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The Big Dig

The hill in front of our house has long been the worst blemish on our humble abode. Erosion has pocked the areas where too much sunlight prevented the ground cover from flourishing.  The  areas where plants managed to take root were not much better.

No more. This week my father and I completely dug out the hill, discovering roots, pipes, bricks and lots and lots of clay. When we are finished, the slope will be transformed into three terraced planting beds. While this will definitely improve the curb appeal of our home, it has unfortunately siphoned most of my time and all of my energy for writing new blog posts.

We will be back on Monday for a full week of new content, including an exclusive interview with the Young Dubliners and reviews of the Pieta Brown and Michael Franti and Spearhead concerts.

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(Above: I couldn’t find my favorite “Beverly Hillbillies” moment, but here’s another of the Clampett’s classic encounters with Mrs. Drysdale.)

Several years ago, when I was a reporter for The Examiner in Independence, Mo., I was asked if I wanted to write a story on Paul Henning. Because I spent a disproportionate part of my childhood watching reruns on KSHB-41, I didn’t need to be told that Henning was the creator of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres.” What I didn’t know, however, was that Henning grew up in Independence.

I spent a good hour on the phone with Henning one afternoon. His hearing wasn’t very good, so I used the phone in the darkroom so my yelling wouldn’t disturb everyone in the newsroom. While the whole conversation was a pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming experience, I especially treasure the end of the interview, when Henning and I traded our favorite “Hillbillies” moments.

In one of my favorite “Hillbillies” episodes, Mrs. Drysdale is committed to the hospital to get some reprieve from all the stress her neighbors have put her through. Of course, being kind country folk, Jed and kin go out of their way to visit her as frequently as possible. Inevitably, each visit ends the same, with Jethro fiddling with the buttons on the bed and Jed telling him to leave it alone and come along. Of course, immediately after the Clampetts leave, Jethro’s button-pushing elevates Mrs. Drysdale’s bed and sends her flying out the window.

I’ll never forget laughing with Henning as we both recalled this moment, and he told me how he thought it up. Henning died five years ago this month. Here’s the resulting story, “The Ballad of Paul Henning and the Beverly Hillbillies.”

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(Above: Former NBA player and current ESPN music columnist Paul Shirley discusses some of his favorite records at Amobea Records in Los Angeles.)

By Joel Francis

Paul Shirley played in the 2005 NBA conference finals as a member of the Phoenix Suns and scrimmaged against Kobe Bryant as a training camp member of the Los Angeles Lakers, but he doesn’t want to talk about any of that right now. Shirley’s telling the story of when he first heard U2’s “Mysterious Ways” in the back of a school bus during high school.

“It dawned on me that I was old enough to have a CD player and I could play whenever I wanted,” Shirley said. “The first time I played ‘Achtung Baby,’ I thought it was the worst purchase ever, but after I played it 8 or 10 times, I thought it was the best.”

When “Zooropa” arrived a few years later, Shirley realized bands could grow and music could evolve. Nearly 20 years later, Shirley is still marveling at inventive new sounds and comforting old ones.

“Music and basketball were both my outlets,” Shirley said. “People don’t understand, but there’s a lot of catharsis in both of them. When I came home from practice, mad at the world, I could put on ‘The Downward Spiral’ and all my troubles would melt away.”

As Shirley migrated from Jefferson West High School in Meriden, Kan. – located about 15 miles outside of Topeka – to Ames, Iowa as a three-year starter for the Iowa State Cyclones men’s basketball squad and a professional ball career that encompassed Spain, Russia, Greece and several stops in the NBA, music was a constant companion.

“The music I have taken with me has allowed me to feel at home in all different places,” said Shirley, who makes his home in Kansas City, Mo. “The ability to put on my headphones and pop in a CD is priceless. It’s like having a set of friends I can take with me wherever I want.”

When not rocking with his aural amigos, Shirley was taking his friends to live shows. An early concert at the Granada Theater in Lawrence, Kan. made a big impression.

“One weekend my brother and I were home from college flipping through the Lawrence weekend paper when we saw an ad for (textural post-rock band) Mogwai,” Shirley said. “We did a little research and decided to check it out for, what, $12 or whatever. When we got there the show was so intense and focused, it was like nothing I’d ever seen. There were four guitars and no vocalist. It was just overwhelming.”

That fix turned Shirley in to a live music junkie, prowling the scene searching for the next high.

“I don’t think of myself as a person on the cutting edge, but there are moments when you see someone who you now is going to be good before anyone else. Like when I saw Ratatat open for the Killers at the Hurricane or the Secret Machines at El Torreon,” Shirley said. “Moments when you see someone destined for, if not stardom, then goodness and that’s really cool.”

Shirley’s pro ball career never took off as planned, but through those trials another passion emerged: writing.

“It never occurred to me that I could write about this stuff,” said Shirley, who saw “Can I Keep My Jersey?,” his basketball memoir, published in 2007.

After writing a column for the Phoenix Suns Website, Shirley was asked to write for ESPN.

“I think they (ESPN) were thinking I’d go back into the NBA and then they’d have a player on the inside,” Shirley said. “Instead I went to summer leagues and overseas.”

The column died when Shirley grew tired of writing about basketball, but when ESPN launched a new, non-sports section of their Website, they asked him to write a music column. Every Tuesday he interviews indie bands, reports on a festival like Austin City Limits or Lollapalloza, reviews a concert or shares his musical opinions.

“It’s nice to be able to contact a band and say, hey, I live in Kansas City and see you are coming to town. Could I go to your show?” Shirley said. “Talking to musicians is nice, too, like when I got to chat with the Dandy Warhols, who I’ve liked for 15 years.”

Today, Shirley juggles the expectations that come with being an athlete writing for the Worldwide Leader with his passion for music.

“There is a disconnect between the athletes and their fans and music nerds and book nerds, and it’s probably exaggerated for me because I write for a jock Website,” Shirley said. “People have a hard time understanding that for me, talking about basketball is like them talking about their day job. It’s not as interesting to me (as music).”

