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Know Your KU History: Steve Renko

Fifteen-year major league veteran Steve Renko was a three-sport athlete at Kansas.

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve done a fair amount of research since I starting writing articles like these, and I’ve been amazed at some of the statistics and records across the sports spectrum that are owned by former Jayhawks. There have been champions in all sports, world class and world record performances on the highest of stages, from the Olympics to the Super Bowl. But after writing almost forty of these articles, I am still finding information that blows my mind, and while I studied the career of Steve Renko, I discovered something incredible:

In his career, Steve Renko was teammates with Gale Sayers and George Brett.

Think about that. It’s just crazy. Sure, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders played with Hall of Famers from two different sports, but the time frame was much more condensed. Jackson played with Brett and Howie Long and Sanders played with Troy Aikman, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddox, and John Smoltz, but they were doing it concurrently. Renko played with Sayers in 1963 and with Brett in 1983. Oh, and did I mention that Renko also played for the KU basketball team?

The Wyandotte (Kansas City, Kansas) High School product came to KU in 1962 and by 1964, he was the only three-sport athlete in the Big Eight. Let’s examine his statistics in a sport-by sport basis, starting with his lone season on the hardwood with the basketball team.

Renko played only one season for KU’s legendary basketball team, but the 6’4" forward averaged 10 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in his lone season at Allen Fieldhouse. The 1963-64 team was a disappointment, going 13-12 overall, and Renko called it quits after that season, presumably to focus on baseball.

Renko played two seasons for Kansas on the gridiron as the quarterback for those Sayers-led, run-first teams of the early 1960’s. The 1963 season was his finest where he attempted 86 of the team’s total 109 passes that season. Gale Sayers was the focal point and gained over 1000 yards from scrimmage as Kansas went 5-5. The 1964 season was Renko’s last, and he was demoted to second string quarterback. He only attempted 15 passes, but KU improved to 6-4 that season.

After that, it was all baseball for Renko. His senior year at Kansas was his most effective as the big right hander posted a 0.99 ERA on the mound and hit a robust .344 at the plate. It was noticed by big league clubs as Renko was drafted in the 24th round by the New York Mets in 1965.

Renko never broke in with the Mets, instead, he was traded to the Montreal Expos in 1969 and later made his major league debut for Montreal. He spent eight seasons north of the border and had his best seasons in the red, white, and blue of the Expos. His best season came in 1973 when he went 15-11 with a 2.81 ERA.

Midway through the 1976 season, Renko was traded to the Chicago Cubs, and from there, his status as a journeyman pitcher began. He had small stints with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox, and California Angels before finishing his career in 1983 with the Kansas City Royals.

Perhaps the most amazing statistic for a guy that had a career record of 134-146 (although this record is probably skewed because of the bad teams he played on; Renko’s teams only made the playoffs once- the 1982 Angels) is that Renko had five career one-hitters. The closest this Jayhawk came to a no-no was with one out in the ninth when he was pitching for the Red Sox against his former team, the A’s.

Still, from a longevity standpoint, Renko had the longest career (not the best, that belongs to Bob Allison) of any former Jayhawk baseball player. Not bad considering that 460 people were drafted in front of him in 1965.