May 14, 2014
Commodore History Corner Archive
It has been 40 years since Vanderbilt won back-to-back SEC championships.
Vanderbilt baseball coach Larry Schmittou led the Commodores to the 1973 SEC baseball championship with a two-game sweep over Alabama. It would be the school's first. Schmittou began the "scholarship era" of Vanderbilt baseball when he took over the program in 1968. The 1974 squad was not as impressive stat-wise as the previous year, but a lot of talent remained - especially with pitching.
The Commodores won the Eastern Division of the SEC with an 11-4 record for their fourth straight division championship and concluded the regular season at 34-20. Alabama, coached by Hayden Riley, also repeated as the Western Division champs to set up a rematch from the previous season.
The format called for a two-of-three series with the first game to be played in Nashville. The Tennesseangave this report on the first game played on Wednesday, May 8:
Everything went over the fence yesterday at Vanderbilt's McGugin Field... even a Commodore outfielder. And when the last of an astounding nine home runs had been slugged over and against the fences, Vanderbilt had lost the homer contest, but had captured the opening game of the Southeastern Conference championship playoffs with a 12-8 win over Alabama.
Alabama's Anthony Davidson was the only player to hit two home runs, perhaps because his first one didn't clear the fence. It was Vanderbilt right fielder Rick Duncan who fell over the fence attempting to catch Davidson's blast and then looked helplessly through the wire, unable to get back over to the ball, as Davidson raced all the way home.
However, most of the frustration belonged to Bama, the SEC Western Division champion, which now heads to Tuscaloosa, Ala., needing to sweep the final two games of the best-of-three title playoffs.
Vanderbilt, which won the SEC title from Alabama in two straight games last year, slammed out 12 hits, including four home runs in an unusual display of power. The Commodores aren't noted for hitting, batting only .252 as a team prior to yesterday.
"We usually don't score this well," Vandy Coach Larry Schmittou said, laughing and shaking his head. "But, the way the wind was blowing today, anything could happen. When the pitches got upstairs today, it was simply a case of touching all the bases."
Then in a more serious mood the Vandy skipper said: "With the remainder of the playoffs at Tuscaloosa, this was a game we could not lose and still hope to win the conference championship."
The second game of the best-of-three SEC title series is set for tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. at Alabama and, if necessary, a third game will be played Saturday. Alabama, a team with a reputation for hitting, lived up to its advance billing and must be wondering what is necessary offensively to best the Commodores.
The Tide, now 37-15, slammed out five home runs, including two by Davidson, and one each from James White, Larry Mims and Rich Potter. Vanderbilt upped its record to 35-20, slugged four home runs the blows coming off the bats of Gene Menees, Fred Fisher, Bill Hardin and Ted Shipley.
It was reported that Shipley's dinger broke a 6-6 deadlock in the fifth inning and landed on top of the swimming pool roof. It was Shipley's 10th home run of the season. The blast also tied a school record for career home runs with 17 shared by John McLean and Bill Winchester.
Menees' homer was only his third of the season. He was batting .188 going into the game. His three-run, 400-foot shot capped a six-run inning for the Commodores. Ace Ricky Rhodes started the game on the mound for Vanderbilt and lasted one out into the fifth. He was relieved by Steve Burger with the game tied 6-6. Burger scattered six hits and gave up two runs in the eighth with Vandy up 10-6.
"It was an extremely tough day to pitch the way the wind was blowing and the way the ball was jumping out of the park," Schmittou said. "Rhodes and the Alabama pitchers couldn't seem to keep the ball down, but Burger came in for us with a great performance."
Burger did double duty as a designated hitter. He went 1-for-3 with one RBI and two runs scored. Fisher and Hardin had three hits and drove in three runs each for the Commodores. It was reported that Vanderbilt entered the game with 150 stolen bases, which was at the time an SEC and NCAA record.
