Vanderbilt has just completed another very successful baseball season under Coach Tim Corbin. While we didn't manage to defend our 2007 SEC title, the team did advance to both the SEC and NCAA tournaments and stayed in the national rankings most of the year.
Certainly the pro baseball scouts like Vanderbilt's talent. In the recently concluded major league draft, eight of Vanderbilt's current players were selected along with ten of our incoming recruits.
Vandy may have also set some kind of record with one of its athletes being the top collegiate baseball player taken in the draft two straight years. This year it was third baseman Pedro Alvarez (selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates), while last year pitcher David Price was the first pick overall.
You could put up a pretty good argument that Price is Vanderbilt's greatest pitcher, and if he puts up the great statistics he's capable of in the pros for the Tampa Bay Rays, it will be hard to argue otherwise, although some will say other former Vandy hurlers now in the major leagues like Jeremy Sowers and Jensen Lewis deserve some consideration, as does Scott Sanderson from years gone by.
But in terms of what they accomplished while at Vanderbilt, there's not much question in my mind that the late Jeff Peeples (pictured above), a member of our Vanderbilt Class of 1973, is the greatest Commodore hurler ever.
It been 35 years since he last took the mound for the Black & Gold, yet he still holds the school record in many pitching categories including most wins in a season with 12 in 1973 (when we won our first SEC title), most career wins 29 and lowest earned run average for a career (1970-73) at 1.68.
In addition, Jeff was one of only two pitchers in SEC history to lead the conference in ERA two years in a row (1971 & '72). He was an All-American his senior season and a three-time All-SEC selection.
And believe it or not, he may have been even better than we fully appreciated at the time.
Here's a story I found on the CSTV.com sports website. It's an interview conducted by Bill Traghber with then-Vandy baseball Larry "Smokey" Schmittou.
Schmittou recounts a game our senior season on the road with then-national baseball power Southern Cal.
" Rod Dedeaux (the USC coach) was such an icon in college baseball...He had won five consecutive national championships when we went to Riverside (CA). Before the game they would get on the dugout and bug you unmercifully. I had a third baseman named Bill Hardin. He asked me, "Coach, what's a grummet?" I said I think it's a desert bug. I asked him why and he said that's what the USC players were calling him. My assistant, Roy Carter, asked me what I was going to say to the team before the USC game. I walked down there and you could tell everyone was nervous. I said, "Fellows, we'll win. Peeples is pitching. Let's go." Peeples struck out Fred Lynn four times. (Note: Lynn was later AL MVP for the Boston Red Sox and had a long near-Hall of Fame career in the Majors).
Schmittou concluded: "We beat them (USC) 5-4 and were ahead the whole game."
Vanderbilt certainly remembers and appreciate Jeff's contributions. Since 2001, the annual team MVP Award bears his name.
I knew what a great athlete Jeff Peeples was long before we got to Vanderbilt. He played high school sports for my school's (Father Ryan) arch-rival in Nashville, Montgomery BellAcademy. Peeples helped MBA beat us very regularly.
In high school he was actually better known and honored numerous times as an All-State football player. He actually signed a football scholarship to play at Vanderbilt. Of course, the football recruiter for VU in those days was also Larry Schmittou and he, being no fool, often signed athletes he thought could be successful in multiple sports (especially baseball :)
A few years before we went to Vanderbilt, I once saw Jeff Peeples do something I stilll don't believe I actually witnessed. A local radio station had a contest to see if anyone could throw a 45 RPM record (remember those?) across the Cumberland River. I think the competition was trying to emulate what George Washington once did in throwing a stone or some kind of item across the Potomac River. Well, Jeff stepped up and he did it! What an athlete!
Unfortunately, Jeff did not enjoy the same success in pro baseball as he did at Vanderbilt. A career-ending car wreck, resulting in major damage to his shoulder, ended his career after pitching only briefly in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system. But the sportswriters and others in Tennessee never forgot his career at Vanderbilt and he was named a member of The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
As we prepare to remember so many great things about Vanderbilt as a part of our 35th Class Reunion, please feel free to share your thoughts and memories of Jeff and of Vanderbilt baseball below.