Missouri baseball honors 1954 national championship team

Saturday, May 3, 2014 | 8:36 p.m. CDT
The 1954 Missouri baseball team was honored Saturday during the current team's game against Vanderbilt. The 1954 team was Missouri's first NCAA national champion team, and remains the only Missouri baseball team to achieve the feat.

COLUMBIA – Ed Cook swears there is film of the first Missouri team national championship game.

Cook, 79, was so curious, he traveled to Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., a few years ago. The Rollins baseball team was the runner-up in the 1954 College World Series in Omaha, Neb. It lost to Missouri 4-1. 

Seven of the players from that Missouri baseball team were honored before the Missouri baseball game Saturday afternoon. After the ceremony, they hung out in the left field seats to catch up with other alumni and watch Missouri play Vanderbilt.

All seven of the champions in attendance were from the St. Louis area and were sporting their championship rings. Many of them wear the rings often.

"I only take it off at night and when I eat barbecue," Cook said, half joking.

These seven Tigers typically meet up a couple times a year, usually at McGurk's Irish Pub and Garden in St. Louis.

It's an excuse to get out of the house and catch up with longtime friends. And usually at some point, conversation turns to the championship season. If they could, the guys would watch their title game.

That's what Cook was searching for in Winter Park. He met a gentleman to help him search through the Rollins archives. He found no film, but there was an audio tape from Winter Park-based radio broadcasters.

Even though it was a great discovery for Cook, the audio only lasted four-and-a-half innings. Nevertheless, the man copied the tape for Cook and made it accessible for him on his computer to show his teammates.

Cook was on the mound for Missouri that day 60 years ago. He pitched a complete game and retired 15 of his last 16 batters. 

The starting pitcher in a previous College World Series game was Norm Stewart, who went on to become a legendary Missouri basketball coach.

Stewart was mostly a relief pitcher and did not appear often for the Tigers that season. But in the College World Series, the team played several games in a short time, so it needed extra arms. 

Emil Kammer, one of the regular Missouri pitchers, bet $1 with Stewart earlier in the year that he would never start a game.

"When coach announced Stewart was starting," Kammer said, "I think Bert (Beckmann) said, 'Ah, damn it.'"

Stewart did not attend the event on Saturday, but Kammer laughed when recounting that story about Stewart and Beckmann, another Tiger pitcher.

"Stewart threw a smooth 13-hitter," Kammer said with a laugh while also poking fun at Stewart, who typically describes his performance like that. "Luckily the guys backed him up in the field, and we got the win."

Sometimes when there's an alumni event in which Kammer and Stewart are both in attendance, Stewart invites Kammer to tell the story.

"I think I've given him at least $4 or $5 over the years," Kammer said.

Kammer yelled over to Cook to talk about the Stewart story. He leaned back in his chair and laughed before telling it.

Later, Cook looked out over the right field wall at a giant sign that lists any notable moments in Missouri baseball history. In the biggest font is the 1954 national champions.

It's the only one for the Tigers.

Missouri's only other national championship came from indoor track in 1965. No other Missouri sport has one.

"You know, it's kind of sad," Cook said while fiddling with his championship ring. "You see all these Missouri teams that get so close, but we're the only one." 

Then Cook walked over to eat at the alumni barbecue.

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.

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