April 10, 2014
By Mark Janssen
It was in a conversation a few days ago on all-time Kansas State greats that the name Elden Auker was brought up. It sent me digging through a stack of papers in search of a story that I did with the former Wildcat star prior to his death in the fall of 2006.
While known for his heroics on the pitching mound as an All-American, some might not remember that he was also an All-Big 6 guard in basketball and an All-Big 6 football player as a quarterback, halfback and safety. Add them all up and he earned a whopping nine letters as a Wildcat.
For those accomplishments, Auker was named as one of Sports Illustrated's top 50 greatest sports figures of the past century for the state of Kansas to go along with being a member of the Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame and the State of Kansas Hall of Fame.
A native of tiny Norcatur, Kansas, located in northwestern Kansas, Auker arrived at K-State in 1928 before the days of scholarships.
While leaning toward Nebraska, Kansas State basketball and baseball coach Charley Corso persuaded him to stay in Kansas to be a Wildcat.
"He told me, 'You're a Kansas boy. If you go to Nebraska, you're not being loyal to your home state,'" said Auker.
Plus Corso promised Auker a job.
Laughing at the memory, Auker said, "I swept the floor and mopped the floor at a drug store for $1.00 per day. I used that for my three meals a day. Breakfast was 15 cents, lunch was 25 cents and 40 cents went toward dinner."
The remaining 20 cents would be used to court a gal named Mildred with the couple being the most popular on campus. Auker was voted "Joe College," while Mildred was "Betty Coed." They were married for 73 years.
Upon his graduation from K-State in 1932, Auker didn't have the funds to continue with his pre-med major, but had offers to play football with the Chicago Bears for $6,000 or baseball with the Detroit Tigers for $450 per month.
Auker chose baseball and became K-State's first major leaguer, playing for three teams - Detroit (1933-38), Boston (1939) and the St. Louis Browns/Cardinals (1940-42).
His career totals included 333 games with a 130-101 record and 4.42 ERA. Using a submarine delivery due to arm injuries suffered at K-State, he hurled 126 complete games and fanned 594 hitters in 1,963 innings.
Of his pitching style, Auker often quipped, "I found an under-handed way to make a living."
With a fastball that was a natural sinker, and a curve ball that broke up and away from a high-handed hitter, one of those "K" victims was Babe Ruth as the first hitter Auker ever faced as a professional.
Of Auker's under-handed delivery, Ruth said, "That's the first time I've ever been struck out by a girl."
On facing the legendary Ruth and fanning him on four pitches, Auker said, "You tried to throw Babe inside on the hands. Babe's wrists were so quick that any mistake could end up in the bleachers."
Golfing friends with the Yankee great, Auker said of Ruth, "The greatest guy who ever lived. He was just a big kid who liked to have fun. He loved kids. I think growing up in an orphanage had a lot to do with that. He was just a big kid himself."
Another acquaintance of Auker was a young radio announcer based in Chicago. His name was Ronald Reagan, who later became the President of the United States.
Auker would conclude his athletic career as an avid golfer playing the game into his late-80s and early-90s. During one run he shot lower than his age in 20 consecutive rounds.
In his final years, however, he said, "I ran out of guys to play with. There's a whole new group of young people out there in their 70s. The last time I played I was terrible. It was a waste of time."