilkinson: To a Very Rare Man

Topeka Capital-Journal
February 14, 1994

Last Wednesday night Jay Wilkinson called to say his dad, Bud, who made history as football coach at Oklahoma, was dying and probably wouldn’t make it through the night. He didn’t. Next morning we heard on the radio he had died.

Later in the morning I tried to call Charlie Hoag to tell him about Bud, but I couldn’t reach him. It wasn’t until the five o’clock TV news that we heard there had been a wreck on the Turnpike and that Charlie’s wife, Salli, was killed and he was seriously injured. The day had provided a double dose of bad news.

Wilkinson and Hoag had closer ties than you might think. In the early 1950s, Bud was one of the best coaches in the country and Charlie was a superb running back at KU , as well as being a key member of a national championship basketball squad. Continue reading

Rockne, Gipp and Jess Harper: On the Ranch with a Football Legend

(Editor’s Note: In September 1956, Topeka Daily Capital Sports Editor Dick Snider devoted a series of his Capitalizing on Sports columns one week to a sports legend living in southwestern Kansas.)

It’s inspiring to visit some of Kansas’ old-time athletic greats and see how and what they’re doing now. It inspires you to live to a ripe old age and settle down in the peaceful surroundings of beef cattle, oil wells and wheat. Or, the moral might be, you don’t have to be young and in Las Vegas to live it up.

Proof came first from 82-year-old Fred Clarke, who enjoys life amid his 1,300 acres and modest handful of oil wells near Winfield. And now we have Jess Harper.

harper-img

Harper’s little empire is located seven and a half miles South of Sitka, which is west of Wichita and south of civilization. He calls it a ranch, probably because it includes some 20,000 acres. He calls it a good ranch, because it has 35 producing oil wells.

“I’ve got the most successful breeding secret ever known on this ranch,“ chuckles Harper, a comparative stripling of 71. “I’ve crossed Hereford cows with oil wells, and you can’t beat that.”

Continue reading

Mantle’s Legend Born in Topeka

Topeka Capital Journal
June 14, 1995

In his second year in professional baseball, Mickey Charles Mantle, at age 19, played the entire season for Joplin, Mo., in the Western Association, a Class C league that included Topeka, Hutchinson and Salina. The year was 1950, and Mantle had the kind of season that left no doubt he was headed for fame and fortune in the majors.

It would be wrong to say he led the league in everything but stolen towels, a popular swift phrase of that day. In fact, he led only in runs, hits and batting average, but that gave you some idea of what he could do with a bat.

In 137 games, he hit .383, scored 141 runs and drove in 136 more. He had 199 hits, 26 of them home runs, and was walked 94 times. Obviously, he was a productive young man, very dangerous at the plate, so why didn’t he lead the league in homers, runs batted in and walks?

Considering the career he had, why didn’t he light up this minor league?

And if he didn’t, who did? Continue reading

On Assignment from the President

Topeka Capital-Journal
June 1, 1992

I ended the month of May with a blooper, and probably I’m starting June with another one, but some of us never learn. Last week I wrote that State Senator Frank Gaines of Augusta, who has announced his retirement, was a good man. It turns out he was a better man than I gave him credit for being. I should have known .

He was in the Legislature 24 years, and I noted that if he signed up for the plush pension plan legislators voted for themselves, he would qualify for about $25,000 per year. I added there was no reason to believe he hadn’t signed.

Since then I have been informed by a good friend of his, who would know, that Gaines didn’t take advantage of the souped-up pension. He deserves this apology and the respect of all of us.

I also have sentenced myself to do severe penance for this mistake, but not before I start June on the wrong foot by giving in to the irresistible urge to drop big names. It comes over me occasionally, and I am a pushover.

Maybe this one was caused by the recent new evidence from the two doctors that president John F. Kennedy was killed by two shots, fired by one man. Maybe it started me thinking about him and about my days as a dedicated public servant in Washington.

The story goes back 30 years, to the days when all public servants were dedicated and all Kansas State football fans were long-suffering. The story doesn’t have anything to do with K-State, but it does have a little to do with football. Continue reading