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Mizzou's Greatest, #86: 1964 Baseball and its incredible pitching staff

In 1964, Mizzou Baseball set an NCAA ERA record, went unbeaten in the Big 8, and reached the final game of the College World Series.

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The Savitar archives

The 1964 Missouri Tiger Baseball pitching staff’s final team Earned Run Average was 0.65. That still stands as a record for the all-time low ERA. Not just at Missouri, but for all of NCAA Baseball.

To put that into perspective, the lowest season ERA in the major leagues was the 1882 Cincinnati Redlegs, at 1.65. If you prefer the MLB "modern era" (post-1901) record, that would be the Chicago Cubs’ 1.93 ERA in 1907.

Interestingly, the #2 NCAA record ERA is 0.81 by Long Island, and the sixth-ranked is 1.13 (Harvard), both in 1964. The eight best are all in the range from 1957-1968, obviously a high point for college baseball pitching, much as it was in the major leagues.

The 1964 Mizzou pitching staff allowed just 19 earned runs in 33 games.

On January 22, 2010, the 1964 Mizzou Baseball team was inducted into the Mizzou Athletics Hall of Fame. It is considered the second greatest year in Missouri Baseball History, but only due to the fact that the team came up short at the season's end, finishing as the runner-up in Omaha. The 1964 pitching squad is, without any doubt, the best ever in Missouri history, possibly one of the best in NCAA Baseball history.

A few years ago, I was sitting in Section E, Row 4, Seat 1 at Taylor Stadium during a game when a hand reached down and placed a thick spiral-bound home-made book in my lap. More than an inch thick, it contains hundreds of pages of photocopied newspaper reports, MU SID news releases and other documents and records pertaining to Missouri Baseball from 1962-65.

"A bunch of us had a reunion a while ago, and somebody spent a lot of time putting all of this together." It was former Mizzou coach Gene McArtor, who was a fireplug of a first baseman for Hi Simmons from 1961 to 1963. "I took one look and knew you’d probably want to read it cover to cover, word for word, which is more than I did. So I got an extra copy for you. Enjoy."

I’m not a big collector of memorabilia, but this one was definitely a keeper. I somehow have lucked into a small collection of 1964 MU Baseball memorabilia, including a copy of the May 1964 Missouri Alumnus magazine that features a photo of Hi Simmons on the front and a story about the team inside, plus a few original issues of Collegiate Baseball newspaper from 1964, with news briefs and stories and polls about the ’64 Tigers (and a fascinating story about a two-sport athlete at Annapolis who some thought was an even better outfielder than he was a quarterback. Roger Staubach went on to choose football.)

The following highlights from the 1964 Mizzou Baseball season come from that thick book Coach McArtor so graciously gave me, plus those other papers and magazines.

  • March 25-30: The college baseball season started a lot later in those days, and MU began the season with a 3-3 road trip down south through Texas. The offense and defense were struggling to get going, but the pitching staff was already showing signs of things to come, posting a 1.34 ERA to that point.
  • April 22-25: Two days before a game against Kansas State, MU SID Bill Callahan’s weekly press release had this to say about pitcher Jack Stroud:

    Coach "Hi" Simmons … plans to open with Jack Stroud (201), the Albuquerque, N.M. smokeballer, here this Friday.

    Stroud’s control has been erratic this spring. Bad weather and resultant lack of work has been a factor, and Simmons feels that, should wildness plague his 1963 strikeout leader, the Bengals can better overcome any possible damage in a regular nine-inning game, rather than the seven-inning Saturday engagements.

    The Columbia Missourian reported on what happened in that April 24 game:

    A scratch single with two out in the eight inning prevented Missouri’s Jack Stroud from pitching the first no-hit, no-run game of his college career…Stroud was in complete control, striking out 17 batters and issuing only three walks.

    The following day, Sophomore RHP Dennis Musgraves allowed only one runner to reach base as he threw a no-hitter against Kansas State. In the second game of that double header, Keith Weber and Jim Nelson combined on a fit-hit win, giving up no earned runs.

    It should be noted that during the 19 year stretch from 1948 through 1966, Missouri absolutely owned Kansas State. MU's record vs. KSU during that stretch was 41-8, an .837 winning percentage, dominating those games by a cumulative 348-161 score.

  • May 8: The Tigers won their 13th straight game, breaking the previous record, set by the 1954 team. That weekend they beat Oklahoma three straight: 11-1, 11-0, 11-0.
  • May 22: The Tigers won a doubleheader at Lawrence, KS, 2-1 and 2-0, led by the pitching of Keith Weber and Dennis Musgraves. Two days later, on May 24, Jack Stroud set a new MU season strikeout record, striking out 10 against the Jayhawks for a season total of 79, beating KU 4-1.

    I have to include this story, from MU SID Bill Callahan’s game notes:

    It was insubordination, all-right, but Dave Harvey – Tiger third baseman – couldn’t resist the riposte in a losing argument with Bud Birt, plate umpire, at Lawrence.

    Harvey disagreed vociferously with Birt on a called third strike – and the arbiter summarily ordered the Mizzou infielder to button his lip "or you’ll be watching this game from the stands."

    "The way you’re umpiring," retorted Harvey, "YOU ought to be watching the game from the stands."

    P.S. Exit Harvey.

The Tigers won the last 21 straight games of the season, for a 22-3 regular season record. Mizzou beat St. Louis U in a Fifth District Playoff best 2-of-3 series, which took over a week to finish due to rain.

The 1964 College World Series included Missouri, Arizona State, Texas A&M, Minnesota, Maine, Southern Cal, Seton Hall, and Mississippi

Missouri's games in 1964 College World Series:

Missouri 7, Arizona State 0
USC 3, Missouri 2
Missouri 3, Seton Hall 1
Missouri 4, Minnesota 1
Missouri 2, Maine 1
Championship Game: Minnesota 5, Missouri 1

That CWS began on June 8th, and finished June 17th. Jack Stroud, in the video interview below, claimed the Tigers should have won the series, but rain delays stretched the series out so as to allow Minnesota’s ace, Joe Pollack, to start three games during the series, including the championship game. I’m sure that did play a role in the final outcome.

Full interview with Jack Stroud from KOMU News on Vimeo.

It’s also true that the MU pitching staff surrendered only a single earned run in that 5-1 championship game loss. Four Tiger errors, including 1 by Stroud himself, led to 4 unearned runs, the difference in the game. Those errors were not a huge surprise. While MU’s hurlers gave up only 19 earned runs in 33 games during the season, the defense allowed an additional 28 unearned runs.

Final 1964 ERA

Team: 0.65

Jim Nelson 0.42
Dennis Musgraves 0.55
Keith Weber 0.61
Ron Sieck 0.82
Terry L'Ange 1.50
Jack Stroud 1.51

Eleven players from the 1964 team were drafted by Major League organizations (7 in ’64, 2 in ’65, 2 in ’66). Only two spent any time in the major leagues: Dennis Musgraves with the New York Mets and John Sevcik with the Minnesota Twins.