Shirley acknowledges he could be drop stories about star players, or work as an analyst, but that no longer interests him.

“Basketball doesn’t inspire me,” Shirley said. “I can only stay interested in things for so long. Right now writing – specifically writing about music – provides the spark for me.”

Keep reading:

Paul Shirley’s ESPN collumn archive

More music features on The Daily Record:

Peter, Bjorn and John Heart Hip Hop

Jamie Foxx brings it to Sprint Center on Saturday

The Derek Trucks Band makes old-school rock new

Kansas City Rocks Out

Modest Mouse: Johnny Strikes Up the Band

Hail Death Cab

Ever Fallen For The Buzzcocks?

Out of the Tar Pit Back Onto the Stage

Local Doctor Claims He’s Treating Elvis

Down on “Cypress Avenue”

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KU Medical Center doctors and nurses formed the backbone
of one of World War II’s first mobile hospital units.

By Joel Francis

On the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, the War Department approved a plan to form mobile military hospital units to serve in a national emergency. Under the plan, certain units would be affiliated with outstanding medical civil institutions. U.S. Army Surgeon General James C. Magee wrote to Dr. H.R. Wahl, dean of medicine and administrator of the University of Kansas Hospitals, as KU Medical Center was known at the time. Would KU Hospitals accept the affiliation of the 77th Evacuation Hospital?

The medical center responded. KU faculty and staff joined with School of Medicine alumni and area physicians, dentists and nurses to form the unit. Activated in May 1942, the 77th Evac was attached to Gen. George Patton’s 7th Army during the North African Campaign and treated troops in the European Theater, moving to the point of greatest need over a three-year period.

In November 2008, KU Medical Center celebrated the 77th Evac with the release of a newly edited book and a documentary film. For this issue of KU Giving, three members of the unit shared snapshots from their experiences: Dr. James McConchie of Independence, Mo., the sole surviving physician from the original unit; Dr. John Shellito of Wichita, who joined later; and Louise Gilliland of Vero Beach, Fla., who served as a nurse.

In the spring of 1942, with just weeks to go in his rotating internship, KU medical resident James McConchie knew he would soon enter World War II. Where he would end up was in question. He had just learned that the 77th Evac, one of the first hospital units to be activated, had two openings. They invited him to join.

“They had openings in internal medicine and radiology. I don’t know how they picked me, but they did,” McConchie said. He talked to physicians who had served in World War I about his options. “They said if I took internal medicine I’d see a lot of shell shock and pneumonia. In radiology I’d be learning something new. I agreed and chose radiology, because no matter what I chose after the war, radiology would be part of it.”

Finally, McConchie’s orders arrived from the Army. It was official: He was to meet up with the rest of the unit at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. With only a month of radiology training under his belt, McConchie departed for basic training and a crash course in radiology.

“Our unit was the best thing the Army had as far as our function,” he said. “We had the talent, the organization and the fraternization. Everyone knew everybody they were working with. We knew what someone could and couldn’t do.”

That knowledge and intimacy was based in the unit’s development and growth together at KU Hospitals. Before they worked near the front lines together, the core of the unit trained and worked side-by-side as Jayhawks at Bell Memorial Hospital in what is now Murphy Hall at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

Shock tubes and mud

After landing in Liverpool, England, that summer, the 77th Evac was sent to Oran, Algeria, to treat soldiers injured in the British and American invasion of Northern Africa. They were stationed there from November 1942 through January 1943 and spent the first few weeks in a hospital in the city.

“We had to use an old, non-shockproof X-ray machine that consisted of the X-ray tube and then several cables you pulled down from the ceiling and attached to the tube,” McConchie said. “These were bare wires. If you got close – about a foot away – the electricity could knock you across the room. We called it an electrocution device slightly modified for taking X-rays.”

In early December, the unit left the hospital as the Allied troops continued to advance. They moved to “Mud Flats,” a field south of Oran and closer to the front line, and set began shortly before the move, and sometimes the doctors and nurses were up to their knees in water and mud.

“We called that mud the ‘Oran Ooze,'” said Louise Gilliland, a nurse in the surgery ward. She had joined the 77th in New York and remained with the unit until the end of the war. “I remember on Christmas Eve I was going on duty, and a doctor had a record of ‘White Christmas’ he wanted to play. When I left to get it for him, I slipped and fell in the mud. I had to clean up again and change my uniform.”

Hospital ships transported the wounded across Oran Harbor to the evac hospital. For the soldiers who needed it, radiology was an early stop after going through admissions.

“When we were real busy, seeing up to 2,000 patients a day, John Bowser and I would work in shifts,” McConchie said. “We were the only two radiologists in the 77th. There were two X-ray machines with a full staff of technicians on each one. Then we had the Mole developing film.”

“The Mole” was Giovanni D’Amico, an Italian volunteer who spoke little English. He earned his nickname by reporting to the X-ray film-developing tent before sunrise and leaving after dark.

The doctors used what they had on hand to keep the mud away and to keep the film tent dark enough to develop the X-rays.

“The operating rooms draped sheets everywhere – that is, when they had them – to keep them sterile,” McConchie said. “When you went from tent to tent, you had to duck to go in through the flaps. When you got to our tent, you had to duck twice, because we were in a tent inside a tent.”

After D-Day

In July 1944, McConchie’s field experience was put to the test when the 77th arrived at Utah Beach, the westernmost of the five beaches designated for the D-Day invasion, 30 days after battle.

“We had to wait that long because it took them that long to get a big enough area cleared for us to set up our hospital,” McConchie said. “In the meantime, we were in England training, staying in contact with the local radiologists and studying.”

Although the heavy fighting was over when the 77th arrived, the area was riddled with reminders. German concrete pillboxes jutted out of the sand, houses and roads were pocked with shell marks, signs warned of grounds littered with land mines, and machine gunners sat tensely, alert for hostile aircraft.

“The lucky ones would walk in from the battlefield. We just took care of what came in,” McConchie said. “The triage docs would go over the patients as they came in. They’d divide who went where. The extremely bad cases would be set aside so we could get back to the others.”

