Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Keith Madison, December 12, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Background--Introduction and early life

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Partial Transcript: Well we're here with Coach Keith Madison and you're--Keith, you're UK's all-time winning-est baseball coach and, and probably, more importantly, you're UK's second all-time winning-est coach behind on-only Adolph Rupp.

Segment Synopsis: Dennis Emery introduces the interview and its subject, Coach Keith Madison. Madison talks about his family background and his early life. He says he grew up just north of Brownsville, Kentucky, in a community called Lindseyville, near Mammoth Cave in Edmonson County. He talks about growing up on a small farm while his dad worked at Fort Knox and his mother ran the home. He discusses the impact that rural life and values had on his life philosophy and coaching career. Madison then briefly talks about the influence of Ron Polk on his coaching career, though he has evolved as he has grown older, and how he changed his focus as his career progressed. He talks about his experiences in high school and tells some stories about his basketball career and says he dreamed of playing for Coach Rupp before deciding to focus on baseball.

Keywords: "Players-first coach"; "Program-first coach"; Adolph Rupp; Breaking balls; Brownsville (Ky.); Bullpen sessions; Bullpens; Cawood Ledford; Coach Adolph Rupp; Edmonson County (Ky.); Family connections; Farms; Fastballs; Fort Knox (Ky.); Hitters; Jefferson County (Ky.); Leitchfield (Ky.); Lindseyville (Ky.); Long-toss programs; Louisville (Ky.); Mammoth Cave National Park (Ky.); Pitching (Baseball); Pitching mechanics; Ron Polk; Ronald George "Ron" Polk; Shawnee High School (Ky.); Small farms; Thomas Robert "Tom" Payne; University of Kentucky--Baseball

Subjects: Baseball coaches; Children of blue collar workers; College sports--Coaching; Rural children; School sports--United States.

GPS: Lindseyville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.235869, -86.294445
00:10:37 - Baseball career--Transitioning from high school to the minor leagues

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Partial Transcript: And then, you know, even my baseball career, Dennis, was, uh, i-i-it was up in the air until after graduation from high school.

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about the transition between his high school baseball career and entering the professional minor leagues. He says he did not know what he wanted to do after he graduated from high school. That summer, in 1969, he played American Legion baseball and he told his coach that he knew he wanted to keep playing baseball, but did not know where. Madison says he had an offer to play baseball and basketball for Kentucky Wesleyan University, which he did not accept. He says his coach later told him that Coach Johnny Reagan of Murray State University was coming to watch him pitch at a tournament in Paducah. He was expected to pitch in front of Reagan on a Saturday night, but he was called into a game the Friday night before in relief as the opposing team had cut into their lead. He won the game and, though he could not pitch for Reagan, he had unwittingly pitched in front of professional scouts for the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos. The scout for the Expos offered Madison a contract and an offer to pay his college tuition, so Madison accepted.

Keywords: "Striking out the side"; Atlanta Braves; Base hits; Coach John Lee "Johnny" Reagan; Contracts; Fly balls; Hillman Lyons; Jackson Purchase (Ky.); Jerry's Restaurants; John Lee "Johnny" Reagan"; Kentucky Wesleyan University; Montreal Expos; Murray State University; Paducah (Ky.); Scouts

Subjects: American Legion Baseball; Baseball coaches; Baseball players; College athletes--Recruiting; Minor league baseball.

00:17:57 - Baseball career--Playing in the minor leagues / Injuries

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Partial Transcript: I signed as a free agent. So, uh, I talked my dad into letting me sign, not that night but a couple of days later, letting me sign.

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about his few years playing minor league baseball in the United States and in Canada for different teams and at different levels of play in the early 1970s before his career was cut short by overuse injuries in his arm and a torn ACL in his left knee. He says that after signing as a free agent, he was not sent to a rookie camp because it was so late in the summer of 1969 and he was so young. Instead, the Expos told him to go to college for a year and he would begin Rookie league baseball the next summer. Madison did just that and went to Western Kentucky University. He talks about his experiences at his first spring training, which he says was overwhelming, but he made a Class A Short Season roster with manager Bob Oldis. Madison talks about working his way up the Montreal Expos organization to playing for a AAA team in Winnipeg under the guidance of Oldis. He says he was overused, and the injuries to his arm prevented him from playing at the same level the next summer, and he was cut from the team. Madison describes this time in his life as difficult before he reached out to a family friend and Cincinnati Reds scout who brought him into their organization. He talks about once again working back up to AAA baseball before tearing his ACL in his left knee, ending his playing career.

