Vandy's first title 40 years ago

April 17, 2013

Vanderbilt has been playing baseball as an organized sport since 1886 with a two-game schedule. The Commodores split a series with Sewanee a 10-2 win and an 11-3 defeat. Baseball had not been taken as a serious sport on the Vanderbilt campus until the arrival of Larry Schmittou in 1968.

1973 Baseball Media GuideIt wasn't until this time that baseball scholarships became available and Schmittou built a conference power. His first four teams were 7-15 (2-15 SEC), 21-18 (3-12 SEC) and 24-16 (5-10 SEC). The 1971 club was 33-19 and won the SEC Eastern Division with an 11-5 record. In this era of SEC baseball the Eastern and Western Division champs played a two-out-three game series for the league crown. Vanderbilt lost two straight to Mississippi State.

The next season (1972), the Commodores repeated as Eastern Division champs (35-15, 13-3), but loss two straight to Ole Miss for the SEC championship. Vanderbilt was ready for its first-ever baseball championship in 1973. Leading batters for the Commodores were Ted Shipley, Rick Duncan, and Greg Collins. The rest of the batting order included Bill Hardin, Robert Hendrickson, Steve Tinsley, Tommy Powell and Duane Donahoo. The DH was not used at this time.

The pitching ace of the staff was All-American Jeff Peeples who was a senior. Other top pitchers were John McLean, Mike Coyne, Wayne Palmore, Bob Latimer, Doug Wessel, Doug Bates and Mark Bode.

Vanderbilt began the season with a record of 11-2 including a pair of SEC wins over Kentucky. Then it was off to Los Angeles where the Commodores were part of the prestigious Riverside Invitational Baseball Tournament. They were part of an eight-team field that included collegiate powers as three-time defending national champions USC and the 1972 runner-up Arizona State. The tournament was played in a round robin format with two divisions. The division leaders played one game for the tournament title.

Vanderbilt opened their portion of the schedule with a 2-0 loss to Massachusetts and an 11-2 win over Hawaii. Next up for the Commodores was the No. 2 ranked team in the country -- Southern Cal. Vanderbilt never trailed in that game with a surprising 5-4 win over the perennial baseball power.

The Commodores scored two runs in the top of the first, one in the second and a pair in the third for the 5-0 lead. Vandy outfielder Duncan clouted a solo home run in the third. Donahoo collected a pair of singles, the only Vanderbilt player with more than one hit.

The star of the game was Peeples who scattered six hits to record his fourth victory of the season against no losses. The right-hander would strike out seven batters and walked six while going the complete nine innings in the 5-4 victory.

The Commodores took the next day off for a trip to see Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.

"You know," Schmittou said in an interview, "I really believe we might have a chance to win this tournament if it wasn't for the Southeastern Conference race. Peeples will not start anymore and neither will John McLean after pitching against Washington State tomorrow so they will be ready for our two conference games at Kentucky on Monday and Tuesday.

"Winning this tournament would be a great accomplishment, but we still intend to make every effort to win it. But there isn't anything as important as an SEC win. Those are the only ones in the direction of a championship."

The tournament continued for the Commodores with a doubleheader against host Cal-Riverside and Washington State. In the Riverside game, Vandy pitcher Bates threw only 90 pitches in the Commodores' 7-3 win. Collins collected three RBI's in the game and Shipley batted in a pair of runs. Collins also secured a home run.

In the nightcap, Washington State jumped out to a 6-0 lead as McLean suffered through some wildness in the first four innings. McLean went the distance, but took the loss in the 6-2 State victory. Peeples, playing in the outfield, hit a home run, as did Shipley. The Commodores had eight home runs for the tournament, which set a new record at that time for the annual event.

Vanderbilt's sixth game of the tournament came against Stanford. But the Commodores were shutout, 6-0. Peeples, also one of Vanderbilt's top batters, was held hitless for the first time all season in 16 games. The 3-3 Commodores would complete their part of the round-robin event with a game with No. 1 ranked Arizona State.

The Tennessean gave this report:

Vanderbilt's baseball team concluded a rewarding week in the Riverside National Invitational Baseball Tournament with an impressive 6-4 victory over Arizona State, the nation's No. 1 college baseball team at Evans Field here yesterday.

The Commodores wound up with a 4-3 record in the prestigious tournament and settled for third place while Arizona State and Southern Cal battled for the championship last night. Earlier in the week Vandy toppled Southern California, the defending national champions.

This is certainly a big, big boost for us," exclaimed Schmittou after his team broke a 4-4 tie in the top of the eighth to win. "Not only is this important to our baseball program, but a win over the nation's No. 1 team is a big step for our entire athletic program.

USC won the tournament with a 12-inning 2-0 win over Arizona State in the championship game.

