Mississippi State and Ole Miss will play the annual Governor’s Cup game Tuesday night at Trustmark Park in Pearl and this one will be an anniversary of sorts.
This will be the 40th time the two have played the annual game in the Jackson area. It was first known as the Mayor’s Trophy game and played at Smith-Wills Stadium beginning in 1980. In 2007, the game moved to Trustmark in Pearl and was re-named the Governor’s Cup.
Dale Danks was the Jackson mayor in 1980 when the series began. Danks says he remembers throwing out the first pitch and handing Ron Polk the trophy afterward.
Danks’ memory is better than mine. I reported that first game for the Clarion Ledger, something I know now only because newspapers.com reminded me when I was researching this piece. State defeated Ole Miss 9-2 on April 22, 1980, before a crowd estimated at 4,300. “Bull-strong Bruce Castoria,” the story says, smashed a home run and a double to lead the Bulldogs. More history: Castoria’s home run produced the first run on the series.
Fast forward 27 years to April 17, 2007 and Gov. Haley Barbour, an Ole Miss man, handed the first Governor’s Cup to Polk after State defeated the Rebels 14-9 before a record crowd of more than 8,000.
Both Pete Boone, then the athletic director at Ole Miss, and Polk expressed regrets about leaving Smith-Wills behind but said the economics of at least 3,000 more available seats made the move a no-brainer.
The game, whether named for a mayor or a governor, has never counted in the SEC standings – not that the huge crowds that have attended annually has seemed to care.
Said Polk, “You know when the game started way back when we were already playing Ole Miss six times in home-and-home series. So the Mayor’s Trophy was a seventh game between the arch-rivals.
“I remember that every year the team that had won the year before would bring the trophy on the bus with them in case they lost,” Polks said. “The trophy always went back with the winning team.”
In the early years of the series at Smith-Wills, where parking was limited, fans often parked nearly a mile away down Lakeland Avenue.
“It was a money game for us,” said Con Maloney, long-time owner of the Jackson Mets. “Ole Miss and State split the gate but we got concessions and that was good money for us at the time. I just wish we could have sold beer back then at the college games. Then, it really would have been a money game.”
Said Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame executive director Bill Blackwell, for years Maloney’s general manager of the Jackson Class AA professional ballclub, “Yeah, beer would have been a big money maker. As it was, security was our biggest problem because so many fans were trying to sneak in whiskey in flasks.”
There were times when the crowd was so large that fans spilled over into foul territory down the left-field and right-field lines with only a rope separating fans from the field.
Said Polk, “I honestly believe if there had been parking and seating available we could have sold 15 or 20 thousand tickets for some of those games back then.”
I’ve often thought Ole Miss and State fans would show up for a game of tiddlywinks between the two and still yell for one another to go to hell as long as someone was keeping score.
As for the scorekeeping, State leads the all-time, Jackson-area series 21-18 on the strength of winning the last three meetings and five of the last six.
But you should also know that Ole Miss won the last Mayor’s Trophy Game back in 2006 by the only 1-0 score in the history of the series.
Mike Bianco, the Ole Miss coach, remembers.
“That was the night Will Kline became Will Kline for us,” Bianco said. “He really pitched well and Zack Cozart hit a solo home run for the only run.”
But that wasn’t what Bianco remembers best. Afterward, Ron Polk handed Bianco the Mayor’s Trophy with the decision to move the series to Pearl already having been made.
“Now you get to keep this forever,” Polk told Bianco.
So far, Bianco has. The Mayor’s Trophy holds a prominent spot, officially retired, in the trophy case at the Ole Miss baseball office.