Keywords: AA baseball; AAA baseball; ACL injuries; American Legion Baseball; Anterior cruciate ligament injuries; Bowling Green (Ky.); Bowling Green High School; Bullpens; Challenges; Cincinnati Reds; Class A Short Season baseball; Closers; Closing pitchers; Extended spring training; Florida State University--Baseball; Free agents; High A baseball; Intersquad games; Lindseyville (Ky.); Middle-relief pitchers; Overuse injuries; Pitching saves; Prayer; Puerto Rico; Robert Carl "Bob" Oldis; Rookie leagues; Scouts; Short-relief pitches; Spring training; Starting pitchers; United States--National Guard.; University of Southern California--Baseball; University of Texas--Baseball; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Watertown (S.D.); Western Kentucky University; Winnipeg Region (Man.)

Subjects: Baseball managers; Baseball players; Minor league baseball.; Montreal Expos (Baseball team); Pitching (Baseball)

00:27:32 - Personal developments--Graduating from WKU, growing relationship with Christ, and entering coaching

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Partial Transcript: And now I'm at a crossroads: what do I do now? I finished up school, and uh--

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about developments in his personal life that took place just after his playing career ended, including graduating from Western Kentucky University, marrying his wife Sharon, deepening his relationship with Christ, and deciding to become a baseball coach. Madison says he took a teaching and coaching job at Lake Wales High School in Florida and thinks God used his injuries to bring him into coaching. He talks about his spiritual life and relationship with Christ in detail. He then talks about seeing God's hand in places throughout his life, such as in the process by which he came to join the now-legendary Coach Ron Polk's staff at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi as a graduate assistant. As part of his hiring, Coach Polk told Madison that Mississippi State would pay for him to get his masters degree.

Keywords: "Came to Christ"; American Baseball Coaches Association; Arnold Jacob "Red" Auerbach; Christ; Church; Coach Ron Polk; Coach Ronald George "Ron" Polk; Competition; Country churches; Florida Southern College; Georgia Southern University; Grace; Graduate assistants; Lake Wales (Fla.); Lake Wales High School; Lakeland (Fla.); Masters degrees; Miami (Fla.); Red Auerbach; Revival meetings; Ron Polk; Ronald George "Ron" Polk; Sharon Madison; Spiritual maturity; Vince Lombardi; Vincent Thomas "Vince" Lombardi; Western Kentucky University

Subjects: Baseball coaches; Christianity.; College sports--Coaching; School sports

00:37:37 - Coaching career--Coaching at Mississippi State / Applying for UK's head coaching job

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, Sharon and I, you know, made the move. We packed the U-Haul and, and we left Lake Wales after our second year there and, and go to Starkville, Mississippi.

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about joining Coach Ron Polk's staff at Mississippi State and applying for the head coaching job at the University of Kentucky. Madison says that Ron Polk "knew how to coach" in ways that he did not. He talks about getting his masters degree in one year and describes Coach Polk telling him to apply for the UK job. He says that he knew UK's then athletic director (AD), Cliff Hagan, from his time playing basketball at UK and greatly admired him. At the same time, Madison says he was contacted by a former teammate who offered him his job coaching a junior college team in southern Illinois. He describes in detail visiting the junior college and interviewing for the job at UK, and then talks about being offered the head coaching job at UK and finding out that his wife was pregnant "in the same moment." Madison was twenty-six years old at the time.

Keywords: AAA baseball; Athletic directors; Auburn University; Brownsville (Ky.); Cliff Hagan; Clifford Oldham "Cliff" Hagan; Coach Ron Polk; Coach Ronald George "Ron" Polk; Directors of operations; First-and-third defenses; Frank Ramsey; Illinois; Johnny Cox; Junior colleges; Lake Wales (Fla.); Lindseyville (Ky.); Lineup cards; Masters degrees; Organizational skills; Organizing practices; Pitching changes; Ron Polk; Ronald George "Ron" Polk; Scouts; Sharon Madison; Shortstops; Starkville (Miss.)

