OBSERVATIONS: Reflections of Bob Knight and Jack McKeon

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave bemoaning the fact that baseball is over, but realizing I have University of Dayton basketball and Ohio State football to tide me over, with some comic relief from the Cleveland Browns.

—THE DARK KNIGHT: There is no argument that Bob Knight was a basketball-coaching icon, an X-and-Os genius and a defensive wizard. Knight, 83, passed away this week.

It is also well-known that Knight believed that most sports writers were on the level of pickpockets and skulking burglars. And as he stared down a scribe, his face looked like stale beer.

There was a year when his Indiana team did not qualify for the NCAA or NIT. He was a huge Cincinnati Reds fan and a close friend to manager Sparky Anderson. So that year Knight came to spring training.

I was sitting one day with my wife at the team’s hotel swimming pool, typewriter on my lap.

Knight walked by and snarled to my wife, “Hal wouldn’t be such a bad guy if he took that $%&@& typewriter and threw it into the swimming pool.”

“He can’t do that,” said my wife. “That’s how he makes his living.”

“Well,” said Knight, “It’s a horseshit way to make a living.”

Another time, after an Ohio State-Indiana game in old St. John Arena, the media were gathered after the game in an interview room.

A writer covering Ohio State, standing about 5-foot-5, stood to ask a question. He asked and Knight’s answer was, “I see they still don’t have a height requirement for Ohio sports writers.”

Sam Lickliter, a Dayton native and former basketball official, a member of the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame, suffered a mild heart attack. After he recovered, he worked an Indiana game and Knight said to him, “Hey, Sam. I didn’t know you had a heart.”

We all know about his many incidents and how cantankerous he was. But as a coach, he was one of a kind, a good kind.

—JACK OF ALL TRADES: This is one I’ll believe when it actually happens, but former Cincinnati Reds manager Jack McKeon, 93, told fellow writer Tom Friend that he is thinking about retiring after 72 years in baseball.

Thinking about it. Just thinking. Let’s see what happens when spring training commences and the Washington Nationals say, “Hey, where’s Trader Jack?”

During those 72 years, McKeon was a player, coach, manager, general manager, scout and now a special assistant with the Nationals.

“I think I’m gonna pack it in,” he told Friend. “What the hell, it’s going on 73 years now. I just look at the farm clubs. I go to spring training. But you get beat up with the travel so I just thought maybe, ‘Hey, see what it’s like to go to the beach once in a while.’”

One of the rarest things in the world is a photo of McKeon without a big cigar either between his teeeth or between his fingers. He gave up smoking them 13 years ago after bypass surgery. But he’s always prepared. He carries several in his pocket in case somebody wants to snap his photo.

Two things always were constant with McKeon, cigars and baseball. He gave up smoking cigars, but they are always with him. He says he is giving up baseball.

But like cigars, he’ll carry baseball with him everywhere he goes, whether to the beach, to a casino with his wife or on his tractor cutting 15 acres of grass in Elon, NC.

Most likely he won’t be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. But anybody who gives 72 years of his life to the game deserve more than a plaque in Cooperstown. He deserve an entire corner.

—STILL INVESTIGATING?: The first CFP poll is out and Ohio State is No. 1. All season long, most polls had Georgia No. 1.

Although the NCAA has nothing to do with the CFP committee, perhaps somebody finally is penalizing Georgia for what it did in 1908.

Three semi-pro players, not students, admitted Georgia paid them $150 each to play against Georgia Tech.

It is still under investigation by the NCAA and it probably will take them that long to rule on the University of Michigan’s current infractions.

—THE LURE OF CASH: What the NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) rule has wrought to mid-level basketball programs, including locally, is painful and shameful.

After Grant Basile’s junior year at Wright State, the Raiders looked forward to what the team might accomplish the next season.

Then Basile transferred to Virginia Tech. That’s what $175,000 can do.

The Raiders also lost Tanner Holden to Ohio State. But after he served more time as a bench spectator than an on-the-court player last season, Holden transferred back to Wright State for the upcoming season.

—STRUT, BABY, STRUT: When I see Philadelphia’s Bryce Harpr, a player I deeply admire, run the bases after a home run, I’m reminded of a passage I read that was written long, long ago by former Chicago Tribune columnist Charles Dryden:

“He is one of the few men who can strut while sitting down.”

—A CLOSE CALL: Former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Travis Jankowski will be fitted for a World Series ring and that’s quite the story.

He was in the spring training camp of the Texas Rangers on a minor league contract. As spring training neared its end, the Rangers indicated that Jankowski would not make the team.

Then just before camp broke, outfielder Leody Taveras suffered an oblique injury and was placed on the injured list. And Jankowski took his place.

Jankowski played for the New York Mets in 2022, a fourth outfielder. But manager Buck Showalter said, “Jankowski is my favorite player.”

—THE GOLDEN FLUSHES: ESPN picks its Bottom Ten of college football teams every week and last week it had Mid-Americn Conference teams Akron and Kent State (my alma mater) second worst and third worst, both 1-and-7.

That didn’t stop them from televising Wednesday’s Kent State-Akron game on ESPN-U, a battle for The Wagon Wheel.

Kent State had won it four straight years and the Golden Flashes led, 28-10, early in the fourth quarter and I quit watching, believing the game was in safe hands.

Then I discovered the stone-handed Kent Staters lost, 31-28. How? I don’t want to know. The Golden Flashes are college football’s Cleveland Browns. If there is one way to lose, Kent State will find it.

—WHAT GRANTLAND GRANTED: Every sports writer in America is beholden to Grantland Rice.

In the early 1900s, Rice graduated from Vanderbilt and applied to be the sporting editor at the Nashville Daily News. He was told there was no position called sporting editor and no sports page.

He was hired to cover politics and the police blotter, but was told he could cover and write about sports in his spare time. His sports stories were scattered throughout the paper.

But they became so popular with the readership that the editors began putting them all on one page. . .the birth of the sports page.

Rice went from Nashville to Atlanta and established the first sports page in the Atlanta Journal. Then he went to Cleveland, back to Nashville, and finally to New York, where he established himself as the nation’s most-read sports writer.

His lede on the 1924 Notre Dame-Army football game is considered the best sports lede of all time: “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.”

If any sports writer wrote a flowery lede like that today he/she would be laughed out of the press box. But that’s how they wrote in 1924.

Rice also typed this famous line as part of a 14-stanza verse in one of his columns: “For when the one great scorer comes to mark against your name, He asks not that you won or lost but how you played the game.”

So, without Grantland Rice, I’d probably be making tires in an Akron rubber factory, which is what my father did.

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