John Shellito joined the 77th Evac shortly before the unit left England for Utah Beach.

“It was the most wonderful hospital. I couldn’t imagine such a place,” Shellito said. “They’d been through it all and knew exactly what to do. The reason I got on with such a wonderful outfit was that they needed an anesthesiologist. I wanted to be a surgeon; they wanted an anesthesiologist.”

The hospital was run in two 12- hour, 7 o’clock-to-7 o’clock shifts. Because the other anesthesiologist had two weeks of seniority and first pick, Shellito got the night shift. But he got up during the day to monitor use of the tracheotomy tube.

“The secret to good anesthesia is keeping an open airway,” Shellito said. “The best way to do this is to put a tube in the trachea and hook it up to an anesthesia machine or oxygen or whatever else you want to give them. This tube wasn’t something you could just go to the store and ask for. So I made do.”

He made the tube by placing a catheter alongside a larger tube and using half of a condom as an inflatable balloon to seal off leaks.

“I made another one of these a few years ago and sent it to a fellow at KU so he’d know,” Shellito said. “We guarded these very carefully. I didn’t want to have to make any more.”

One lost

In Verviers, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge, the 77th set up inside a schoolhouse. On the day before the hospital was scheduled to open in October 1944, German planes strafed the building and bombed the urology ward. Although no one was hurt that night, the bombing became a familiar occurrence.

“You could be a little afraid when the bombers went over,” McConchie said. “When I went to sleep, I always had my helmet right beside me. When I heard the bombers, I’d put my helmet on and hope. It was a rough way to sleep, but you kind of got used to it. There was nothing you could do about it, anyway.”

It was in Verviers that the 77th suffered its only fatality. Anne Kathleen Cullen, a Red Cross volunteer, was recovering from the flu on the third floor of the converted school. She went to the fourth floor – the top floor – to use the restroom. The moment she entered the doorway, a shell struck, and the room collapsed on top of her.

Louise Gilliland lived on the fourth floor. As luck would have it, she was on another part of it when the shell hit.

“I had my sleeping bag there with everybody else,” she said. “That night when I went to go to bed, I turned my bag open and found a large piece of shrapnel. If I had been sleeping in my normal position, it would have got me in the kidney.”

The hospital in Verviers was set up for 1,000 patients, but the staff soon was caring for 1,400. The battle was only a couple of hills away, and the wounded were shipped straight from the front line. If the staff was overwhelmed, they had been treating above capacity for most of the war anyway. At least they were working from a bricks-and-mortar structure.

“The way we were set up, there were rows of cots, and we had a desk with a box where we kept medications,” said Gilliland. “Patients came in with their EMT [emergency medical tags] and an envelope containing their records. We would feed and care for them, change their dressings and wash them if possible.”

Epilogue

Cease-fire orders came in 1945. Back home, James McConchie and John Bowser, his fellow radiologist in the unit, opened a practice together. John Shellito switched specialties from anesthesiology to surgery. From 1973 to 1985, he was an associate professor at the KU School of Medicine-Wichita. Louise Gilliland continued her nursing career in Pennsylvania and Florida.

Members of the 77th held regular reunions from 1945 until 2004. Robert Gerlach, an enlisted man who won a bronze star for streamlining the discharge process, planned many of the reunions. Surviving members met once more this past November.

“The 77th has become like family to many of us,” Gilliland said. “I felt a kinship with this group and the good work we did. Even though there’s not as many of us around today, I’m happy to be there and see who shows up.”

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Above: They Might Be Giants do “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”

By Joel Francis

The eve of Election Day means the airways will soon no longer be clogged with campaign ads, and liberal songwriters can stop suing conservative politicians for hijacking using their music.

Music has a long relationship with politics, but the idea of the modern campaign song started with 1840s “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” The song, written by an Ohio jeweler, celebrated Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison’s role in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. The Whigs’ election themes were timeless: War hero Harrison was just the man (of the people) to stand up to incumbent president democrat Martin Van Buren – an East Coast-elite, Washington insider! – who’d lived on the public dole too long.

The Battle of Tippecanoe occurred when some states were literally battlegrounds. As governor of the new Indiana Territory, Harrison negotiated the title to Indian lands in hopes enough whites would settle into the area to qualify it for statehood. These negotiations culminated at the Treaty of Fort Wayne in 1809.

Outraged, Shawnee leader Tecumseh preached resistance to the treaty and tried to get Harrison to nullify the agreement. Harrison, whose father-in-law was a congressman who held a healthy second job as developer and seller of many of the lands claimed in the treaty, was unmoved. On Nov. 8, 1811, Harrison led stationed troops at Tippecanoe in an attempt to intimidate the insurgent Indians. Undaunted, the natives charged Harrison’s encampment, but were beaten back. After they were forced to abandon their settlement, Harrison’s troops burned the Indian town to the ground.

Tecumseh, who was visiting the South at the time, continued to secretly build an army and wage war against the United States. He aligned with the British during the War of 1812. Tecumseh was killed in 1813 at the Battle of the Thames in Ontario near Detroit, when his tribal army was overtaken by Harrison’s troops.

It’s hard to believe these events would inspire a song more than a generation after the fact, especially since the 1840 election was essentially a rematch Van Buren and Harrison’s 1836 contest. That election was the only time a major party placed more than one candidate on the ballot. Although Harrison led the ticket in most states, the plan was to deny Van Buren the popular vote and let the Whig-controlled House decide the election. The plan backfired when Van Buren squeaked out barely 51 percent of the vote.

The lyrics of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” mention hard cider and log cabins, a reference to Harrison’s home whiskey distillery during his decade of retirement in Ohio. Tyler is Harrison’s running mate, John Tyler, who later served as 10th president of the United States. Little Van, the used-up man, is, of course, Martin Van Buren.

At just 90 seconds, the song is basically an extended jingle, but it’s a catchy and effective one. The repetition and echo of the lyrics not only reinforce its message, but lodge the melody in your head. It’s not hard to imagine Whigs tauntingly whistling this tune for months after the election.

