Throwback Thursday: Steve Renko Jr.

May 24, 2012

052412aaa_742_7801354.jpegSteve Renko Jr. (Baseball/Men’s Basketball/Football) 1961-65
Steve Renko Jr. holds a unique distinction in Kansas athletics lore as he is the school’s last three-sport letterman. The second generation Jayhawk stared on the diamond, at Memorial Stadium and inside Allen Fieldhouse during his four-year career. With an offer from Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders on the table, Renko decided to play baseball professionally. The decision worked out pretty well as the right-handed pitcher played for seven teams in the span of 15-years, including his final season (1983) with the hometown Kansas City Royals. Renko’s son, Steve Renko III carried on his proud family tradition by also playing baseball at KU (1987-90) before a stint in the minor leagues. Renko Jr. currently lives in the Kansas City area and makes it back Lawrence a couple times each year for a sporting event or two.

What was the deciding factor in you coming to Kansas?
“My dad was there in 1937-38 but was in an automobile accident and came back in 1947-48 and went to the Orange Bowl. I knew all about KU and we went up to games. As an alum he got football tickets so we went to games. I was brought up a KU fan, so most universities did not contact me because they knew I was going to KU.”052412aaa_742_7801360.jpeg

You were a three-sport letterman with KU, in fact the University’s last one, what was that like playing three sports along with balancing your schoolwork?
“It really wasn’t any different than high school. Your time was pretty precious, so when it was time to study you had to because you where busy with sports most of the other time. I think we make a mistake now, not letting the kids play more than one sport in high school.”

What are some of the memories that stick out to you the most from your playing days in Lawrence?
“I remember and have fond memories of some of the players that I played with like Gale (Sayers), Kenny Coleman andsome of the coaches that I was around like Jack Mitchell and of course Coach (Don) Fambrough. I knew Coach Fambrough when I was three years old because he played with my dad in the Orange Bowl. He used to come down to the house in Kansas City after games on Saturday. Those are the things you remember, the coaches and the players that you were able to play with, some of whom I’m still in contact with.”

On the gridiron, what was it like sharing the backfield with KU great Gale Sayers?
“It was phenomenal. I haven’t seen and I don’t expect to see anybody as good as he was. It is hard to describe. He went to the pros and if not for being injured and having all the knee surgeries, he probably would have been the best to ever play the game.”

What made you decide that baseball was the sport you wanted to play professionally?
“I was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1966 and went out and worked for Mr. (Al) Davis. He offered me a three year contract, guaranteed, but not for what I wanted. He said he would make up the difference if I made the traveling squad, so football was there as an opportunity, but all you have to do is watch on Sunday afternoons to see that those guys get hurt. Baseball was it because I was drafted in 1965 for the Major Leagues and in 1966 for the NFL, so I had already played a year in the minor leagues.”

052412aaa_742_7801368.jpegWhat was it like playing for the expansion Montreal Expos in 1969, which was MLB’s first Canadian franchise?
“I don’t think there was a big difference and you will often hear players tell you; you play and enjoy playing, wherever you have a contract. It was unique in the fact that the language was French and you had to go through customs every time you went in and out of the country, but other than that, baseball is pretty much baseball. The fans were great up there for about the first three or four years. It’s sad that the Montreal Expos no longer exist.”

Your last season playing in the majors (1983) was with the Kansas City Royals, what was it like closing out your career in front of your home fans, friends and family?
“I think it is always the toughest to play at home. It was a time when my kids were starting to grow up and had a lot of things going on that you tried to. Plus you had friends that were calling wanting tickets, but other than that it was good to be home.”

What is your fondest memory playing in the Major Leagues?
“I played against some of the greatest players to play the game. I think that I was lucky to play in an era where we had the Pete Rose’s and the Nolan Ryan’s and the Billy William’s. The (Orlando) Cepeda’s the [Roberto] Clemente’s and you can go on and on because it was a great era. I was able to play in some of the old ballparks the first couple of years before they went to all the new ones (with artificial turf). Those are the kinds of memories that last longer than the how many games you won, or any of that kind of stuff.”

How meaningful was it to be able to watch a third generation Renko play at KU?
“It was really kind of neat. Baseball is as much luck as anything else to make it to the Big Leagues. My son (Steve Renko III) probably had as good as if not better stuff and more command of it than I did, but unfortunately he wasn’t there at the right time. That is the sad part about baseball because a lot of kids have enough talent to play, but because of other circumstances don’t get a chance. To watch him play at KU was a thrill and I got to watch him play for 13 years in the minor leagues. My younger son also played for two years in the minors.”052412aaa_742_7801440.jpeg

How often do you make it back to Lawrence?
“Not as much as I would like. I go to one or two football games a year because some friends of ours have tickets that they don’t use. I would like to get more involved since (former men’s basketball player) Greg Gurley is involved now (with the Williams Education Fund).”

What have you done since you hung up your cleats and left the game of baseball?
“I retired (in 1983) and went to work for about ten years and then I got back into baseball as a coach for 12 years, then I retired again.”

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