Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk: Chuck Dobson
Reggie Jackson played 21 seasons in the Major Leagues. He was a 14-time All-Star and a five-time World Series Champion. Everyone knows “Mr. October,” but not much is known of his Oakland roommate, a six-foot four-inch, right-handed hurler from the Midwest.
“I was being called a ‘trailblazer’ because Reggie and I were the first black and white rooming relationship in baseball,” former Kansas baseball player Chuck Dobson said. “I never thought of myself as a trailblazer, I was a natural. Reggie would always come up to me and talk to me about rooming together, and I finally said, ‘ok, let’s go!'”
Breaking that barrier in baseball was one stop of many on an unusual sporting trip for Dobson, many which he never dreamed were possible.
“I had no idea I was going to be in college,” Dobson confessed. “I had no idea, or even thought about being a big league ball player. And who would have thought I would be in the Olympics?”
That journey began when the Kansas City, Mo., native was approached by former Kansas football coach Jack Mitchell and offered a scholarship to continue his career as a Jayhawk.
“I was always surprised when I made it to the next level,” Dobson explained. “I didn’t know how good I was until Jack Mitchell got me to come on a visit and I signed up to play football.”
Dobson never got his chance to step on the gridiron in a KU uniform. During his senior year of high school playing baseball, he injured his back, which prevented him from playing football ever again.
“I hurt my back my senior year in baseball and the doctor told me I was one hit away from being paralyzed,” Dobson admitted. “I went up to KU and told them I was having some problems with my back. Then I asked if there was a chance I could just play baseball for my scholarship, and they said sure.”
However, it wasn’t that simple to just transfer over his football scholarship to a baseball one. Little was known of Dobson’s prowess on the baseball diamond, but that didn’t deter legendary baseball coach Floyd Temple from checking into him.
“I couldn’t believe it, they were really switching my scholarship from football to baseball,” Dobson said. “What happened during that time was I signed a letter of intent to go to KU to play football. Then coaches started getting word from baseball scouts about what a baseball player I was. They didn’t blink when I asked for a baseball scholarship.”
Back in those days, 1963-64, freshmen didn’t play varsity and fall ball did not yet exist. Freshmen only had the summer and since Dobson was rehabilitating his back, he had the opportunity to be just a student for a semester, something he hadn’t done since he was in grade school.
“The great thing was I was going to Kansas,” Dobson exclaimed. “There was no fall ball then and it was my first year since the fourth grade I had no sports. I wasn’t playing football and it was great. I really enjoyed just going to school, going down to the Union and being just a regular guy.”
Temple knew what an exceptional young man this regular guy was, and it didn’t take long for Dobson to make his mark on the Jayhawk program.
“Floyd Temple was excellent for me,” Dobson said. “He was the right person at the right time for me. He took me up to the Basin League in South Dakota to play in the summer league up there, and that was great.”
It was only after teammate and 1965 MLB draftee Steve Renko missed a start due to injury that Dobson really got his shot, pitching both games of a doubleheader against Colorado.
“Renko got hurt, and I pitched the first game of a doubleheader in Colorado and I won the game 7-0,” Dobson remembered. “Temple came up to me after the game and asked if I wanted to go again, so I said sure and I pitched six innings of the second game and was ahead 5-0 when Temple took me out. We ended up losing 6-5 and Temple was just irate.”
That gut-wrenching performance by Dobson, pitching both games of a doubleheader, went unnoticed, as the headlines in the papers read, “Renko injured, misses series.” That didn’t stop him from continuing with his career as he went on to represent the United States at the Olympics.
The Olympic journey took Dobson to Pearl Harbor, before spending 31 days in Japan traveling throughout the country. He even made a stop in Korea for four-and-a-half days before coming back to the United States.
Even though baseball was not a medal sport at the Summer Olympics until 1992, it had been used as an exhibition demonstration since 1904, and something that Dobson was proud to be a part of at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
“I was really proud being from the University of Kansas, representing the United States,” Dobson said. “I was the number one pitcher on the team and I was 4-0 in the games I pitched. That was really great.”
Upon his return from his Olympic travels, Dobson signed a free agent deal with the then-Kansas City Athletics, to take his baseball career to the next level.
Dobson made his Major League debut April 19, 1966, as he took the bump against the Minnesota Twins. He threw five and two-thirds innings, allowing just five hits and two runs, while striking out five for his first big league win.
He started 13 more games his rookie season, compiling a record of 4-6 with an ERA of 4.09. His best season in the majors came in 1970 after the Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland. There, Dobson started a league-high 40 games and threw a career-high 13 complete games for a league- and career-high five shutouts with a record of 16-15 and a 3.74 ERA.
“I’d say it was a dream come true,” said Dobson. “But I’d never even dreamed about it, it just happened. The game is so much different now. The players are bigger, they’re faster, they’re stronger- even in college. When I played, it was a game. I’m glad I played when it was a game.”
His nine-year professional career amassed an overall record of 74-69 with an ERA of 3.78. He struck out 758 batters and threw 11 shutouts. He even pitched one game against the Twins in September 1973 for Oakland, who eventually went on to win the World Series that year.
With all that came being a professional ball player, Dobson still realized that his schooling was important and made it a point to get his degree for life after baseball. He accumulated nearly 100 hours of college credit prior to leaving KU for the Major Leagues. When asked about the strain it puts on a person to go back and obtain a degrees years later, Dobson strongly disagreed.
“It takes a lot to not go back and finish your degree,” Dobson explained. “You always know it’s there, I always wanted to get a college degree. I always felt that I was going to go back and get it.”
While playing in Kansas City, Dobson commuted to KU for three semesters to try and finish-up his degree. But when the A’s moved to Oakland, traveling back and forth to campus became impossible and his degree was again put on hold. He finally completed his goal in 1992, receiving his degree in substance abuse counseling.
“It was too difficult to come back to school at KU after the move out to California,” Dobson said. “So I didn’t get my degree until I went to Park University in 1992 and got my final hours. I actually got my degree in substance abuse counseling and worked in that field for about 10 years.”
A fitting degree for a man that has faced much more than big league batters and international competition. In the midst of pitching for his beloved Jayhawks, throwing nine years in the Major Leagues and representing his country in the Olympic Games, Dobson developed an addiction. As he recollects and ranks his most prideful accomplishments, baseball – surprisingly – is not at the top.
“I have been a recovering alcoholic for 30 years,” Dobson admitted. “I’m fortunate I was able to get my ears wide open and listen, and stop. I’m more appreciative of that experience, becoming sober, than any other experience in my life; including KU, the Olympics and big league baseball.”
With his past experiences and his degree in substance abuse counseling, Dobson was able to help others for more than a decade, the way he was helped, in overcoming his addiction.
It’s been almost 40 years since Dobson stepped on a Major League field, but that won’t stop him from stepping into Hoglund Ballpark Saturday afternoon for the second annual Floyd Temple Alumni Game, where he and Renko are co-captaining the alumni squad.
Although he is not sure yet exactly what it means to be an honorary captain, he sure likes the thought of getting back to Lawrence, something he enjoys doing.
“I don’t know exactly what it’s all about as far as being honored,” Dobson said. “But I like to make the trip down for sporting events and dinner sometimes during the year. I like to drive around and go to the old fraternity house, go past the old ball field and football field. I love the campus and I loved my time being there. It was great.”
Not all of his accomplishments are of the same nature, same sport or even the same eras in his life. As a student, ballplayer, a man that needed help and a man that helped others, each journey was monumental and many started right here in Lawrence.
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.