You could make a strong argument that no team in college baseball history possessed more remarkable talent than the 1985 Mississippi State Bulldogs.
That team included Mississippi Sports Hall of Famers Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Brantley. It included Bobby Thigpen, who would go on to save a then-Major League record 57 games just five years later. It included a supporting cast of superb college players, including Dan Van Cleve, Gator Thiesen, Gene Morgan and several others. It was coached by College Baseball Hall of Famer Ron Polk. Those Bulldogs won 50 games and were ranked No. 1 in the nation at times during the season. They won the Southeastern Conference. They swept through the regionals.
They are the team with which all Mississippi State teams – in a proud, proud MSU baseball history – are compared.
They were terrific.
But they could not win it all. No Mississippi State team ever has. At the College World Series, the 1985 Bulldogs finished tied for third.
So now, think about this: That team – with four future Major League All-Stars, with a Hall of Fame coach, with two pitchers who won 32 games between them – could not win the national championship. And now, 33 years later, a team that began the season 0-3, began the SEC season 2-7, finished a break-even 15-15 in the SEC, and was eliminated in the preliminary round of the SEC Tournament has an excellent chance to do what the storied ’85 team could not.
These current Bulldogs – surprise winners of an NCAA Regional, a Super Regional and their first two games in the College World Series – are three victories away from MSU’s first national championship in any sport.
To call this development stunning is an understatement of immense proportions.
Polk, winner of an astounding 1,377 college baseball games at three different schools (all three of which he took to the College World Series), would describe it in two words: That’s baseball.
What Polk means when he says that – and he has said it maybe three zillion times – is that baseball is the most capricious of sports. Bad teams often beat really good teams. Ground balls take bad bounces. Fly balls get lost in the sun. Great pitchers have awful days. Bad pitchers have career days. Line drive smashes go straight into opposing gloves for quick outs. Pop flies fall in for doubles.
And, in 1985, a Texas Longhorn line drive hit State pitcher Gene Morgan on his leg and changed the course of the College World Series. State had already won its first two CWS games and was leading Texas 5-2 in the sixth inning of the second game. That’s when the line drive glanced of Morgan’s ankle. He wasn’t the same after that. Texas rallied for a 12-7 victory. Eventually National Champion Miami eliminated State 6-5 the next day.
Mark this down: There will come a time in this College World Series when State will be on the good or bad side of a break like that – and it will decide the Bulldogs’ fate. That’s baseball.
But win or lose, this State team – playing as well if not better than any team this last month – already has written perhaps the most amazing college baseball story in this writer’s memory.
Just three months ago even State’s own fans, normally the most loyal and appreciative in college baseball, were openly criticizing the current Bulldogs as one of the worst teams in school history. The head coach was fired in the first week of the season. The Bulldogs seemed to lack punch offensively, pitching depth and any confidence whatsoever.
But under interim head coach Gary Henderson – already named National Coach of the Year – the Bulldogs are serious threats to do what no team in 133 years of Mississippi State baseball has done. That is, win the entire shooting match.
Polk’s “that’s baseball” – as telling, and often fitting as it is – doesn’t capture the sheer magnitude of all this.
So what does?
Magic? Miracle? Destiny?
Or, is it really just the rally bananas?