Subjects: Baseball coaches; College sports--Coaching; University of Kentucky--Baseball

00:45:48 - Coaching career--First experiences as Kentucky's head coach

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Partial Transcript: So that, that was the beginning of the journey at UK.

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about his first experiences on the job as Kentucky's head baseball coach, including the then part-time nature of the head coaching job and the condition of UK's baseball field. He thanks Cliff Hagan again for offering him the job, and says that it was a part-time position when he took it and it always had been. He recalls that his first salary was $8,500 with no benefits, and he had a young family with a child on the way. He talks about two other assistant coaches who helped him and his wife find medical care for free for their child, and he calls that his first experience of the Big Blue Nation family. He talks about the relatively poor condition of UK's baseball field at the time, including a steep berm on the short right field side, and a snow fence in the outfield which left a gap through which live balls could escape. Madison says that he could finally convince Cliff Hagan to make some upgrades to the stadium after a player dangerously flipped over the fence.

Keywords: "Big Blue Nation"; Athletic directors; Cliff Hagan; Cliff Hagan Stadium; Clifford Oldham "Cliff" Hagan; Coach Adolph Rupp; Frank G. Ham; Harry Lancaster; James R. "Dicky" Parsons; Jordan "Tuffy" Horne; Larry Ivy; Left field; Outfielders; Right field; Shively Field; Snow fences; Stipends; Warning tracks

Subjects: Baseball coaches; College facilities.; College sports--Coaching; College sports--Economic aspects--United States.; University of Kentucky--Baseball

00:52:10 - Coaching career--Breaking the school wins record in his first season at Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Well, y-y-you know, so you come in and, your first year, you set a record for wins.

Segment Synopsis: Madison discusses his first team at UK, the 1979 team, which set a new school record for wins at twenty nine. He says that they were a special, veteran group whom he inherited from the previous coaching staff. He talks about his first meeting with the team and being taken aback by how not clean cut they were, as well as how close to him in age they were. He talks about a few players specifically, including Steve Roberts, Chuck Long, Randy Gibson, Freddie Smith, Steve Williams, Jim Leopold, Tim Brandenburg, and a few others. Madison says he loves them and stays in touch with several of them.

Keywords: Cincinnati Reds; Coach Ron Polk; Coach Ronald George "Ron" Polk; Cowboy hats; Elizabethtown (Ky.); First basemen; Frankfort (Ky.); Fu Manchu mustaches; George Lee "Sparky" Anderson; Jordan "Tuffy" Horne; Knoxville (Tenn.); Mississippi State University; Outfielders; Owensboro (Ky.); Papa John's Pizza; Ron Polk; Ronald George "Ron" Polk; Second basemen; Shortstops; Sparky Anderson; Team meetings; The Hershey Company; Third basemen

Subjects: Baseball coaches; Baseball players; College sports--Coaching; University of Kentucky--Baseball

00:58:18 - Coaching career--First recruiting trips at Kentucky and the 1981 season

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Partial Transcript: So, the second year, I--you know, we lost a lot of guys off that--

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about his first recruiting experiences as UK's head coach and recounts the record-setting 1981 season. He says that they had lost a lot of veterans players from his first year, so he went back to the junior college in Illinois where he had almost become head coach and took an interest in three of their players, all three of whom eventually signed with UK. In their 1981 season, Madison again set the school record for wins at thirty-eight. He talks about not getting a bid to the NCAA Tournament despite finishing second in the highly-regarded Southeastern Conference (SEC). He claims this is because, as a member of the selection committee allegedly told him, Kentucky was a basketball school and the other potential at-large teams - Texas and Arizona - were baseball schools. He talks briefly about pitcher Jeff Keener's dominance during that season.

