Bob Allison's story
Bob Allison learned to play baseball in the cow pastures of a small town outside of Kansas City, Missouri. It was a football scholarship, however, that brought him to the University of Kansas, where he made his mark as a standout fullback, track star, and baseball player.
In 1958, Bob signed with the Washington Senators, and in 1959, his first full year with the team, he was named American League Rookie of the Year. Bob’s famous catch in game two of the 1965 World Series wowed baseball fans around the country. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he was known as the most feared, physical base runner in the American League.
In 13 seasons with the Washington Senators and the Minnesota Twins, Bob slugged 256 home runs, made three All-Star appearances, and was voted the greatest left fielder in the first 40 years of the Twins. He retired from baseball at the end of the 1970 season, leaving behind some great baseball memories.
Thirteen years later, Bob began noticing problems with his coordination during a 1987 old-timers game at the Metrodome. The skills that once thrilled millions of fans were gone. Running was difficult. Even catching the ball was no longer a simple act.
Family and friends started to notice the stagger in his walk. His speech was often slurred. Following two years of doctor visits to learn what was wrong, the diagnosis was finally made—Bob Allison was suffering from a progressive sporadic ataxia known as Olivo-Ponto cerebellar atrophy (OPCA).
Bob continued to battle this rare degenerative neurological disease for eight years, eventually losing his ability to walk, talk, write, and feed himself. He died of complications from ataxia in April of 1995 at the age of 60.
Quick facts about BAARC
- The Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center (BAARC) at the University of Minnesota is a comprehensive program for basic science research, clinical studies, and education in the disease of the nervous system that causes ataxia and related disorders.
- Currently as many as 150,000 Americans suffer from some form of ataxia—three times the number of individuals who suffer from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). Fifty percent of ataxias are hereditary, a proportion that is higher than some of the other neurodegenerative diseases. To date there is no known cure.
- Bob Allison may be the most identifiable casualty of ataxia. He was diagnosed after retiring from a legendary baseball career with the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins. Early efforts at finding answers about ataxia benefitted from Bob Allison’s immense dedication, and the research center that bears his name was born. On April 10, 1995, Bob Allison died in Rio Verde, Arizona, at the age of 60.
- In 1990, Bob Allison helped found the Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center at the University of Minnesota. Bob’s efforts were joined by his wife Betty, sons Mark, Kirk, Kyle, former teammate Jim Kaat, and former Twins teammate and manager Frank Quilici. This group founded the Center, determined its mission and course, and both planned and implemented fundraising efforts, in cooperation with researchers at the University of Minnesota.
- In 1993, Dr. Harry Orr of the University of Minnesota and Dr. Huba Zoghbi at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, identified the gene (SCA1) responsible for a hereditary form of ataxia. They also discovered that the gene has a genetic flaw, a mutation consisting of an abnormal repetition of three-letter segments of the genetic code causing a kind of typographical error in the genetic code. They further discovered that this type of mutation is common to other inherited neurological disorders as well as some cancers.
- Dr. Harry Orr has also genetically engineered a mouse strain of ataxia to study how a specific gene produces a protein that kills brain cells.