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Know Your KU History: Bob Allison

Everyone around Jayhawk nation knows the names Naismith, Chamberlain, Riggins, and Rush. But there is a sizeable chunk of names that we know in passing - we know of their greatness but not necessarily what made them great. Just as in past columns featuring JoJo White, Willie Pless, and JoJo White, Willie Pless, and Tony Sands, this article is intended to shed some light on a former KU great.

When I think of classic Minnesota Twins players, my mind naturally gravitates to the original RBI baseball game featuring all the stars from their 1987 World Series championship team, players like Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky, Frank Viola, and Gary Gaetti.  But before that, Major League stars like Jim Kaat, and Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew led them to their first World Series appearance in 1965. Another key component to that team: left fielder and former Kansas Jayhawk Bob Allison.

Bob Allison is the greatest baseball player from the University of Kansas, and there’s no one who can really argue the point.  He played 13 years in the majors, all with the Twins franchise, although the first three were when the team was playing in Washington as the Senators.  In his rookie year of 1959, he hit for a solid .261 average and knocked out 30 home runs and had 85 RBI.  He also led the American League in triples with nine.  These stats earned him his first All-Star game appearance (although he never featured in that game) and at the end of the season he was awarded the American League Rookie of the Year award.

His career stats with the Twins aren’t too bad either.  In total, he went to three All-Star games, making him the only former Jayhawk to ever play in a Major League All-Star game.  He racked up 1281 hits in total along with 256 round trippers, but perhaps what he is best known for came while patrolling left field.  In game two of the 1965 World Series, with the game still scoreless, Allison made a crucial diving catch that kept the Dodgers off the scoreboard that inning.  The Twins went on to win the game and the series was tied.  After the game, pundits from all over baseball were calling the catch by Allison one of the greatest catches in MLB history.

Many people praised his determination and hustle on that play and it’s no coincidence that he was often described as having a football player’s mentality. Along with starring on the baseball diamond at KU, he played fullback for the Jayhawks and even reportedly flirted with joining the San Francisco 49ers if his baseball career didn’t pan out.  But he did just fine as a baseball player.  Standing at six feet, four inches tall, he was a monster of a man, which makes it even sadder that he suffered from and eventually died from Progressive Sporadic Ataxia, a disease that affects the neurological system in the body. He was only 60.

Since his death, he has been honored several times.  In 2003, he was rightfully elected into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame.  He also has a team award named after him that is awarded to the player "who exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership both on and off the field," the perfect award to have Bob’s name attached to it.  But for all the great achievements, accolades, and awards that have been earned by and bestowed upon Bob Allison, his greatest achievement was one that happened in 1991, four years before his untimely and early death.  That was the year he set up the foundation that helps support those fighting Sporadic Ataxia.

Bob Allison- a class act until the end.