WICHITA — For an old baseball coach nothing compares to sharing stories.
Like a staff ace in the midst of a three-hitter, Val McLean peppered his audience Saturday with a handful of delightful yarns at his induction ceremony into the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame.
McLean, who retired in May after coaching 37 years at Allen Community College, was inducted along with former Wichita State Shocker greats Eric Wedge and David Haas, the late Floyd “Smoky” Ford, legendary American Legion coach out of Pratt, and the 1906 Wichita Jobbers. Also scheduled to be inducted, but unable to attend, was Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals general manager. (Moore sent word that he would attend the 2016 induction ceremony).
A large contingent of well-wishers attended Saturday’s fete. Twelve of McLean’s family members scattered across the Midwest trekked to Wichita, as did a number of former ACC players, including “Rocket” Rod Rush, Marty Rankin and Rick and Mick Langtry. Also in attendance was ACC President John Masterson.
After graduating from Fort Hays State University, McLean began working on advanced degrees at Kansas State University, where he also served as an assistant coach on the Wildcat baseball team.
From there he took on with ACC.
The Red Devils had almost immediate success, even with their 23-year-old rookie manager.
McLean recalled being approached frequently by umpires mistaking him for another player, asking if he could point out the real coach.
“I would say, ‘I’m the coach,’” McLean said. “They’d always get this bewildered look on their faces.”
IT DIDN’T take long for umpires, opposing coaches and others across the baseball landscape to take notice.
Allen won its conference and regional titles in McLean’s first season at the helm, the start of a successful career that featured 1,155 victories, seven conference titles and seven regional crowns. McLean’s Red Devils featured 10 All-American performers, 56 All-Region VI players and 89 who earned All-Jayhawk Conference status. Forty-eight of his players signed professional contracts; as many as 500 went on to four-year universities.
Two of McLean’s teams made it to the Junior College World Series, “and I probably had five others that were just as good,” he said. “They just didn’t catch the breaks.”
Success on the field was only part of the story.
While coaching at K-State, McLean earned a master’s (and a few years later, a doctorate) degree in counseling.
“Counseling helped me be a better coach, and baseball made me a better counselor,” McLean said.
McLean recounted turning down coaching jobs for NCAA Division I schools. He also declined an offer to manage in the Philadelphia Phillies organization for family reasons.
“Nobody enjoyed winning the conference or going to the World Series more than I did, but that’s not what my program stood for,” he said. “I tried to develop young men for the game of life.
“My first athletic director, Hugh Haire, told me one day, ‘Sports are simply memories for the beholder.’ That was such a profound statement that I have never forgotten. I can’t remember every year we won the conference, etc., but I can remember all of the faces and memories of the players I coached.”
IT TOOK some doing for McLean to make it to the baseball field as a youth.
As a skilled athlete in Lewis, a small berg about 45 miles straight east of Dodge City, McLean was an all-state football and basketball player in high school.
But Lewis didn’t offer much in terms of baseball.
McLean’s parents allowed him to ride a tractor the 45 miles daily in order to play American Legion baseball in Dodge City.
Coaches noticed, and he signed to play baseball and basketball at Dodge City Community College, and later Fort Hays State University.
He earned all-conference status in baseball all four years of college, and was an Academic All-American at FHSU.
But his dreams of playing professional ball went for naught when McLean wasn’t drafted out of college. So he set his sights on coaching.
Several of his former players extended well wishes during Saturday’s festivities.
It was the least they could do, said Rush, a member of the 1983 Red Devils squad that finished third in the JUCO World Series.
“It’s an honor to be here to see him,” Rush told the Register. “This is Val’s third Hall of Fame that I know of. I guess the next one for him will be in Cooperstown.”
McLean also is a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association and the Red Devil Diamond Club halls of fame.
While McLean was honored to make it to the other two halls, he said Saturday’s induction carried a special place in his heart.
“I consider this award a bigger honor, since I have played and coached in Kansas all my life,” he said. “It’s especially an honor to be included with some very famous people included in this organization.”
He also thanked his wife, Carolyn.
“It’s not easy being a coach’s wife,” he noted.