Thursday was a day off as Vanderbilt chartered a bus that morning for the trip to Tuscaloosa. Vandy's Bob Latimer took the mound on Friday in hopes of bringing the Commodores back-to-back SEC titles. The Tennessean gave this report on the second game:
There may never have been a finer all-around athlete in the long history of Vanderbilt athletics than Steve Burger. And yesterday the five-year man from Donelson slammed a single in the 12th inning, which led to the winning run in a 2-1 victory over Alabama and Vandy's second straight Southeastern Conference baseball championship.
Burger, a football star who returned to school this past year just to pitch for the baseball team, also was in the game in relief of starting pitcher Bob Latimer and picked up his second mound decision in the two-game sweep over the Western Division champions.
Burger, who won the opener in a five-inning relief job in Nashville Wednesday, said after the game that "I was given the game ball and gave half of it to Bob (Latimer). He really should have it all."
Latimer gave up just four hits and one run in 10 innings before being relieved in the bottom of the 11th when he developed a blister on his throwing hand that was a worry before the game. Burger came on to pitch the final six outs and finally won the game with his bat and an assist from Alabama left fielder Norm Lacey.
Fred Fisher led off the 12th for Vanderbilt by reaching first base on an error by Bama shortstop Joe Hawley. The sophomore Commodore football player then stole second base--the 151st of the year. Ernie Leonard flied out, and Steve Tinsley fanned for the fourth time in the game before Burger hit a two-strike pitch for a single to left field.
Vanderbilt coach Larry Schmittou held up the streaking Fisher at third base, but then waved him home with the winning run when the Tide outfielder bobbled the ball.
"It took me a moment to get going toward the plate again," Fisher said. "But I sure was happy with the opportunity."
The Commodores' only other run off Alabama right-hander Jim Archibald had come in the first inning on a wrong-field triple by Vanderbilt's All-SEC shortstop Ted Shipley and a broken bat single by Rick Duncan.
It was a pitcher's duel all the way, with Alabama scoring its only run on a walk to Tide outfielder Robin Gary, two stolen bases and a double-play attempt by Vandy that didn't work out. Both teams made boo-boos, generally on the bases, throughout the tight game, but Latimer, Burger and Archibald pitched perhaps the finest game the SEC playoffs have ever witnessed.
Schmittou, who admits this year has been a miracle season for the Eastern Division champions, said that good fortune and good pitching smiled on the Commodores here yesterday.
"It was a tough game and we are just fortunate to get the breaks," Schmittou said. "They could have hit the ball an inch or two one way or another and won it. But, Latimer did a great job before he got the blister on his hand in the 11th. He had thrown 130 pitches at the time and I decided to let Burger finish up. What a great athlete...what a competitor, that guy is."
Vanderbilt played in the NCAA Tournament in Starkville, Miss. They beat East Carolina (2-1) then lost to Miami, Fla. (7-1) and Georgia Southern (5-3) to finish the season at 37-22. Rhodes, Shipley and Duncan each were selected to the First Team All-SEC team that season. Vanderbilt would not win another SEC crown until 1980, which was in the second season under coach Roy Mewbourne.
Schmittou (1968-78) is ranked third all-time in victories (306-252-1) behind Mewbourne and Tim Corbin. Schmittou is credited with bringing professional baseball back to Nashville in 1978 as part owner and president of the Nashville Sounds and Herschel Greer Stadium.
Traughber's Tidbit: To read my story on Vanderbilt's 1973 SEC championship find April 17, 2013 on "Commodore History Corner" Archives. And to read my interview with Larry Schmittou, search April 9, 2008 on "Commodore History Corner" Archives.
Tidbit Two: On June 9, 1977, former tennis greats Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert played on the Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium floor, but not against each other. Both players were part of World Team Tennis matches. Borg played for the Cleveland club while Evert was a member of the Phoenix team. Phoenix won the match 30-19 in front of 8,312 fans said to be the largest attendance to see a tennis match in Nashville. Borg won his men's singles match as Evert won her women's singles contest. Borg would be the 1977 No. 1 men's player in the world as Evert earned the women's No. 1 ranking. The matches consisted of mixed doubles, men's singles, women's doubles, women's singles and men's doubles.
If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email at WLTraughber@aol.com. This will be the last CHC story for this year.