Van Buren’s camp countered with a song of their own. Set to the tune of “Rockabye Baby,” this is the second of its three verses:

Rockabye, baby, when you awake
You will discover Tip is a fake.
Far from the battle, war cry and drum
He sits in his cabin a’drinking bad rum.

The song failed to motivate voters, however, and Harrison carried 19 states and 53 percent of the vote for the win. Van Buren only carried seven states; Missouri, the western-most state in the union, was one of them.

Harrison only served 32 days in office, but the impact of his song lives on today.

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Above: Darrell Porter is tagged out at home by Philadelphia Phillies catcher Bob Boone in the 1980 World Series as Frank White and George Brett look on.

By Joel Francis
The Examiner

When the Kansas City Royals opened finished their first year of baseball in 1969, the city was on the cusp of change. The Chiefs were about to win the Super Bowl. There were plans for a new airport and Crown Center was under development. Plans for a new sports complex for both professional teams were under way.

Within a few years the Royals were competing for post-season and World Series play. Many members of the Royals Hall of Fame — Frank White, Amos Otis, George Brett, Freddie Patek — were the offensive nucleus of that team. The Hall of Fame pitching rotation included Steve Busby and Larry Gura and Blue Springs residents Paul Splittorff and Dennis Leonard.

Leonard, the only three-time 20-game winner for the Royals, holds the club record for complete games and shutouts. Between 1975 and 1981, he won more games than any other right-handed pitcher in the majors.

Southpaw Paul Splittorff was Leonard’s foil. He was the team’s first 20-game winner in 1973 and holds club records for career wins, starts and innings pitched.

When Splittorff joined the Royals in 1970, home games were played at Municipal Stadium.

“That was a great old park. The field was immaculate, but the stands were kind of rough,” Splittorff said. “It was a great pitcher’s ballpark. Left field was 408 feet, then 369 down the line so it was a great park for a lefty.”

Fans had a chance to mingle with both clubs at the old park. The visiting team had to leave the dugout and walk up a ramp in the stands to get to their clubhouse.

“The bullpen bathroom was the same one the fans used in general admission,” Splittorff said.

The teams weren’t great in those opening years, but they held promise.

“Everything was on hold then, but we knew things were about to change,” Splittorff said. “We had a good bunch of guys.”

Veteran players like Hoyt Wilhelm and Bob Johnson were acquired, then traded for young promising players like John Mayberry, Hal McRae and Amos Otis.

“The whole thing was about trying to get young players on the verge. Cookie Rojas was the one veteran to come in and stay,” Splittorff said. “It seemed like most of them were really good trades.”

The early years

In 1973, the Royals opened their new home, Royals Stadium. The artificial turf of Royals Stadium replaced the grass at Municipal, making Royals Stadium the first park in the American League to have turf. Splittorff was on the hill for the Royals on April 10 in that first game against the Texas Rangers.

“It was a really cold night. We opened in Anaheim, and it was snowing when we landed. Our Monday workout was snowed out,” Splittorff said. “We had never worked out on turf. Everybody was so pumped.”

It was a new scene for everyone, but for Splittorff it was business as usual.

“I didn’t look around much Ð I did that the day before,” Splittorff said. “The first hitter was Davy Nelson. He hit the ball back to me, but because it was on turf it seemed to get on me real quick.”

Splittorff and the Royals ended up with a 12-1 victory that night. Amos Otis got the first hit and John Mayberry was the first to homer in the new park.

“All the significant firsts were ours that night,” Splittorff said.

That first year, 1973, was also the year Splittorff notched 20 wins, making him the first Royals pitcher to do so.

“I won 20 games early,” he said. “My best years were ’77, ’78, ’79 and ’80 as far as being a Major League pitcher with the combination of experience and not getting up in years.”

But while Splittorff was the team’s first big winner, he was working a winter job in the off-season.

“When I first came up most guys worked in the off-season,” Splittorff said. “I worked at Foremost Dairies as a salesman, did that for two or three years, then got a real estate license and got into that.”

During his first winter, Splittorff was a club promoter for the Royals.

“We had two guys assigned to Kansas and Missouri,” Splittorff remembered. “I was out of town every other week with a front office guy. We’d hit towns all over Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska Ð ticket outlets, small towns or radio affiliates.

“It was fine. It helped establish me and the ball club. People were still learning about us.”

In the days before free agency, off-season employment was a regular listing in baseball media guides, Splittorff said. For most of Splittorff’s career agents were rare. Instead an adviser or counselor might meet with players once a year.

“The hopes were to get to the big leagues, play five years, have a good year your first or second year, run your salary up, make $50,000 a year, buy a house and buy a business when you get out of the game,” Splittorff said. “Free agency changed all that.”

Splittorff was also one of the last pitchers in the American League and one of the few Royals pitchers to hit before the designated hitter rule was instated in 1973.

“I missed it for the first year or so because I did OK,” Splittorff said. “I could bunt and liked taking chances to help our team better than my mound opponent.

“I was disappointed they took that away from me, but I knew if we were losing in the fourth or fifth inning, I wouldn’t get replaced by a pinch-hitter.”

By the time Dennis Leonard joined the team late in 1974 winter jobs and batting pitchers were a thing of the past. Leonard came up in a fertile crop of rookies that included Frank White, George Brett and Al Cowens.

“I never played with any of them in the minors,” Leonard said. “I was drafted in ’72, George was drafted in ’71 and Frank came up through the academy, so we were never on a team together in the minors, but we all basically got here at the same time.”

Leonard went 0-4 in 1974 and was the last player cut in spring training the next year. He rejoined the Royals part-way through the 1975 season.

“In ’75, that was when (manager) Whitey (Herzog) came here and we stared putting things together more,” Leonard said. “Everybody started expanding. We had a good mix of veteran players who had been through it before and younger guys to see what they were doing.”

Leonard was brought up around the same time Steve Busby, the Royals’ ace, was hurt.

