This is the second of a series of columns on the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.
You can make a strong Cooperstown and Baseball Hall of Fame case for Mississippian Roy Oswalt, but there’s no question Oswalt belongs in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on Lakeland Drive in Jackson.
And that will happen in his first year of eligibility during induction ceremonies Aug. 3 at the Jackson Convention Center.
From his Major League rookie season in 2001 with the Houston Astros to his retirement in 2013, Oswalt was one of baseball’s top pitchers. He was three times an All-Star, two times a 20-game winner, and five times a top five finisher for the Cy Young Award. He was known for his rugged competitiveness and for being at his best in the biggest games. He was the MVP of the 2005 National League Championship Series for the Astros against the St. Louis Cardinals when he beat the Cards twice, allowing only two runs over 14 innings pitched.
Before that he was the pitching star of the U.S. gold medal-winning baseball team in the 2000 Olympics. His career numbers — 163-102 record, 3.36 career earned run average — rival those of many already inducted at Cooperstown.
Oswalt, who now calls Starkville home, was a legend in the small community of Weir long before all that. There, they created a baseball program because of his strong, accurate right arm.
Tiny Weir High School, which no longer exists, was known for its remarkable football program, which won six state championships. Indeed, Oswalt was a safety and wide receiver on the Weir state champs of 1994.
“We allowed seven yards total offense in the state championship game,” Oswalt, now 41, says. “I think that’s probably still a record.”
But Weir had never had a baseball team until Oswalt came along, a skinny 10th-grader with a rocket for an arm. He was throwing 90 mph when he was 15 years old and weighed a whopping 140 pounds.
“That’s the way the story goes,” Oswalt says, chuckling. “My dad pushed for it and helped get it in front of the school board. They passed it. My daddy (a logger) cleared some trees for the field and we had us a team.”
That first Weir team played 16 games. Oswalt pitched 14 of those.
“I can’t remember our record, but we made the playoffs,” Oswalt says. “We made the playoffs all three years. Never could win the state.”
Oswalt, who started school a year early, graduated at age 17 and at 5 feet, 11 inches and 150 pounds. Remarkably, a guy who would later win 163 Major League games, was not recruited by a major college and not drafted by a professional team out of high school.
He went to Holmes Community College on a half scholarship “probably mostly because of a friendship between my football coach at Weir (Joe Gant) and the coach at Holmes.”
At Holmes, he grew two inches and put on about 20 pounds of muscle his freshman year. His fastball went from around 90 to a 97-98 mph. That got everybody’s attention, including the Houston Astros who drafted him after his freshman year and Mississippi State who signed him to a letter of intent. The Astros, who had drafted him in the 23rd round, signed him before the draft for close to first-round money.
“I had always wanted to pitch for State, but it was just too much money to turn down,” Oswalt says.
The Astros were pitching rich at the time and it took Oswalt four seasons to make the Major Leagues. Once there, Oswalt became one of the most accomplished pitchers in the sport, 14-3 as a rookie in 2001.
Oswalt, lean and muscled, looks as if he could still pitch and threw 93-94 mph for four innings in an exhibition game against college wooden bat league all-stars last summer in Kentucky. Oswalt laughs about that. “I’m like (country music singer) Toby Keith on that. I can do it once, but I’m not sure I could do it twice,” he said.
“I do miss being on the mound with the ball in my hand and having control of a game,” Oswalt says. “I’ll always miss that. But I don’t miss the travel, not at all. I like having my clothes all in one place.”
When he’s not hunting deer, turkeys, squirrels, etc., Oswalt works on his two farms, one in Lowndes County, the other in Unionville, Mo. He is a Mississippi State sports fan, especially football and baseball and has worked with Bulldog pitching star JT Ginn in recent years.
“Baseball’s still part of my life; it always will be.”
Coming Friday: Richard “Possum” Price, Hall of Fame football player and a larger than life individual.