Herd Baseball Celebrates 100th Year

Marshall University will celebrate its 100th year of baseball with a step-up in national prominence as a first-year member of the highly rated Conference USA. The Thundering Herd has added a former MU pitcher and World Series participant to the coaching staff and returns seven starters and 24 letter winners for Head Coach Dave Piepenbrink's 10th season at the helm of Marshall.

The Herd opens the season this Saturday and Sunday in Nashville, Tenn. with three games with Belmont. Over the last 100 years, Marshall has a long and sometimes spectacular history in baseball. Marshall College (1867-1961) began playing intercollegiate baseball officially in 1896, although the game (based on the old English game of "Rounders") was probably popular on the campus from era of the Civil War on. In the spring of 1896, the then-Indians of Marshall won its initial game against the Huntington Business School by 17-8 and would not lose a game until the end of the 1903 season, recording 19 wins in a row including 12-0 in 1902.

Baseball was dropped as an intercollegiate sport at Marshall between 1906 and 1909, due to "creeping professionalism" in college sports. The arrival of Boyd "Fox" Chambers, a Marshall grad in 1901, as head coach for football, basketball and, in 1910, baseball marked the return of the program. Chambers would coach the Herd from 1910-17 and post 72 wins, 43 losses and one tie (a 62 percent winning mark). Marshall would not field teams in 1939-40 and and 1944-46 (the latter due to World War II) but has every year since 1947. A freshman outfielder for the green and white in that ‘47 season would be instrumental in the next half-century of baseball at Marshall. Jack Cook would go onto become a All-Ohio Valley Conference selection as well as the winningest coach in Marshall history.

Not that the Herd didn't have success prior to Cook's arrival The 1912 Herd was 14-4, most wins in school history to that point, and were 5-1 against state college teams. The 1915 team was 14-6 and posted Marshall's first wins over West Virginia University, sweeping a double-header 4-2 and 2-1. The real heyday of early Marshall baseball, however, was the era of 1928 though 1935. Marshall won four consecutive West Virginia Athletic Conference titles (today's Division II WVIAC) as a charter member of the league in 1925. The ‘28 team won 15 games and lost only two, at Ohio State (3-2) and a split with WVU (winning the first game 8-2, dropping the nightcap 0-3). The 1929 team was even better at 14-1, losing only the opener (6-8) to Marshall's biggest rival, Morris Harvey College. Today's University of Charleston was located in Barboursville until 1935 and Marshall would win the three remaining games with the Golden Eagles.

Head Coach Johnny "Blood" Stuart, a former Ohio State and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, would also win the WVAC in 1930 (10-6) and 1931 (11-1-1). In 1932, the Herd slumped to 8-6 in its final season in the WVAC, but was 4-0 in the league. In 1933, Marshall jumped up in competition to the Buckeye Conference, consisting of Ohio University, Miami (Ohio), Cincinnati, Wittenburg, Dayton and Ohio Wesleyan. The new head coach was also the athletic director (1926-35) at Marshall, Roy "Legs" Hawley, a member of the West Virginia Sportswriters Hall of Fame and the WVU Athletic Hall of Fame. Hawley upgraded the Marshall program throughout his tenure, with the move to the Buckeye as well as securing radio broadcasts on WSAZ radio (today's WRVC 930 AM, still the voice of MU baseball) for football, basketball and baseball and helping to recruit John Zontini to Marshall as well as hiring Cam Henderson in 1935. Hawley was good as an AD, but he was even better as a coach. He led Marshall to three consecutive Buckeye titles the first three years in the league in 1933 (9-2), 1934 (13-2) and 1935 (8-1). Hawley's teams were 30-5 and 24-3 in the Buckeye in three seasons. They posted two wins over Kentucky in ‘34 and only lost outside of the Buckeye to Huntington's professional Class C team in the Middle Atlantic League, the Huntington Redbirds (a St. Louis farm club) by 7-8 in 1934 and at Michigan in 1935, 3-8.