“As soon as he went down Leonard got here,” Splittorff said. “We never missed a beat because Leo was that good Ð we had another 20-game winner.”

While Busby was never the presence on the mound he once was, he was still an important member of the team.

“When Busby got hurt, not knowing hitters like him, he helped me figure out their weaknesses,” Leonard said. “I’d always go to him.”

The playoff years

In 1976 the Royals reached the playoffs for the first time and faced the New York Yankees in what would become a fall tradition.

“The first year we got in we were so happy to get there. The Angels beat the A’s to get us in,” Leonard remembered. “We were happy as a lark to get into the playoffs. Boy, when you get in the playoffs people start coming out of the woodwork. That first year was a real learning experience in the pressure that came out of post-season play.”

Splittorff had been on the disabled list for the last part of the 76 season.

“We had won a tough division, but they had done that,” Splittorff said. “I was concerned. Did this team grow up without me? At least they had been through a stretch drive.”

Splittorff had a chance to prove himself in game two when he relieved Leonard in the second inning. Splittorff threw several scoreless innings and recorded his first post-season win with a 7-3 victory. However, the Royals fell to the Yankees in five games.

The next fall the two teams met again. Splittorff threw the first game, a 7-2 win in New York.

“I always felt the first game at the other guy’s park was the most important,” Splittorff said, “and we won that one.”

Leonard pitched a complete victory game three and relieved Splittorff in the fifth game.

“I came out in the ninth inning, gave up a bloop single to Paul Blair and walked another. That’s when Whitey came out,” Leonard said. “I came out like, wow, this is my third year in the big leagues and I’m starting in the ninth. The way the fans reacted, I thought, OK I’ve got this game won. Being out there was such a high.”

Leonard never recovered from his mistakes though, and the Yankees won the game 5-3, taking the series.

“I think that was the highest high and the lowest low in my career, back to back,” Leonard said.

Some believe that the 1977 Royals, which went 102-60 for the season, was their best team ever.

“I think that year we had the best team in baseball,” Leonard said.

Splittorff dreams of what could have been that year.

“Where they got us was late in the game. If Quiz (reliever Dan Quisenberry) had come up earlier and Busby hadn’t got hurt, I don’t know that anyone could have touched us,” Splittorff said. “Gosh, that was bad break for us (when Busby got hurt), because if we’d had Busby and Leonard and the other guys, I don’t think another team could have stayed up.”

After falling to the Yankees in 1978, in 1980 it was the Royals and Yankees again in October. This time the Royals were armed with George Brett, who hit .390 during the regular season, reliever Dan Quisen berry and Leonard, who had capped his third 20-win season.

“That was kind of a magical year,” Leonard said. “Finally we had a reliever who was pretty dependable. In the playoffs we swept the Yankees. After three years of frustration, all of us who had come up together, finally got to go to the World Series.”

It was Splittorff’s final playoff appearance.

“You can do whatever you want in the regular season, but where your career comes down is what you do in the post-season,” Splittorff said. “That’s where you make your name and reputation and what the people remember.”

The Royals gave the Philadelphia Phillies their only World Championship to date in the 1980 World Series, losing in six games.

“We had finally gotten the monkey off our back,” Leonard said. “Remember all those guys I said came out of nowhere in the playoffs? That ain’t nothing compared to what comes with a World Series.”

During that era Splittorff developed a reputation as a Yankee killer.

“Howard Cosell started that,” Splittorff said. “He was the kind of guy when he’d cover things it’d be an event. When he spoke people listened.

“I hadn’t heard the term ‘Yankee killer’ before he called me that,” Splittorff continued. “It was because the Yankees were so good for so long, anyone with a good year was a Yankee killer.”

Both pitchers said team chemistry played a big role in developing those championship teams.

“I drove to the park with Split every day for eight years,” Leonard said. “Our wives would be so ticked off because we’d sit around the clubhouse and gossip, go over the game as a team.”

The nucleus of those teams had stayed together for a long time and had grown up together.

“We had gotten to know each other and our families had gotten to know each other,” Splittorff said. “Most of us were the same age and our kids were close to the same age so we had that in common, too.”

The end

Mid-way through the 1984 season, Splittorff decided to retire from baseball.

“I was 37 and the pitching staff included Vida Blue and Gaylord Perry,” Splittorff said. “The Royals were at a point where they were re-tooling their pitching staff. The next year (Bret) Saberhagen, (Charlie) Liebrant and (Danny) Jackson all made the team.”

Having lost Amos Otis to the Pirates and Fred Patek to the Angles, the Royals looked to save some face and offered to guarantee the rest of Splittorff’s contract if he retired.

“They gave me the opportunity to go into the radio booth,” Splittorff said. “Fred White has been important to me in those regards.”

The Royals were also without Dennis Leonard in 1984, having lost him to a severe knee injury the season before.

“When I blew out my knee I had no idea what was in store,” Leonard said. “I had never been injured like that before.”

Surgery would have worked if Leonard had retired, but he wanted to compete. After four surgeries and two rehabilitation stints, Leonard made a few tentative relief appearances in 1985.

“It was kind of a hard deal,” Leonard said. “I was starting to throw a little bit, but I knew it wasn’t right to be put on the post-season roster.”

Leonard was in Florida for rehab when the team flew to St. Louis in the World Series.

“The day they won it I was sitting in an oyster bar, eating oysters and having a beer,” Leonard said. “I was like, you’ve got to be kiddin’ me. I was part of the organization and played with those guys and did everything they did that year. I felt a part of it but not a part of it.

“The one thing I treasure, though, is that World Series ring they gave me.”

Splittorff said he has no regrets in retiring the season before the world championship win.

“I was fine with it,” he said. “I had my group of guys from ’76 to ’84 and we were in a lot of post-season games, and were in it until it came right down to the last inning, the last out. The organization needed a break.”

Splittorff has been a full-time television analyst for the Royals since 1988.

Leonard made his triumphant return in 1986 when Danny Jackson was injured in spring training.

