When you’ve led a life that’s chock full of interesting stories, preserving those tales in writing is a priceless gift for your children and the generations that follow. But what do you do when those stories are so numerous that they can’t all be contained in a few pages? You do what Corky Withrow did and write a book. Uncorked!: Kentucky Sports Legend Corky Withrow is due out this May, co-authored by Sherrill Williams and Charles Thurman. The book recounts the life of the two-sport athlete as told by Corky himself. Prior to its release, Owensboro Living sat down with Corky to get a glimpse of what the book will offer. With an impressive memory, Corky took me on a tour of his life, recalling names, dates and events like they happened yesterday.
When he was four years old, Corky moved with his family to Central City, Kentucky from High Coal, West Virginia in 1941. Corky’s father had been a standout catcher for the High Coal baseball team. In his home office, where the walls are decorated with years of awards and memorabilia, Corky proudly shows me a picture of his father in his High Coal uniform, surrounded by three of his teammates.
After moving to Kentucky, it wouldn’t be long before Corky would carry on the family’s athletic tradition. One of his earliest sports memories comes from his time as a 7th grader on Central City’s basketball “B” squad. At the time, as Corky tells it, there were 45 players on the team, because middle schoolers couldn’t play varsity. In a game against Drakesboro, Coach Delmas Gish put Corky in, and the 7th grader promptly scored 17 points in the fourth quarter. The following year, Corky dressed varsity as a freshman, and he never looked back.
Corky experienced another major athletic milestone the following year in the other sport in which he excelled – baseball. “When I was a freshman in high school, the Chicago Cubs had a tryout in Central City. Well, I just went just to mess around, and I guess I did fairly well. The scout asked a fellow by the name of Bobby Don Miller, who was a right-handed pitcher, and myself to go to Niles, Michigan to play baseball and get us a job,” Corky recalled. Not many 15-year-olds stand out enough to catch the attention of major league scouts, but that was just the beginning of Corky’s long baseball career.
By the time he was a senior at Central City High School, Corky was named a high school All-American in basketball and had grabbed the attention of a coach by the name of Adolph Rupp. Coach Rupp offered Corky a scholarship to continue his basketball career at the University of Kentucky, and Corky even went as far as signing a letter of intent with UK. But then the Milwaukee Braves came calling, and Corky took the opportunity to begin his long stint as a professional baseball player.
Basketball, however, was still in his blood, and Corky planned to attend Murray State, where the rules of the Ohio Valley Conference allowed him to be a professional baseball player and also play college basketball. Yet before he ever laced up for the Racers, Corky was mysteriously declared ineligible to play. Undaunted, he transferred to Kentucky Wesleyan, where he played briefly for Coach Bullet Wilson. But again, he was declared ineligible. And while he could never prove it, Corky’s pretty sure that someone holding a grudge was the one responsible. “There wasn’t one person in the whole United States powerful enough to go after somebody and get them like Adolph Rupp,” Corky said.
Determined not to let his basketball talent go to waste, Corky then signed with Georgetown College. Among his many highlights from his time as a Tiger was the win over the University of Louisville at Freedom Hall. Corky notched 26 points that game, showcasing his true talent on the hardwood.
During the summers, even while playing college basketball, Corky took the field for the Braves’ minor league affiliates. And that’s where Corky really shined. There are too many tales to squeeze into this space, but they include stops in numerous cities, a brief stint with Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers, and a call-up to the big leagues to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. In addition to great stories, Corky also amassed impressive stats, totaling 211 home runs and 663 RBIs.
To catch up on all the other 200-plus pages worth of stories that we couldn’t fit here, you can pick up a copy of Uncorked! when it’s released this May.