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BEHIND THE STATS: An annual lesson in being good people

Scott Shannon's baseball card at Lipscomb University.
11/05/2012 9:33 AM -

Today we hope you'll understand as we stray a bit from our T-Bones-centered stories and re-run a column that Matt Fulks wrote originally for Kansas City’s Metro Sports television. It’s been edited for clarification and date purposes.

Frank Sr. was a model father. He loved his wife, Daisie. And his children. And, later, his grandchildren.

He wasn’t rich. But he worked hard without complaining. He was a good athlete, playing baseball for the Memphis Red Sox of the old Negro Leagues. He was God-fearing.

About eight years ago, at the end of October 2004, Frank White Sr., the father of former Royals player and current T-Bones coach Frank White, lost a long battle with cancer. The wretched disease took his mind and eventually the rest of his body.

But during his 80 years, Frank Sr. passed along wonderful lessons to his children, particularly Frank Jr. He taught them the value of hard work. He helped them stay off the streets by taking them hunting and fishing.

His athletic ability, compiled with his wisdom, helped Frank Jr. become one of the greatest second basemen in the history of baseball.

“The story I like to tell goes back to when I was 12 years old,” says Frank Jr. “At that time I was playing on the best team in our league. Maybe I should take out the word ‘playing.’ I was sitting on the bench. Still, our team was winning. After the third or fourth game of the season, my dad came and got me off the bench. He was pulling me from the team. Man, I was going away kicking and screaming … literally.

“When we got home and I had stopped crying, I asked Dad why he took me off the team. He told me that if I wanted to be a baseball player, then I had to play baseball. He said, ‘You can’t learn baseball when you’re sitting on the bench. If you’re going to play this game, then you have to learn how to enjoy this game. The only way you learn how to enjoy this game is to play the game.’

“That was probably the best learning experience I could have received.”

You can try to say how, considering he was 80, Frank Sr. lived a full life, cancer or not. Perhaps.

But cancer affects everyone. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, one in two people will be affected by cancer as more than one million people are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year. Furthermore, approximately 575,000 people in the U.S. are expected to die from cancer in 2012.

Although I can count five huge influences on my life who have battled cancer, I’m particularly mindful right now of Scott Shannon, an old friend and former broadcasting partner, about whom I’ve written nearly every November for the past 15 years or so.

As far as athletes go, Scotty, who was a pitcher at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., was one of the best at our NAIA school. He certainly was the best conditioned. (And, keep in mind this was Lipscomb at a time when the men’s basketball teams, under Hall of Fame coach Don Meyer, were setting records for points and wins.)

Scotty was a hard-throwing right-hander for coach Ken Dugan and the Bisons. He compiled a career 27-9 record and a 3.87 earned run average while at Lipscomb. During his senior season of 1991, Scotty became an NAIA All American with a 10-1 record and a 2.85 ERA.

When he wasn’t pitching, Shannon was involved with the Bison Radio Network. That’s where we first got to know each other. We were partners for nearly three years with Lady Bison basketball and Bison baseball broadcasts, plus we each worked the men’s basketball games. In all, we probably broadcast 200-250 games together.

We developed a fast and close friendship, mainly because of his personality. He had an uncanny ability to make friends and be friendly with a wide range of people. Because of that he personally touched hundreds of lives. Truth told, he was the instigator in me getting up the guts to introduce myself to the pretty girl who’d become my wife. There are plenty of people with great Scott Shannon stories, I'm sure. 

The summer after his senior season, Scotty and I spent quite a bit of time together. As August approached, he was complaining about being tired. He looked it, too. It seemed understandable, considering he was working two jobs, plus he was preparing for a couple major-league tryouts.

As an athlete you know your body. You know the aches, pains and normal fatigue and recovery. Even as a young, invincible athlete, you know when something just isn’t right. In early September, Labor Day weekend to be exact, Scotty reached that point and went to see a doctor at a Nashville hospital. The doctor suggested that he go, almost immediately, to nearby Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

It was cancer. Damn cancer!

Next Sunday, Nov. 11, undoubtedly, I’d be calling or texting Scotty and giving him a hard time for being an old man at 43, especially since his birthday was three months before mine. But I won’t make that call or send that text.

You see, 21 years ago today, Nov. 5, 1991, two months after being admitted to the hospital at Vanderbilt, and having not left it since the Sunday night before Labor Day, cancer and all the drugs used to fight it, took Scotty’s life. He was six days shy of his 22nd birthday.

Call it morbid. Call it sentimental. Call it whatever. I really don’t care. But I could count on one hand the number of days during the past 20-plus years that I haven’t thought about Scotty at least once. Although it’s usually a quick, funny story, many of those thoughts center on the unanswerable: “Why?”

Why would God (or whatever higher power in which you might believe) allow this to happen? Why did parents have to go through this with one of their children? Why is it that someone my age — and in incredible shape — get cancer and die so quickly?

I haven’t learned the answer to any of those questions. I don’t suspect I ever will.

A lesson I’ve learned through the years, though, is that friends come and go. There are some that we wish would go sooner, but they don’t. Then there are those who come into our lives and we’re forever grateful, even if the time spent with them is cut short.

My youngest son, who happened to be born two days before Scott’s birthday in 2004, takes one of his names from Scotty. Scott’s family has told me that they know of other little boys running around with the name Scott because of Shannon’s influence. It’s not because of his pitching ability; it goes back to how he dealt with people.

Ultimately, for Scott Shannon as it was for Frank White Sr., it was about team and family; it was about doing things – doing life – the right way; and, just doing the best he could do.