“I never expected that,” Leonard said. “I stepped in here at the K (Kauffman Stadium, then Royals Stadium), on national TV, having the opportunity to win a game. It was almost like my World Series.”

Leonard pitched a three-hit shutout, beating Toronto 1-0.

“Wow, I didn’t miss a beat,” Leonard said. “I lot of guys in the stands and in the dugout were pulling for me that day. I knew they were pulling just as hard for me as I was. They wanted to win the game just as much for me as I wanted to for them.

“It would have been nice to get a few more runs, though.”

By the end of the season, though, Leonard knew he was through. He noticed his arm wasn’t lasting as long and wasn’t bouncing back as quickly. He retired at the end of the season. Since baseball he has opened two Hallmark stores, which his wife runs, and helped coach the Raytown High School baseball team.

“I figured once I was done, I could fish, hunt and have fun,” Leonard said. “Other than the two stores, I can’t say I’ve worked. I can’t say I’ve worked a day in my life. Everything I did was play a game.”

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Above: Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and head coach Hank Stram pose with the AFL Championship trophy that took them to the Super Bowl.

By Joel Francis
The Examiner

When Fred Arbanas’ plane landed at the Dallas airport in 1961 he was greeted by Dallas Texans owner Lamar Hunt and his father, H. L. Hunt. Arbanas and Jim Tyrer, his new teammate who accompanied him on the flight, picked up their bags to walk to the car. The entourage passed BMWs, Lincolns and several other nice cars before stopping in front of a 1953 Hudson.

“It was parked in the back where you didn’t have to pay,” Arbanas recalled.

Hunt went to open the trunk and found it had rusted shut.

“Tyrer went back there and had to yank on it,” Arbanas said. “He got it open, but we thought it was going to come off.

“I remember standing there thinking, ‘Holy cow, what have I gotten myself into?'”

Welcome to the American Football League.

In 1961, Arbanas’ rookie year, the AFL was only one year old. Hunt had founded the league the year before as a response to the NFL denying him an expansion franchise in Dallas.

“It was a real mix in ages. A lot of guys were rejects of the NFL and the Canadian League and then there were us young guys fresh out of school,” Arbanas said. “It was really different coming from Michigan State where there were 76 or 77,000 at games to playing in front of 20,000 people. It was almost like going back to high school.”

Nobody cared about the AFL. Few of the games were televised and many of the players were unknown. The NFL was about the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. No one knew, much less cared, about the Los Angeles Chargers or Boston Patriots.

“We knew we were just as good,” Arbanas said. “We knew we would get in the mix where we would play those teams and beat them. After 1964 or ’65 we felt like we could compete.”

Arbanas didn’t get to play his position of tight end in 1961 because three discs in his back were ruptured during a preseason game. After missing all of the ’61 season, Arbanas suited up in 1962 for his second rookie year. Also new on the squad that year was an old NFL bench warmer from Pittsburgh named Len Dawson.

“Lenny was a little rusty, but he was better than any other quarterback I had ever played with, including Cotton Davidson,” Arbanas said. “He was just one of the guys, but there were times during those early games where you knew he knew how to fire that ball.”

The 1962 season was capped with a championship over the two-time defending AFL champion Houston Oilers, who were also the cross-state rival. The game went into two overtimes, but the Dallas Texans won 20-17. It was the first of three league titles the franchise would capture that decade.

“That was the longest game at that time. We could hardly talk, could hardly move, we were so tired,” Arbanas said. “I can remember the locker room after that ’62 championship game. We were so tired, but still happy. We celebrated quite a bit.”

The game also gave the Texans national exposure.

“It was a big thrill, because people around the country and back in Michigan could see us play,” Arbanas said.

It turned out to be the only championship the Dallas Texans would ever win. Following the 1962 season, Hunt, tired of battling with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, announced he was moving the team to Kansas City.

“We didn’t get booted out,” Arbanas said. “The Cowboys were there but they were drawing the same 20,000 fans per game we were.

“We liked Dallas but when we came to Kansas City we got acclimated real quick to the community. I fell in love with the Kansas City area,” added Arbanas, who currently serves as a Jackson County legislator for the third district, at-large and lives in Lee’s Summit.

The Texans picked up some key acquisitions before kicking off the 1963 season as the Kansas City Chiefs. Outside linebacker Bobby Bell played college ball at the University of Minnesota and was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings but surprised many people by signing with the Texans.

“I got a better deal with the Chiefs, although my first contract still said the Texans,” Bell said. “The people who I knew that knew Lamar said this was the better deal.”

Along with Bell, much of what would be the core of the Chiefs for the rest of the decade also came up that year: Buck Buchanan, Ed Budde and Jerrel Wilson.

“I think we had an attitude that we wanted to play football, but we didn’t care where,” said Bell, who lives in Kansas City. “Buck and I were roommates and we set up the task: I’m gonna make the team. In my mind, I said, ‘I’m gonna make the team.’ The other guys, Buck, said, ‘I’m gonna make the team.’ We went out there and we all made the team. That was the type of attitude we had.”

The new players made an impression on the rest of the team.

“I knew Ed Budde from college. He and Buck were both No. 1 choices,” Arbanas said. “I knew Ed was a great addition but only knew a little about Buck. Jerrel Wilson happened to be the greatest punter in football and also played special teams. He was one of the toughest guys on the team.”

The Chiefs’ new home in Kansas City was Municipal Stadium.

“The thing I liked about that was the fans were so close,” Bell said. “I personally felt like we knew all the fans. They didn’t need a program because we were in the community all the time. They got to know us one-on-one. We’d see the same people all the time. The relationship was unbelievable.”

Arbanas agreed.

“It was so close, when you got near the Wolf Pack you could hear the people breathing,” Arbanas said.

Shortly after moving to Kansas City, Arbanas was assaulted.

“It was 1964 and I was out at 33rd and Troost looking in a store window about 9:30 p.m.,” Arbanas said. “Some guy walked up and sucker punched me. I couple days later I lost sight in that eye. I can see motion up close, but mostly light.”

