Wednesday, February 8, 2012

MU Athletics Hall of Fame: Tom Heckman

Tom Heckman, 1978-81
Tom Heckman is being inducted into the MU Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend, along with Max Scherzer.

An interesting coincidence:  Both Scherzer and Heckman wore jersey #31 during their Mizzou careers.

His official Hall of Fame write-up is HERE.

He still holds the MU record for most complete games in a season (11 in 1981), career victories (36),

What follows are a few articles from the Columbia Missourian archives.

♦ Heckman was a teammate of fellow MU Hall of Famer Phil Bradley.  Both Heckman and Bradley were drafted in June of 1981, Heckman in the 15th round by the Oakland Athletics organization.  He was also drafted a year earlier, in 1980, by the Toronto Blue Jays, but chose to return for his senior year with the Tigers, and had been drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of his career at Helias High School in Jefferson City.

Heckman ties Big 8 record for career wins (Columbia Missourian, March 29, 1981)
It may not sink in until the season is over, but when it does,it will be a feat to relish.

Senior right-hand Tom Heckman captured his 31st career win Saturday with a 5--0 victory over Kansas State in the first game of a double-header, tying former Oklahoma pitcher Bob Shirley as the Big Eight all-time career winner.

Shirley currently pitches for the St Louis Cardinals, so Heckman finds himself in fine company.

"I'm not sure what that means (to be tied with Shirley), I still have a lot of
games left to go," Heckman said.

It is ironic that Heckman was drafted by the Cardinals, but chose to piay college ball instead of entering the major leagues.

"I have always liked the Cardinals and my parents are real big fans, but when I came to Mizzou, I found that the coaches were interested in the players as a person and were concerned about their education. That impressed me," he said.

The coaches and fans had to be impressed by the play of Heckman and his teammates in Missouri's first conference series. The Tigers also won the second game of the twinbill 7-2 behind the pitching effort of lefty Kurt Moody, 4-1, and homers by left fielder Mark Maurer and third baseman Paul Summers.

Heckman got to sit back and enjoy the second game, but as the starter in game one, he had little time to think about the potential meaning of the game.

"In my three years here, I have always pitched the first game. I wouldn't know how to pitch the second game," Heckman admitted.

Heckman said he hadn't done anything differently before the game, but he did pitch differently in the early innings.

"I usually throw the ball in and challenge them, but at the start of the game I tried to keep the ball away from the right-handers since there was a lot of wind out to left field," Heckman
explained. "Later I switched to just throwing my game and wentafter them. I had good hard stuff.'

Heckman started the first and fourth innings by walking the leadoff batter, but managed to avoid any damage.

"That was not a low ball ump, so I had to get used to that. At least he was consistent. He called a good game."

Heckman sailed through the game giving up only two singles in going the distance, but was happy his teammates provided him with some runs.

"With the wind blowing like it was, I was glad to get those runs. Kansas State is tough. Our
lead probably took the bunt and hit-and-run away from them which always helps."

However with three outs to go and a shutout in the making, right fielder Don Grause looked as if he might put a damper on Heckman's performance. When Grause smashed a liner to center field, Heckman said he simply thought, "Catch it. Phil," and Bradley did, making a sensational running grab.

A harmless fly to right provided out number two and as Heckman trotted to first to assist on the play, Danny Iseminger brought Dan linden's grounder to the bag.

"I was selfish about the shutout," he said. "I'd say our defense was the key. They really have been making some plays lately. It doesn't take much of a pitcher to win when your team's playing like this."

♦ Heckman's fastball surprises only the other team (Columbia Missourian, April 13, 1978)
Mention Tom Heckman to any of his Missouri teammates and the first thing invariably talked
about is his fastball.

"Outstanding fastball," says third baseman Mike Hantans

"Good fastball," says catcher Rick Hereth.

"One of the top three fastballs on the staff," says assistant coach Bob Todd.

"He throws one of the hardest fastballs on the team," says shortstop Greg Cypret.

Heckman's fastball comes as a shock to no one, except opposing batters. He had nearly twice as many strikeouts as innings pitched his senior year at Jefferson City-Helias, where he had a 6-2 record and phenomenal 0.35 ERA.

"In high school," Heckman says, "you feel like you have to strikeout the batter because you never know if the defense is going to make the play."

With that kind of high school record, the expected offers poured in. Junior colleges were after nun, as were Arkansas, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri to name a few. In the June 1978 major league free agent draft, Heckman was picked by the St Louis Cardinals in the 10th round

"It was nice," says Heckman of being drafted. "But they wanted me to go to Canada and pitch
for the summer and I didn't want to."

He will not have to worry about being drafted again this year, because of the NCAA rule saying a
baseball player who is drafted out of high school and who goes to college cannot be drafted again until after his junior year.

Heckman picked Missouri for two reasons. One was the educational opportunities. He is majoring in pre-business and the University is strong in that area, he says.

The other reason was the athletic facilities.

"They are great," Heckman says. "The school has got the money to spend on the program."

One of the people happy to have him come to Missouri is Tiger head coach Gene McArtor.

"We are pleased to have him," says McArtor "He is developing into a fine pitcher and has the
opportunity to improve even more. "

There are some big differences between high school and college ball, according to Heckman.

"You work on the corners (of the plate) in college instead of trying to throw it by the hitters," he says "You work for the weak hits. You also try to set up a hitter. If the count is
0-2, you set him up with a change-up.

"The college game is more of a thinking game. There are pick-offs and steals, you name
it and you've got something to do."

"They try to make it instinctive," says Heckman, whose record is now 4-1. He will start
against Nebraska Saturday in Lincoln.

Even though he has the all-important fastball,Heckman needs to develop other pitches to be
effective, according to Todd.

"His slider is coming along," says Todd. "He's worked hard and I would say he's made a year's progress in six months. "

Heckman wants to develop one pitch at a time.

"I want to have a control over two pitches before I move onto a third," he says.

How has the college life been for a player who only had 800 students in his high school?

"This semester it's been baseball, study, sleep," says Heckman, who has a 3.2 grade point average. During the first semester he tried to put baseball ahead of partying around.

"I tried to anyway. The rooms at Tiger Towers are O.K. They're about like the dorms or fraternities, plus there's air conditioning, which is nice "

Matt Wilson, the team's trainer, says Heckman has good physical attributes.

"Tom's big and strong," Wilson says "He's also got a good arm because he needs just a couple of minutes of stretching before he's ready to throw. Some guys need about 15 minutes before hey're
ready. I kid around with him a lot. I tell him he's got a flamethrower for an arm. "

And the heat's on the opposition when Heckman's on the mound.

1 comment:

  1. Those of us who grew up during that era recall two Toms in Central Missouri high school baseball: Tom Henke and Tom Heckman. Both strong, fastball throwing pitchers.

    Sadly, all those complete games took their toll on Tom's arm and he didn't make it in the majors.