Monday, May 20, 2013

Celebrating The New While Honoring The Teams That Began It All

Last Friday evening, May 17, 2013, Vanderbilt celebrated its latest SEC baseball championship (a team that would soon set SEC (26) and team (48) records for most games won in a regular season). The school also took time to look back and honor the tradition of the first two VU teams that captured SEC crowns, the 1973 and 1974 squads.

As the teams of yesteryear (see photo above) were welcomed back to their "Field of Dreams" for the first time in four decades  by today's VandyBoys (as the current team is nicknamed), the exploits of Vandy's only two back to back conference champions were outlined to the applause of fans.

Here, courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics, is what was said about the remarkable seasons these two teams achieved, beginning a tradition of excellence that still continues today.

Ladies and Gentlemen …. Please direct your attention to the home plate area at Hawkins Field.  Tonight, Vanderbilt baseball is proud to recognize Commodore greats from the past.  On the field tonight with former Head Coach Larry Schmittou are members of the 1973 and 1974 SEC Baseball Championship teams.

The 1973 team won the first ever SEC Baseball Championship for Vanderbilt, and the ’73 and ’74 teams were the first and only back to back champions in the history of Vanderbilt baseball.

The 1973 team was lead by a strong group of seniors which included All-American and Vanderbilt Hall of Fame member Jeff Peeples.
    The late Jeff Peeples, VU first baseball All-American, pitching in 1973. The annual   Vanderbilt team MVP award bears his name.

Early season highlights included Peeples complete game 6-hitter to beat #2 ranked Southern California in a spring west coast tournament.  Just 2 days later, the Commodores defeated #1 ranked Arizona State, with a 14-hit attack led by then sophomore Rick Duncan, great defense, and good late inning pitching from Mark Bode who picked up the win in relief.

Catcher Greg Collins had an all-star tournament performance in the California tournament, slamming 3 home runs, throwing out 12 of 14 base runners, and picking 2 others off base.

A mid-season highlight and one of the most dramatic of the year was a 2-out, 2-strike walk-off grand slam HR by co-captain Tommy Powell to beat Tennessee  9-8 in a game that turned the Commodore fortunes against the pre-season favorite Volunteers.

Other season highlights included Jeff Peeples starting and winning both games of a doubleheader against Auburn, with 12 scoreless innings, giving up only 2 hits.

And, on the final weekend of the regular SEC season, trailing Florida by a game in the Eastern Division standings, the ‘Dores swept the Gators to win the SEC East for the 3rd consecutive year.

Then, it was on to the SEC Championship series against Western Division champ Alabama.  With 5-1 and 13-7 victories, the Commodores celebrated their first ever SEC baseball championship on this same site here at the old McGugin field.

After a 13-5 SEC Championship season, the Commodores made their first ever trip to the NCAA tournament, joining a 6-team field in Starkville, MS for the District III Championship.  After winning 2 straight games against GA. Southern and N.C. State, the ‘Dores lost in the late innings against Miami, Florida to come up 1 win short of a chance to play for the District III Championship and a trip to the College World Series.

The 1973 team ended the season at 36-16, at the time, a record for wins in the SEC.  Rising as high as #7 in the national rankings, the ’73 squad finished as the 13th ranked team in the country.
                                   John McLean in action during the 1973 season

A pitching staff that included senior stalwarts John McLean, Mark Bode and Doug Wessel established a team ERA record of 3.21, a mark that remained intact for 38 years until the 2011 College World Series staff lead by Sonny Gray topped this previous record.

In addition to All-American Jeff Peeples, the 1973 team was lead by All-SEC players Greg Collins, Ted Shipley, and Rick Duncan.

 The 1973 Commodores celebrate the school's first SEC championship in baseball.

In 1974, following the loss of experience and leadership of 7 seniors, the baseball Commodores were not expected to contend so highly.  However, with an outstanding pitching staff lead by Steve Burger, Rick Rhodes, Mike Coyne, Bob Latimer and freshman Eddie Wiles, the ’74 team came out of the box hot with an early spring record of 9-4, all on the road, which included 2 wins at LSU, a split against top-ranked South Alabama, and 2 of 3 at Florida.

Later in the conference season, another 2 of 3 series victory against UT ran Vandy’s record to 10 of the last 12 against the Vols.

Repeating Jeff Peeples iron-man performance from the year before, Junior Rick Rhodes started and won both games against Georgia, in a big late season series.  Rhodes then also pitched VU to a 4th straight Eastern Division title with a 2-1 victory at Auburn to clinch a 4th consecutive spot in the SEC Championship series for the Commodores.

In the SEC Championship series, again against Alabama, the Commodores avenged an early season loss in the Joe Sewell Classic by beating the Tide 12-8 at McGugin Field, and won the SEC title with an epic 2-1 12-inning thriller in Tuscaloosa.  In this title winning victory, Bob Latimer gave up just 4 hits and 1 run in 10 innings.  Steve Burger came on in relief to close down the win after his own single knocked in the go ahead run in the top of the 12th.

The NCAA District Tournament was again held in Starkville, MS in 1974.  Against another strong field, the ‘Dores defeated East Carolina, but had their highly successful season end with losses to Miami, FL and GA. Southern.  

The 1974 team finished with 37 wins, a new school record  … one that stood for 30 years until Tim Corbin’s 2004 team won 45 games.

The 1974 team ended the year as the 14th ranked team in the country.

The team also set a school and then NCAA record with 154 stolen bases, lead by Ted Shipley with 39 steals.

Juniors Rick Rhodes, Ted Shipley, and Rick Duncan were named All-SEC in 1974.

Head Coach Larry Schmittou continued to lead the baseball Commodores until 1978.  He amassed 306 wins in his 11 years at Vanderbilt, lead the team to 4 consecutive division crowns from ’71 to ’74,  and 2 consecutive SEC Championships, for which he was named SEC Coach of the Year in 1973 and 1974.  During his tenure here, Vanderbilt won more games than any other SEC school, and was one of only 2 schools to win   divisional championships.  He coached 20 All-SEC, 8 All-SEC East, 8 All-South region, and 7 Academic All-SEC players.  For all his accomplishments in baseball, including Nashville youth leagues, his Championship tenure at Vanderbilt, and then with the Nashville Sounds, Schmittou was enshrined into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.



Joining us today from these great championship teams are:

Steve Burger

Mark Bode

Greg Collins

Mike Coyne

1974 Co-Captain Rick Duncan

Bill Hardin

1973 Co-Captain Robert Hendrickson

Marvin Manson

Gene Menees

John McLean

Tom Moore

Ron Piacenti

1973 Co-Captain Tom Powell

Rick Rhodes

1974 Co-Captain Ted Shipley

Ed White

Eddie Wiles


And …. Head Coach Larry Schmittou
Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s give a big round of applause for these great Championship teams, the players and coaches from 1973 and 1974!
The saying goes..." If you build it, they will come." And so it is, 40 years later what our Vanderbilt classmates along with Coach Schmittou built, Coach Tim Corbin and the VandyBoys continue winning their third SEC regular season crown in the last seven years with perhaps even more to come the post-season ahead in the SEC tournament, then on to the NCAA Regionals, Super Regionals and hopefully, another College World Series berth in Omaha by June.

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