Three attempted operations on Arbanas right eye were failures, but he was determined to stay on the team.

“Lenny and I started meeting after work in Swope Park,” Arbanas said. “We’d start 5 or 10 feet apart and work back. Then I would go home and my son and I would throw a tennis ball around in the family room.

“With my son and Lenny nursing me along I was able to start tracking the ball again. I was running patterns again in the spring.”

If his eye bothered him, Arbanas didn’t let it show. He was an All-AFL choice in 1964 and ’65 just as he had been in 1962 and ’63.

“It took concentration to be able to find the ball and get it around into my hands,” Arbanas said. “I’d have to get my head around and get my good eye on the ball. I couldn’t have done it without my son, Lenny and the encouragement of (Chiefs coach Hank) Stram.”

After finishing third in 1963 and ’65 and second in 1964, the Chiefs again conquered the AFL in 1966, winning eight of their last nine games, including a 31-7 playoff romp over Buffalo, and not losing since the first week in October.

As champions, the Chiefs were to meet Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in the first meeting between the AFL and NFL. The game was officially named the AFL-NFL Championship Game, but Hunt called it the Super Bowl. Hunt’s name stuck.

“Being in that game meant a lot more exposure for us at that time,” Arbanas said. “It was a pride deal because we were going to be able to beat the best, who were the Packers. Some of the Packers were guys I had idolized in college. To play against them was a big thrill.”

“We were just excited to be there,” Bell said. “They called us the Mickey Mouse league, but the league didn’t make the player. Those guys put their pants on the same way I did. We had to play our game.”

The Chiefs trailed 14-10 at half-time, but Willie Wood picked off a Dawson-to-Arbanas pass in the third quarter that resulted in a Green Bay touchdown. That proved to be more than the Chiefs could overcome.

“We played them tough for a half, but a game lasts two halves,” Arbanas said. “They beat us but didn’t beat us any worse than anybody else.”

To many sportswriters and sports fans the Chiefs’ 35-10 loss was proof positive that the AFL was an inferior league.

“We were dejected, but we didn’t feel like we were embarrassed,” Arbanas said. “I went into the game with a separated shoulder I got in the game against Buffalo. I got four shots of Novocain in the shoulder before the game and four more at half-time. I wasn’t at my best, but you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t going to play.”

But the Chiefs dispelled that notion before the 1967 season began when the Chicago Bears visited for an exhibition game.

“We beat them like, 66-24,” Arbanas said. “Warpaint (the Chiefs’ equestrian mascot) almost had a heart attack because we scored so many touchdowns and he had to run around the field. It seemed like one of those games where every time Lenny threw the ball up it was a touchdown.”

Bell also played in that game.

“They were clueless,” Bell said of the Bears. “Stram would say let’s see if they can block this, let’s see if they can see this. That’s when they decided for themselves that we were for real.”

The AFL was finally gaining some respect with the NFL.

“When the NFL teams came to town they thought they could step on the field and walk all over us,” Arbanas said. “Then we started poppin’ ’em and they decided, these guys aren’t too bad.”

A slew of injuries kept the Chiefs out of contention for a return to the Super Bowl. In 1967, two future Hall of Famers joined the team: place-kicker Jan Stenerud and middle linebacker Willie Lanier. Lanier’s addition solidified the Chief’s Hall of Fame defense of Buchanan, Lanier and Bell. With safety Johnny Robinson, tackle Curly Culp and cornerback Emmit Thomas, there wasn’t a weak defensive link to be found.

“If I wanted to go to war, I would start picking (defensive back) Jim Kearney, Lanier, Buck, (defensive end Jerry) Mays, Thomas ? those are the guys I want on my side,” Bell said. “When it comes to playing on game day, when we were together, we were going to fight you. It was our bread and butter. You don’t come into our house and knock us around.”

The Chiefs defense was so good that in 1969 when Dawson missed part of the season because of a torn knee ligament suffered at Boston, the offense barely missed a beat with Mike Livingston at the helm.

“We didn’t have Lenny for seven games,” Bell said. “But the defense would say (to the offense), you guys get us 6 or 7 points, that’s enough.”

The Chiefs finished 11-3 in second place and earned a wild card playoff berth.

“We had to go to New York and beat the Jets,” Arbanas remembered. “It was about 5 above zero (degrees). The wind was blowing, it was a bitter cold game.”

Only a year before, Joe Namath and the Jets had upset the Baltimore Colts, claiming the AFL’s first Super Bowl victory, but that day they were defeated by the Chiefs 13-6.

“We were glad to be the wild card. Because we got to play more games, we got to make more money,” Bell said. “While I played I was working at General Motors Fairfax full time. I got through with practice and I went to work. I took my vacation time for training camp. You might only get $5,000 or $6,000 during the season and then $15,000 as a Super Bowl bonus.”

But along the path to the Super Bowl was the Oakland Raiders.

“We pulled up to the stadium and the Raiders had their suitcases. They were going to leave for New Orleans right after the game,” Arbanas said. “We saw that they already had that planned and it inspired us.”

The underdog Chiefs had already lost to the Raiders twice during the season.

“Everybody said you can’t beat Oakland, you already lost twice,” Bell said. “Well they forgot to talk to us. We were too physical. We were too tough. There was no way we’d lose three times.”

There was no love lost between the Chiefs and Raiders. Only a year before, the Raiders thumped the Chiefs 41-6 in the playoffs. The silver and black had won seven of the last eight meetings, including four in a row. It seemed every time the Chiefs and Oakland clashed, first place or a division title was at stake.

“It started around ’64,” Arbanas said. “They had some bandits on their team that would take extra shots. It never failed, one of them would pull some crap and you’d have to put and end to it quickly so a brawl would start.”

“It was a dogfight,” Bell said. “I hated the color, I hated the numbers. Oakland was a team where you’d consider everything goes.”

When the Chiefs played in the Oakland Coliseum, Stram had the players search the locker room for bugs and wires.