Following Hawley's return to his alma mater WVU as athletic director, Marshall baseball fell into a slide that saw only one winning season in the next decade plus (6-3 in 1938, the final in the Buckeye before it was dissolved) and four years without baseball. Finally, former Herd player Joe Binns saved the program from extinction by reforming in 1947. Jack Cook was a freshman on that 1-2 team, but saw Marshall improved to 9-8 in 1948. Cook was All-Ohio Valley Conference in 1949, as Marshall was 12-5. Cook was offered a tryout with the St. Louis Browns (today's Baltimore Orioles), but had to serve in the US Army in the Korean War. Cook returned to MU for his Masters in 1952 and was coaching Huntington High School when he was given a chance to be the interim Marshall coach in 1955. Marshall had joined the Mid-American Conference for baseball in 1954, going 1-7 in the MAC that first year, and it didn't go much better for Cook in ‘55, with a 2-11 overall mark, 1-6 in the MAC.

Marshall would post only one winning season between 1956-66, coming with a 12-10 mark in 1959. The Herd would win only 22 MAC games in that same period against 90 losses, actually going without wins in the league in 1962 (0-8) and 1965 (0-12). Finally, in 1967, Cook was given another chance with the Herd and turned a 6-15 mark in 1966 to a 11-12, 4-5 in the MAC, in 1967. In his second season, Cook posted the only winning season in the MAC with a 5-4 league mark during a 18-7 season, the most wins in the program's history. Cook would go onto become the winningest single-sport coach in Marshall University history, posting 422 wins. He won 55 percent of his games (422-344-3) between 1967 and 1989, taking the Herd to the NCAA Atlantic Regionals in 1973 (18-10) and 1978 (27-13, the most wins in program history). He won the Southern Conference in 1978 and 1981 (22-17) and only had five losing seasons in 24 years as the MU head coach.

Cook also has produced some great players for the Herd. Rick Reed was a relief pitcher for Marshall in 1987, when he led the Herd in appearances and saves. Reed went onto post a 93-76 record in the majors for Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, New York Mets and Minnesota Twins. He was a two-time All-Star and played in the 2000 World Series with the Mets against the New York Yankees. Reed has returned to Marshall to serve as pitching coach in 2006. Cook also coached Jeff Montgomery, who started out with the Reds in 1982. He went onto his greatest glory with the Kansas City Royals, saving over 300 games and being inducted into the KC Royals Hall of Fame as well as the MU Hall of Fame, alongside his college coach. Montgomery pitched four shutouts as a freshman for the Herd, as did pitcher Mark Doboney in 1973 when he led the nation in ERA in the regular season at 0.55. Doboney was named first team All-American in leading the Herd to its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

15 players who played for Cook were signed by major league clubs. Another area where Cook was successful was in hiring assistants. Joe Carbone, who was a graduate assistant for Cook for two seasons, went onto become the winningest coach in Ohio and Mid-American Conference baseball as the leader of the Bobcats. Dave Piepenbrink, who is second only to Cook in wins as Marshall's head coach, was an All-SC player for Cook in 1987-89. He coached 25 all-conference players at Marshall and was himself named SC and Atlantic Region Coach of the Year in 1978.

Marshall has had many other great players come through in 100 years. Greg Hill (1980-83) set the all-time batting average for the Herd as first a shortstop, then catcher, with a career average of .388, helping him into the MU Athletic Hall of Fame. Other MU HOF members include Rusty Wamsley (1961-63), who is second in career average with a .386 mark and owns the best hitting season of all-time, hitting .471 in 1963. Jason Brooks was a second team All-American in 2001 when he set the MU records for home runs (23) and RBI (73). Brooks participated in the "Home Run Derby" at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. that season. HOF member John Zontini, known as "The Sheik of Seth" (W.Va.) for his amazing football career, also was all-conference as an outfielder in both the WVAC and the Buckeye, leading the Herd with 14 runs scored and two home runs in 1934, and eventually being signed by the Detroit Tigers. Another star on those Buckeye teams was HOF member Maywood "Lefty" Belcher, who was 8-0 in 1934, struck out 78 in those wins and posted the single-season earned run average of 0.68, second-best ever at MU for a starter. He would sign with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934.

