Bill Little commentary: Only the best
April 15, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
It was a simple correlation, this competition that lies within us all, according to that sage philosopher Augie Garrido.
"Confidence is the only way to conquer fear," he had said. "There is a little guy running around inside each of us whose name is fear," he said. "And the only way to keep him down is with confidence."
In other words, to achieve great things, you first have to believe that you can.
And as the Longhorns prepare for their weekend series with Texas A&M in baseball, they are walking into one of the most historic series in college baseball, and one that through the years has been driven by unabiding determination that spans the battle between fear and confidence.
Historically, Texas has won 126 and lost 43 games in Austin, a winning percentage of 74 percent. It is true that in baseball, that figure is always aided by the fact that the home team gets to bat last. It is also true, however, that the years in this series have reinforced, perhaps more than any other, the fact that to win, you first have to believe you will. And the corollary to that is, fear of defeat will beat you darn near every time.
Never was that more true than in likely the most memorable game of the series history at the Longhorns' old home, the legendary Clark Field.
Today, in La Jolla, Calif., Buddy New enjoys the good life that a career that began in banking, then transcended into the manufacturing of cans, and finally wound up in the race horse breeding business. And on the coffee table at his home is a book called "Kings of the Diamond: The History of Texas Longhorn Baseball." On page 282, captured in the grain and the shadows of the late afternoon, is a picture of Buddy New scoring the winning run in perhaps the most improbable Longhorns victory ever in the series, at least those games played at Clark Field.
The setting, of course, was in perhaps the most unusual ballpark of its time. Clark Field sat roughly where the Bass Concert Hall is today, and the center field wall was atop the cliff that still can be seen at the corner of what is now Dedman Dr. and 23rd St. The park was carved so that the "cliff" ran from a 350-foot foul pole down the left field line in the direction of where the LBJ Library now stands.
The right field wall, accounting for a prevailing south wind that usually blew in, was only 300 feet from home plate, and you could easily see the north rim of Memorial Stadium over the 10-foot fence. The hill in center field was 12 feet high, and it was only 347 feet to the base of it. It was 401 feet to the base of the fence in dead center field, which sat atop a large plateau above the cliff. A ball that cleared the fence in center would have to be at least 40 feet high.
But the thing that made the park interesting was that any ball that landed on the cliff was in play, meaning that an outfielder could scale the wall and actually catch or chase down a ball hit there.
Its legends were many, including a mammoth home run hit by Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game with the New York Yankess in 1929 that was called by the Los Angeles Times "without a shadow of doubt, the longest home run ever hit by man since the beginning of baseball."
In the history of the Southwest Conference, which began its competition in baseball in 1915 and ended when the league disbanded in 1996, Texas won outright or tied for a remarkable 64 league titles. Texas A&M claimed 14, and the rest of the teams totaled 11. Fifty-six of the Longhorns' titles were won outright.
The early 1960s were a coming of age for college baseball. The College World Series had started just a dozen or so years before, and Texas' and their legendary coach Bibb Falk's domination of the sport was being challenged by an old foe in Texas A&M, as well as some others who ranked as wannabes in the region of the throne room. All of this came to a showdown stage in 1962, when the Longhorns and the Aggies met at Clark Field to determine the SWC winner, and the team which would earn the right to advance to the NCAA District 6 playoff against Arizona, a series that would determine the region's representative in Omaha.
Texas had won seven straight league games, including a key 4-3 victory over Texas A&M, but everything was on the line when dawn came on May 10, 1962. It was a typically hot spring day. If the Aggies won, they would finish 12-3 in the SWC, and Texas, which had played one less game because of a rainout, would be 11-3. The right to enter the NCAA playoffs hung in the balance.
Buddy New was a little-used first baseman, who came to Clark Field that day with not the least expectation of playing. But in the game of baseball, as Augie would say almost 50 years later, the only things certain are surprises.
The Aggies, with the nucleus of a team that would take them to the College World Series two years later in 1964, jumped to an early lead, and by the end of the fourth inning, Texas A&M held a commanding 9-2 lead.