“He’d have us search the walls and under the sinks,” Arbanas said. “He was sure (Raiders owner Al) Davis was up to something.”

Few of the players would put it past Davis to try.

“He had us taking out the ceiling tiles because there might be spies,” Bell said. “One time when we went out there, it hadn’t rained in months and the field was soaking.”

The Raiders hoped to take speed away from the quick Chiefs by letting the grass grow and wetting the field.

“Oakland would grow the grass long, but we’d cut it short,” Bell said. “It was all part of the game.”

At Municipal, both benches were on the same side of the field. When Oakland came to town the Chiefs would have one of their personnel disguised as a photographer wander around the Raider bench and eavesdrop, then report to one of the coaches.

“I guess I don’t hate them today like I used to, but I still don’t like them,” Arbanas admitted. “Any time the Chiefs beat the Raiders I feel good ? it makes my whole week. When we lose, I’m not the nicest person to be around for a few days.”

Bell traveled to Oakland for the Chiefs game on Dec. 9.

“We laugh about it now. I went out there (that) weekend, saw a lot of the guys and laughed,” Bell said. “But when the game starts, I went on my side and they went on their side. We hated each other now.”

The Raiders scored the first touchdown in the 1969 AFL Championship game in the opening quarter, but Kansas City’s defense made sure it was the last time Oakland scored. Dawson’s pass to Otis Taylor just before half-time set up a Chiefs touchdown that evened the score. In the third quarter, two more passes to Taylor set up Robert Holmes’ 5-yard touchdown run. A Stenerud field goal in the fourth quarter iced the game. The Chiefs were headed to the Super Bowl to face the Minnesota Vikings.

“There was a lot more hype,” Arbanas said. “That was a big thing a lot of us noticed.”

The teams had less than 20 years of combined existence, but did have a brief history. The Chiefs had narrowly defeated Minnesota 13-10 in a 1968 exhibition road game.

“We had played the Vikings in an exhibition game and beaten them,” Arbanas said. “Back then an exhibition game between the AFL and NFL was an all-out war. The NFL didn’t want to be embarrassed by a raggedy AFL team and the AFL wanted to prove itself.”

This time the Chiefs had something to prove, too.

“It was great to come back and have the opportunity to play in another Super Bowl and win it,” Bell said. “We worked so hard as a playoff team and here we come to win the Super Bowl. They said it couldn’t be done.”

The Vikings were heavily favored.

“Those guys said, ‘You don’t have a chance. You’re 17-point underdogs,'” Bell said. “They forgot to talk to us. Our defense shut ’em down.”

Arbanas also felt confident coming into the game. He felt the Chiefs had dominated their first meeting.

“Physically, we knocked them around,” Arbanas said. “You know when you’d physically knocked a team around you could do it again.”

The Vikings were only allowed in the end zone once. Stenerud alone topped Minnesota’s total with his trio of field goals. The Dawson-Taylor combination again proved too much to handle. One reception set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Mike Garrett and on another 46-yard reception Taylor went in the end zone himself. The Kansas City Chiefs were world champions.

“It was out of sight,” Arbanas said. “There was a big celebration on in New Orleans. Then on the airplane my whole family from Detroit was there. I don’t know how the plane stayed in the air there was so much partying and celebrating going on.”

The festivities continued once the team reached home.

“We landed in Kansas City and there were so many people on the tarmac I don’t know how we landed. Somehow we got into different cars and had a parade from the airport,” Arbanas said. “Then we had a big celebration at the Liberty Memorial. It was a time that stays in your mind forever and ever.”

Bell missed it all.

“I missed all that fun,” Bell said with a regretful smile. “I had to get on a plane and play in the Pro Bowl. The day they flew back to Kansas City, I flew another direction.”

The Chiefs were champions but they had to defend their title the next year. Halfway through the 1970 season Arbanas hurt his knee while playing the Cowboys.

“We were playing at Municipal and I caught a pass, spun around and my cleats got caught in the tough turf,” Arbanas said. “I had a couple operations but knew it wasn’t coming around.”

Arbanas retired after the 1970 season having played in 118 games, been named to the All-AFL squad five times and catching 198 passes for 3,101 yards and 34 touchdowns. In 1972 he was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame and his name was placed on the ring of fame inside Arrowhead Stadium.

“That was super. I was so excited, so thrilled,” Arbanas said. “My parents were here and they came to dinner. It was something I had never dreamt of.

“It’s a thrill. Every time I go into the stadium I say, ‘Holy cow!’ I look at the other guy’s names and say, ‘I’ve got some pretty damn good company.'”

In 1971, the Chiefs came close to returning to the Super Bowl. They lost to the Miami Dolphins 27-24 in a 82-minute, double overtime divisional playoff battle.

“I felt like I played in four games,” Bell said. “The thing I remember, in the locker room after the game I didn’t have the strength to take my uniform off. I just stood in the shower with my uniform on. The game itself was long, then it went into overtime, then it went into it again.”

That game holds the NFL record as the longest game and also marked the Chiefs last game in Municipal Stadium. The team opened the 1972 season in Arrowhead Stadium.

“It took a while going into the new stadium,” Bell said. “It had a funny feel like going to an out-of-town game at first.”

Following the 1974 season, Bell decided to retire. His 168-game career included 26 interceptions, 15 recovered fumbles and nine touchdowns. In 1979, he was named to the Chiefs Hall of Fame and in 1983 he became the first Chiefs player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“It felt great to be in the Hall of Fame, let alone be the first,” Bell said. “I played six-man football in North Carolina and I never dreamed of this, going to school, let alone playing pro football. That’s the top of the pyramid. When you’re gone, your family can go in and say, ‘This guy is one of the first outside linebackers in the hall of fame.'”

Bell’s No. 78 was retired by the team and his name joined Arbanas’ in the ring of fame.

“I played every game the same way every time I went on the field,” Bell said. “If I played against you and you were a rookie or a veteran and didn’t say ‘Bobby Bell was the best guy you played that day,’ I didn’t do my job. We all played the game that same way.”

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