Paul Holley joined the MU HOF in 1995. He posted a 2.63 ERA in a career from 1967-69, winning 10 games in three seasons. He led MU in strikeouts with 56 in 1967 and 53 in 1968. Albie DeYoung is tied with Grant Harper for the wins lead with 19 in his career (1975-78) and pitched MU to a win over Florida State in the NCAA regional in 1978. He recorded 196 strikeouts on his way to the Hall. His teammate and fellow HOF member, Greg Rowsey, beat Clemson in that same regional, led the Herd with a 1.38 ERA in 1975 and was a pitching coach for many years for Cook after his playing days and now coaches at his prep alma mater, Huntington High. Jason Nixon hit 38 career home runs, second only to Brooks' 39 career total, and had 116 runs batted in as a catcher in the late 1980s.

Glenn Verbage had a .602 slugging percentage for his career, eighth best at Marshall, hit .407 as a senior and led the Herd in home runs for three consecutive years in 1971. Piepenbrink (1987-90) went into the Hall as the leader in doubles (now third with 41 career), and also slugged .642 (fourth), had 308 total bases (third) and hit 31 home runs (fifth). Tom Kuemple won the MAC "Triple Crown" for best average and most home runs and RBIs in 1998 and was named third team All-American. HOF members Hal Greer and Walt Walowac, both best remembered for Marshall basketball (1,377 and 1,982 points, respectively) but but also played baseball; Greer at first base and Walowac in the outfield. Greer was not only the first African-American to earn a scholarship and play for any formerly all-white West Virginia college or university, he was the first black athlete to play on the campuses of Washington and Lee University, Virginia Military Institute, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech when he made a baseball trip with the Herd on Spring Break in the mid-1950s, according to then-Herd head coach Bill Chambers. Walowac's brother, Ed, was All-MAC in 1954, leading the Herd in hits.

Another two-sport (football and baseball) athlete, Erik Pinkerton will always be remembered for the touchdown catch against Western Michigan with four seconds left to win the MAC title in 1999. But Pinkerton (1998-2000) will make the MU HOF based on baseball, where he is among the leaders in games played, at bats, batting average (third in career average at .373), hits (second with 187), runs scored, home runs and doubles (the all-time leader with 46). Recently, Chris Meadows etched his name into the record book between 2001-04 with a MU best 13 career saves, including the single-season record of six in 2003.

Adam Frederick, a third baseman on this year's team, is ready to move into the Top Ten all-time at Marshall in hits (needs 28 for No. 1 in career), at bats (93 for first), games played, runs scored, doubles and total bases. Chris Koutsavlis will be the all-time games started leader with six starts this year and teammate Chris Cummings is 10th in appearances with 46. Cummings needs 52 strikeouts to move into the MU Top Ten. Chris Monaco can be the all-time steals leader with 17 stolen bases added to his current 42.

Marshall will leave the MAC for a second time in 2006, this time moving up to Conference USA. Six of the nine teams who play baseball in C-USA were ranked at some point last year and three are in the pre-season Top 35 for 2006. Rice won the national championship two seasons ago and Marshall will play the Owls along with NCAA Tournament teams in Tulane, East Carolina, Southern Miss and former MAC opponent Miami, Ohio. The Herd will also step up in facilities, hosting all Conference USA games at Appalachian Power Park in the state capital of Charleston, W.Va., about 45 miles east of Huntington. The 3,800 seat, one-year old facility is the home of the South Atlantic League's West Virginia Power, a Class A team of the Milwaukee Brewers. It was featured this year on a calendar of top new minor league ballparks, which can be purchased on the WV Power website, www.wvpower.com on the Internet. The Power opens their season on April 6 and will have some day-night double-headers with the Herd. All non-conference games for the Herd, including the Big East's Pittsburgh as well as New York Tech, Cleveland State, James Madison, Niagara, Morehead State and EKU, will be at University Heights, on Norway Avenue in Huntington (behind the Route 60 East Wal-Mart).

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