The crowd of more than 3,000 which had packed the old ball park gradually drifted away, just as it appeared the Longhorns' playoff hopes were ebbing. But in the seventh inning, shortstop Bill Bethea walked, and third baseman Ed Kasper doubled him home to make it 9-3. Still the Aggies had Roy Crain, the SWC's leading ERA man, on the mound, and the Longhorns were in the bottom of the order in the eighth inning.
The bottom of the eighth began harmlessly enough when Lew Brazelton drew a leadoff walk. Then to the plate stepped Buddy New, who had been inserted at first base Falk said "to give him a chance to letter." The left-handed hitting New drove a pitch to the top of the cliff in right center, 365 feet away, and as the Aggies scrambled to get it, New (who admittedly was no speedster) huffed and puffed his way around the bases. Brazelton scored in front of him, and when New slid safely home with what would be an inside-the-park home run, it was suddenly 9-5. The rally continued, even with two outs, and the eighth inning ended with the Aggies leading by only a run at 9-8.
In the top of the ninth, Texas A&M broke its scoring drought, and after a heroic strikeout by the Longhorns' sore-armed troubled former ace Bobby Callaway with the bases loaded, it was 10-8 with only one inning left to play.
By now it was past 6 p.m., in a game that had started at 3 p.m., and across the campus, UT students at fraternity and sorority houses, at dorms and co-ops, were listening to the game on the radio, started heading to the park. That was when Bill Melton, a UT cheerleader who was broadcasting the game on the student station, left his post and grabbed the PA and shouted, "Gimmee a Teeee." A crowd of maybe 4,000 -- larger than it had been at the start of the day -- responded with a deafening shout.
But it was still 10-8 when the first two men went out in the bottom of the ninth when Bethea, who scored four runs in the game, worked a base on balls. Leading hitter Pat Rigby snapped out of a slump and drove a double off the cliff, and as Bethea came in to score, Rigby all but flew into third base as the throw home got away from the Aggies catcher. From there, he would score to tie the game on Kasper's infield single to deep short.
In the top of the tenth, the Aggies got two men on, but Callaway battled through and somehow got out of the inning.
There were two out in the bottom of the tenth when it happened, and not one -- not then and not now -- could ever figure out exactly how what happened next happened. With a short fence in right field, anything hit down the line and in the ball park would likely go for a single. But this was a day of destiny for our friend Buddy New.
New ripped a ball down the right-field line that somehow took a nosedive toward the ground at the end of its flight and bounced with one huge hop up and over the ten-foot fence for a rare ground rule double. And that was where he stood when catcher Gary London hit a ball soaring toward the cliff in left center field.
When the ball was hit, the crowd of 4,000, the ghosts of every Texas baseball player who ever was or ever will be, rose as one. Behind home plate, the late Orland Sims, was standing at the scorer's table, dutifully recording in his official scorebook. "That goes as a double and an RBI," he said. Then, he looked at his companion standing in front of the metal chair behind the old plank that represented the press area at the old park and said, "Now how's that for a comeback?" Texas had scored eight runs in the final three innings, six of them coming with two men out.
The team would go on to beat Arizona and finished third in the CWS, when they finally ran out of pitching and out of miracles.
"It was a day I will always remember," says New. It had a lot to do with confidence, and the fact that Coach Falk always had a way of looking down and digging deep into his bench and playing a hunch.
But just as Mack Brown told his National Champion football team after the Horns' victory in the BCS title game in the Rose Bowl in 2006, New realized that his future lay somewhere else than between the base lines.
"Mike Thrash (who was a teammate and life-long friend) and I were working out at the ball park one day with a bunch of minor league players. I had come to school figuring on playing Major League baseball. We looked at those guys and they ran faster and were hitting everything off the cliff and beyond. Then we looked at each other and decided we'd better start going to class, because our future wasn't here."
Clark Field as a baseball venue disappeared after the 1974 season, and when the expansion came to UFCU Disch-Falk Field three years ago, one of the major donors was a former Longhorns first baseman named Buddy New.
And in La Jolla, New's grandchildren look curiously at the picture on page 282 of the book, showing a disconsolate Aggies catcher staring at the plate as New, surrounded by joyous Texas teammates, prepares to plant his foot on history.
"Granddad," they ask, "is that you, scoring that run?"
"Baseball is like life," he said the other day. "It teaches you a lot. And the way I see it, I got the best of both worlds."