The Commodores would win the Eastern Division of the SEC for the third straight season with a conference record of 11-5. Alabama won the Western Division (12-4) and hosted the first game of the SEC two-of-three series. The teams did not face each other in the regular season.

"There is no secret to our success for the last three seasons, but particularly this year," Schmittou said. "Peeples has beaten the other team's aces all season. His only loss was at Kentucky where we traveled while still, very weary from the trip to Riverside to play in the tournament. We naturally feel very confident when Peeples pitches and that's why this opening game away from home doesn't scare us like it might some other teams. Jeff wins on the road just as he does at home."

The first game was played on Wednesday May 9 with the second game scheduled for Friday in Nashville at McGugin Field (today Hawkins Field). A third game, if necessary would also be played on the Vanderbilt campus on Saturday. In the opener Peeples took the mound for the Commodores with a 9-1 record and brought in a string of 28 scoreless innings. Bernie Strawn was the Tide's ace and future major leaguer adding Bama QB Butch Hobson as their leading batter at third base.

Game one belonged to the 'Dores. Peeples' scoreless streak came to an end at 36 as Bama mustered one run in the bottom of the ninth, which was the only score on the day for the home team. Vanderbilt recorded a five-run fifth inning for a 5-1 victory.

In that fifth inning after two outs, Peeples reached base on an error. Shipley singled and Duncan walked to load the bases. Collins hit a one-hopper back to Strawn who tossed the ball over the first baseman's head. Peeples and Shipman raced home on the error. Hendrickson and Tinsley connected on back-to-back doubles to end the Commodores scoring on the day. Peeples went the distanced for his 10th win while giving up four hits.

With a day off, McLean was given the opportunity to pitch the Commodores to their first-ever SEC baseball championship and the school's second overall SEC championship. The 1964-65 men's basketball team had recorded the only SEC championship at that time.

McLean was a senior who had won 20 games in his career (14 in the past two). The former Overton High School standout was 7-4 on the year. Said Schmittou, "We haven't won anything yet, but this team ceases to amaze me. Every time we win now, the season becomes more incredible. Big John and our baseball team have a chance to really do something for our athletic program. Right here in the beginning of a new athletic administration, under Mr. (Clay) Stapleton, I think a championship will be meaningful for all the other sports."

Over 4,500 Vandy fans "jammed" against the McGugin fences and witnessed Vanderbilt's first SEC baseball championship with a 13-7 win over Alabama in the second game. Powell, McLean, Collins and Shipley all slammed home runs and the day ended with a celebration in front of the Vanderbilt dugout. Powell's three-run homer over the left-field fence in the second set the tone for the day.

The Commodores were leading 9-0 after the sixth, but Alabama scored four runs in the seventh and three in the eight. Vanderbilt matched their half of the seventh with four runs. McLean took the win after six and one-third innings of work. Wessel (one and two-thirds) and Peeples (one inning) finished the game.

"I guess it was appropriate that Powell started things off today with a home run," said Schmittou. "Remember he got us moving toward this championship with his grand slam home run right here in a ninth-inning situation against Tennessee early this year. He and Robert Hendrickson have been our team captains and they've done something every game to keep us going."

1973 SEC Baseball Champions

The SEC title winners advanced into NCAA Regionals held in Starkville, Miss. The Commodores won their first two games of the double-elimination tournament over Georgia Southern (6-2) and North Carolina State (4-2). They were eliminated from the event with losses to Georgia Southern (5-2) and Miami (Fla.), 6-5.

Vanderbilt finished the season 36-16 while Duncan led the team in batting (.343) and RBIs (51); Shipley led in hits (65) with Collins leading in home runs (9). All-SEC honors went to Peeples, Shipley, Duncan and Collins.

Peeples became one of the best pitchers in Vanderbilt baseball history. He earned All-SEC honors in 1971, 1972 and 1973. In 1973 he was an All-South Region selection and a Second Team All-American. In 1973, Peeples led all SEC pitchers in wins (12) and strikeouts (113).

Peeples is one of only two pitchers in SEC history to lead the conference in earned run average for two consecutive years with a 1.56 ERA in 1971 and 1.30 ERA in 1972. He holds the Vanderbilt pitching record for wins (29) and ERA (1.68). Following his graduation, Peeples was drafted by the Cardinals' organization, but injuries prevented a promising career. He was posthumously inducted to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2001

Schmittou's club would repeat as SEC champions in 1974 and he was honored as SEC Coach of the Year in 1973 and 1974. He coached Vanderbilt for 11 years (1968-78) and is third all-time in wins with a 306-252-1 record (behind Roy Mewbourne and Tim Corbin). Schmittou was enshrined into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 for his work with the Nashville baseball youth leagues, Vanderbilt and the Nashville Sounds.

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