Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Tip of the Cap to Oklahoma State Baseball

Robin Ventura
The first game I ever attended at Simmons Field was on a Friday night, April 14, 1988.  The Tigers were facing Oklahoma State.   The Cowboys' head coach, Gary Ward, faced off against Mizzou's Gene McArtor.   The Tigers, led by shortstop, Dave Silvestri, lost that game 13-3, in no small part due to the offensive and defensive skills of the OSU third baseman, Robin Ventura.  I like to froze my butt off that night, as many people do their first time out to an MU ballgame at Simmons Field, where the temperature is always 10 degrees cooler inside the stadium than out in the parking lot.

Gary Ward left OSU shortly after I began following MU Baseball in earnest, and therefore most of my memories of the Cowboys feature the mercurial Tom Holliday.  He was always the most fun college baseball coach to heckle, if only because he despised hecklers so very much:  "They can rag on me all they want. If they think it's OK to rag on 20-year-old kids, that shows very small character."

Current OSU skipper Frank Anderson is much more boring than either Ward or Holliday, distinguished only by his penchant for frequent slow walks onto the field to argue with the umpires.

Oklahoma State was a late-comer to the Big 8.  After a brief stint (1925-28) in the original Missouri Valley that became the Big 6, Oklahoma A&M, as it was then known, joined the Big 7 in 1958, making the conference the Big 8.

The Missouri-Oklahoma State baseball rivalry has always been a hard-fought one.  No matter which team is up or down in any particular season, the MU-OSU series is always a good one.

In Missouri's College World Series Championship season of 1954, the Tigers made an early season swing south to Arkansas and then over to Stillwater, OK, to play a 2-game series with the Cowboys.  In the first game, the "Cowpokes" handed the Tigers one of their few losses of the season, 5-3.  The following day the Tigers returned the favor, beating the Cowboys 12-6, in spite of setting a Mizzou record of 8 errors that still stands today.

That second game against the Cowboys in '54 featured the first mound appearance of a young basketball player turned pitcher by the name of Norm Stewart.  In Norm's own words, he "was a flop".  "He walked four batters and committed two of those record errors himself.  The following is from Stewart's biography, Stormin' Back:
When I got back to Columbia, I told Coach Simmons, “I’m going to quit baseball. I don’t think I can help the team any.”

“Well, let’s do this,” he said. “Your performance against A&M was the worst I had ever seen. You were horrible. But we’re going to play Fort Leonard Wood soon. I’m going to start you. If you don’t do any better than your last outing, you won’t have to turn in your gear. I’ll pick it up for you.”
Stewart went on to a successful year and career as a pitcher (and basketball player) at Mizzou, including throwing a no-hitter in 1956.  Against Arkansas.

The longest game Mizzou ever played was a 16-inning marathon against OSU on May 8, 1971.

I never got see the Cowboys' most famous record-breaking player, Pete Incaviglia.  The records show that in one 4-game series between OSU and MU in 1985, Incaviglia went 5-for-13, hitting 9 RBIs and 3 home runs - one of them a grand slam.

I was on hand for the wild game in April of 1996 at Simmons Field that finished with Mizzou defeating the Cowboys 24-23, part of a 3-game sweep of OSU, something the Tigers had not accomplished since 1971.

Gary Ward, the Cowboys' coach, was colorful as always after the final loss of that series:  "I'm not into alibis or excuses,'' Ward said. ``You get your ass kicked, you lick the blood off your lips and pack your bags, get on the bus and go play the next one."

1996 was the final year of the Big 8, and Missouri tied Oklahoma State for the regular season championship, claiming the #1 spot due to having won the head-to-head contests during the regular season.  The championship was extra sweet, having finished dead last in the conference the year before.

OSU had the last laugh, though, beating the Tigers in the championship game of the final Big 8 Tournament.

Cowboy Baseball Hall of Fame: Gary Ward (
Gary Ward was Oklahoma State's head baseball coach from 1978 through 1996 and guided the Cowboys to an unprecedented 16 straight conference titles, 17 NCAA regional appearances and 10 trips to the College World Series. Seven of OSU's World Series appearances (1981-87) were in consecutive years, an NCAA record. The Cowboys also appeared in the NCAA championship game three times under Ward.

He compiled a record of 953-313-1 in 19 seasons in Stillwater, before retiring prior to the 1997 campaign. Ward came out of retirement and was the head coach for two seasons at his alma mater New Mexico State in 2001 and 2002, leading the Aggies to the Sun Belt Tournament championship and an NCAA appearance in 2002. Ward's career record of 1,022-361-1 (.739) is 13th best all-time in win percentage and 24th in the NCAA record books in wins.

Gary Ward helped Oklahoma State recapture its role among the most respected and well-known programs in the nation.

108 of his players at OSU went on to sign professional contracts and nine were named first team All-America, while countless others received second and third team plaudits during his coaching tenure.

Here's a Tip of the Cap to the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Big 8 Baseball.  May we meet again.  Diamonds are forever.


  1. The photo at the top of the article is captioned "Robin Ventura", but is in fact Pete Incaviglia.

  2. Thanks for the tip. the site where I got that photo identified it as Ventura.

    1. That doesn't look like Incaviglia. Pete was huge.

    2. That's Ventura. #21 throwing from 3rd base. Pete was an outfielder...