‘54 memories linger

Monday, June 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:30 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

There was no tickertape parade awaiting the 1954 baseball team when it returned from Omaha, Neb., as the national champion.

Although there was heavy coverage in the newspapers, it was mid-June and the students were on summer break. None of the players remember a great celebration after the game and many did not make the trip back to Columbia, leaving to play semipro baseball for the summer.

“We thought, ‘Gosh, we’ll probably do that again,’” pitcher Ed Cook said.

First baseman Bob Schoonmaker took a flight out of Omaha to New York to marry on the television show “Bride and Groom.”

Cook, who won the final game of the College World Series against Rollins, said he left almost immediately to go play in Minnesota.

“I didn’t even get a newspaper to see what the box score was,” Cook said.

Center fielder Jerry Schoonmaker went on to have the most successful baseball career of anyone on the 1954 team, playing for the United States at the Pan American Games in Mexico City in 1955 and playing for the Washington Senators in 1955 and 1957.

“I got that because we had a great team,” Jerry Schoonmaker said. “Without a team, you’re nothing.”

The other 1954 Tigers echo that selfless philosophy that can be traced to coach John “Hi” Simmons.

Simmons won National Coach of the Year in 1954 and the Columbia Missourian quoted him as saying, “That is an honor that comes to a man perhaps once in a lifetime and I feel wonderful that it happened to me.”

Simmons’ players respect his dedication to the fundamentals and his humor. Norm Stewart, who played for Simmons from 1954-56 and coached with him as an assistant from 1957-61, said Simmons taught him what an effective tool humor can be in coaching any sport.

Simmons, whose 35-year tenure is the longest of any Missouri baseball coach, demonstrated his commitment to fundamentals in a game against Fort Leonard Wood. Jerry Schoonmaker fielded a ball in center field and instead of throwing to the cutoff man, took the ball on one bounce and made a tremendous throw to third base.

After the inning Simmons came up to him with his hands on his hips and said, “Boy, why’d you throw that ball to third?” Jerry Schoonmaker said he thought he could get the man at third, to which he remembers Simmons calming replying, “Boy, every time you start thinking, you hurt the whole team.”

Jerry Schoonmaker gives Simmons much of the credit for the team’s success and said he remembers something Simmons, who was also a football coach, said during a football practice.

“He said, ‘Whenever you play a game, play it in such a way that when the game was over you won’t wish you had done better and played harder,’” Jerry Schoonmaker said.

Jerry Schoonmaker is one of a few players who set records in 1954 that stand.

His 12 total bases against Kansas State are tied for the most all-time at Missouri and his slugging percentage of .813 is fourth.

Right fielder Bob Musgrave’s .526 on base percentage is fifth all-time. Cook’s 1.77 career ERA is fourth all-time and shortstop Dick Dickinson’s 33 career steals are sixth. Dickinson’s steals, along with Jerry Schoonmaker’s nine home runs in 1954, are more impressive considering the Tigers played 20 regular season games in those seasons and used wood bats.

This year, Missouri played 55 regular-season games, one under the 56 the NCAA allows.

In September, the members of the 1954 team, with their friends and families, will come to Columbia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the championship. Dickinson said the team will attend the football game against Arkansas State where it will be recognized.

Cook said that after the 1954 season and their eventual graduations, 19 of 20 graduated, the players went their separate ways but are seeing the importance of being MU’s only team champion.

“It’s just one of those things that’s gone by the way that we’ve decided maybe we shouldn’t take this for granted,” Cook said.

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