Keywords: "Basketball school"; "Good ole boy system"; AAA baseball; All-Americans; Coach John Butler; Earned Runs Allowed (ERAs); Eastern Illinois University; Jeff Keener; Jeffrey Bruce "Jeff" Keener; Junior colleges; Mike Harding; Mississippi State University; NCAA Baseball Tournament; NCAA Selection Committee; National Letter of Intent; Pitching (Baseball); SEC Baseball Tournament; Shortstops; Southeastern Conference (SEC); University of Florida Gators

Subjects: Baseball coaches; Baseball players; College athletes--Recruiting; College sports--Coaching; University of Kentucky--Baseball

01:03:33 - Coaching career--Pitching strengths of the 1981 team

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Partial Transcript: You know, there's a couple guys that you, you've--have on that team. It's a pitching dominant team, it seemed like.

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about the pitching strengths of the 1981 team, specifically among right-handed pitchers Jeff Keener and Jeff Parrett, and left-hander Paul Kilgus. He says that Keener set himself apart because he was "a competitive son of a gun." He breaks down Keener's throwing style and arm slot, describes his off-speed pitches, and tells a story about Keener seemingly single-handedly beating Florida. He then talks about Kilgus' pitching, his first start against West Virginia University, and briefly discusses Kilgus' professional career. Madison moves on to talk about Parrett's pitching and his issues with his fastball, and his lengthy career in the major leagues.

Keywords: "Low three-quarter arm slot"; "Movement"; American Legion Baseball; Bowling Green (Ky.); Breaking balls; Deceptive releases; Earned Runs Average (ERAs); Earned runs; Elizabethtown (Ky.); Fastballs; Jeff Keener; Jeff Parrett; Lafayette High School (Lexington, Ky.); Left-handed pitchers; Major League Baseball (MLB); Montreal Expos; Oakland A's; Oakland Athletics; Off-speed pitches; Paul Kilgus; Philadelphia Phillies; Release points; Right-handed pitchers; Sinkers; Sliders; St. Louis Cardinals; Texas Rangers; University of Florida; West Virginia University

Subjects: Baseball coaches; Baseball players; College sports--Coaching; Pitching (Baseball); University of Kentucky--Baseball

01:10:57 - Coaching career--The record-setting 1987 team not going to the NCAAs / Important players

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Partial Transcript: The next highlight season I, I had kind of picked out is, is the '87 season.

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about the 1987 team not being selected for the NCAA Baseball Tournament, despite setting another school record with forty wins, and discusses a few key players from that squad. He says that even though the NCAA Selection Committee had undergone some reforms before 1987, it was still a "good ole boy system," and that he wrote newspaper articles condemning the NCAA as such. Madison calls 1987 his most talented team, featuring players like Terry Shumpert, Mitch Knox, and Rob Bolton. He says their snubbing is one of the most disrespectful things in college sports he can remember. He then describes Terry Shumpert's playing attributes and his career playing with Team USA.

Keywords: "Good ole boy system"; "Reading swings"; All-Americans; Billy White; Infielders; Instincts; Mitch Knox; NCAA Baseball Tournament; NCAA Selection Committee; Rating percentage index (RPI); Rob Bolton; Second basemen; Shortstops; Skip Bertman; Southeastern Conference (SEC); Stanley "Skip" Bertman; Strength of schedule; Team USA; Terry Shumpert; United States national baseball team

Subjects: Baseball coaches; Baseball players; College sports--Coaching; National Collegiate Athletic Association.; University of Kentucky--Baseball

01:17:24 - Coaching career--The 1988 season / Coming one out short of the College World Series

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Partial Transcript: Well, so while, while it's disappointing that you don't get in, it's another great season and it sets the stage for the 1988 season.

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about his highest-achieving team - the 1988 group that was one out shy of going to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. He talks about individual key players, and them finally being given a bid by the NCAA because they scheduled harder teams and earned a higher ranked percentage index (RPI) score. He talks about starting the season slowly and losing Matt Coleman, their starting pitcher, to injury. He talks about how the NCAA Baseball Tournament used to be laid out before the College World Series and goes over UK's assigned region. He says that they beat Rutgers and St. John's before playing Clemson in the winner's bracket. He talks about their bullpen, which helped win the contentious series against Clemson. Madison then discusses the regional championship series against defending-champion Stanford, which UK lost in three games, though they were one missed catch away from going to the College World Series. He talks about a few of their key players, and discusses feeling somewhat slighted by media portraying Coach Nick Mingione's 2017 UK team as the closest the school had come to Omaha, since they advanced to the super regional round of play, though the 1988 was actually closer despite being in a different format.

Keywords: "Low three-quarter arm slot"; Billy White; Bowling Green (Ky.); Bullpens; Christ Estep; Clemson University; Coach Bill Wilhelm; Coach Nick Mingione; Coach Ronald George "Ron" Polk; College World Series; Connecticut; Darren Reims; Doug Boyd; Doug Sudden; John Hampton; John Hudson; John Marshall; Line drives; Louisiana State University (LSU); Mark Blythe; Matt Coleman; Mike Mussina; Monty Ferris; NCAA Baseball Tournament; National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum; Nick Colstaldo; Oklahoma State University; Omaha (Neb.); Pikeville (Ky.); Pitch counts; Rating percentage index (RPI); Relief pitchers; Robby Buchanan; Robin Ventura; Ron Polk; Sam Taylor; Shortstops; Southeastern Conference (SEC); St. John's University; Stanford University; Starting pitchers; Super Regionals; Tom Deller; Tyler Marshall; Zach Reks

Subjects: Baseball coaches; Baseball players; College World Series (Baseball); College sports--Coaching; Pitching (Baseball); University of Kentucky--Baseball

01:33:05 - Coaching career--1991 and 1993 seasons

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Partial Transcript: Well in '91, you set another school record with forty-one wins, twenty losses. You know, so you break it again.

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about the 1991 and 1993 seasons and a few key players from each group. He says that they had five players drafted after 1991, three of whom played in the MLB as pitchers. He also discusses players from that group who he says were the best suited to Cliff Hagan Stadium because their left-handed batters could take advantage of the short right field wall. He talks about the 1993 team going to the NCAA Baseball Tournament again, but bowing out early after two straight losses to the University of Southern California and Texas. Madison talks about a few key players from the 1993 team, but admits that some of his other good teams had more talent.

Keywords: Asbury University; Billy Van Landingham; Jeff Abbott; Major League Baseball (MLB); Manny Cervantes; Matt Bragga; Mike Harris; NCAA Baseball Tournament; Paul Morse; Rice University; Rick Norton; Rod Henderson; Steve Phillips; Troy Trumbo; University of Southern California; University of Texas

Subjects: Baseball coaches; Baseball players; College sports--Coaching; Pitching (Baseball); University of Kentucky--Baseball

01:36:05 - Life outside of coaching--Retiring / Organizing "The Challenge" event in 1989 with Harold Morris

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Partial Transcript: Well, y-y-you know, you continue to coach with great success until 2003, and you step down with 755 wins.

Segment Synopsis: Madison talks about retiring as UK's head baseball coach in 2003 with 755 wins. He says that the real highlight of his career was off the field, organizing an evangelism event called "The Challenge" in 1989, which brought Harold Morris to Rupp Arena where he spoke in front of roughly 23,000 people. Madison talks about becoming friends with former Yankee great Bobby Richardson, who invited him to the MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati. There, Madison met Harold Morris and asked him to come speak to his team. Morris said that he preferred to speak in front of large groups of people, so the event gradually evolved into a much larger event called "The Challenge." It was hugely successful, which Madison says greatly boosted his faith, and that would later help him cope with his wife's breast cancer diagnosis. Emery then has to leave and ends the interview.

Keywords: "The Challenge"; "Twice Pardoned"; Bobby Richardson; Breast cancer; Cincinnati (Ohio); Coastal Carolina University; Focus on the Family; Gary Carter; Harold Baines; Harold Morris; Lee Eden; Liberty University; MLB All-Star Game; Major League Baseball (MLB); Memorial Coliseum; New York Yankees; Orel Hershiser; Rupp Arena; Southeastern Conference (SEC); Steel Harmon; University of South Carolina; Wilmore (Ky.)

Subjects: Baseball coaches; Christianity.; College sports--Coaching; University of Kentucky--Baseball