Ole Miss and Mississippi State have played baseball for 128 years. That’s a lot of history. And yet, there probably has never been a more anticipated Rebel-Bulldog baseball series than the one scheduled for this weekend in Starkville.
That’s why seats are selling for $400 on Stubhub. There’s no official word, but I am told that nobody will be turned away from the Friday, Saturday and Sunday games. Crowds of more than 12,000 are entirely possible, depending on the weather. Standing room only seats are available for $80 on Stubhub, but here’s a veteran tip: You can just go on hailstate.com and buy an SRO ticket for 10 bucks.
What we have here is the perfect storm (and I am not talking about the rain predicted for Friday and Saturday). Here’s what I mean by a perfect storm:
- No. 1: These guys are good. State, 25-7, is ranked No. 4 in the USA Today coaches poll, while Ole Miss, 25-8, is ranked No. 6. Both teams have national championship aspirations.
- No. 2: It’s Super Bulldog Weekend in Starkville, which traditionally means multiple sporting events, including the spring football game, and big crowds.
- No. 3: Hopefully, we are nearing the end of a pandemic. At the very least COVID-19 numbers are down in Mississippi. Many folks have been vaccinated and are eager to return to live sports events.
- No. 4: It’s Ole Miss vs. State. No explanation necessary.
Since we began today talking about history, let’s continue. State leads the all-time series 258-207-5. At State, the Bulldogs lead 123-81-1. At Ole Miss, State leads 100-99-3. Neutral sites, including the SEC Tournament? State leads 42-29-1.
The first game ever between the arch-rivals was in October 1892. State won 6-3 at Starkville. The two teams tied 5-5 the next spring at Oxford when rain ended the game after three innings.
The rivalry was intense, even then in the 19th century. State beat the Rebels 5-2 at Columbus in 1897, but Ole Miss claims a 9-0 victory over State by forfeit later that spring. Must have been a helluva dispute over that forfeit because the two didn’t play again until seven years later in 1904 when State won two of three one-run games, all played at Columbus.
Clark Randolph “Dudy” Noble, for whom State’s baseball stadium is named, was a four-sport letterman and played baseball on the Mississippi A&M teams of 1913-15. He captained the 1914 team that lost three of four games to an Ole Miss team coached by none other than Casey Stengel, the future New York Yankees manager and Baseball Hall of Famer.
Noble fared much better against Ole Miss in football. In fact, in 1915, he quarterbacked State to a 65-0 victory, throwing three touchdowns back when passing at all was a rarity. It remains the largest margin of victory in Egg Bowl history.
But here’s where the story takes a turn. Not long after his graduation from State, Noble became a coach at Ole Miss. His 1918 Ole Miss team finished 9-1, winning three of four games with its Starkville rivals. Noble’s 1919 Ole Miss team lost three of four to State. Apparently, Dudy had had enough of living at the school to the north.
Noble returned to State and became State’s baseball coach in 1920 and for the next 24 years. The first State team he coached split four games with Ole Miss. There should never, ever be a smidgen of doubt about Noble’s loyalty to his alma mater, even though he coached football, baseball and basketball for a couple years at Ole Miss. Later in life he told a sports writer, “I know what hell is like. I once coached at Ole Miss.”
One of Noble’s best-ever decisions as State’s baseball coach was to sign Dave “Boo” Ferriss to the first full baseball scholarship in Mississippi history. Ole Miss and Alabama had offered Ferriss half-scholarships. Noble offered a full ride and got a bargain. Ferriss, a future Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer, would pitch right-handed, play first base left-handed and bat left-handed, as well. He was amphibious, as Stengel would say. He did all well.
In Ferriss’s last pitching performance for Mississippi State, he beat Ole Miss at Oxford. Future Mississippi governor and lifelong baseball fan William Winter, who covered the game for The Mississippian, interviewed Ferriss coming off the field. “I was an Ole Miss man, but I was also a Boo Ferriss fan,” Winter once told this writer. “I probably called him Mr. Ferriss. I just knew he was going to be a Major League star.”
There have been so many more legendary players and future Major League stars on both sides of the rivalry: Don Kessinger, Joe Gibbon, Jake Gibbs, Seth Smith, David Delucci, Lance Lynn and so many more at Ole Miss; Willie Mitchell, Buddy Myer, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Brantley, Bobby Thigpen, Jay Powell, Hunter Renfroe and so many, many more at State.
No doubt, there are future Major Leaguers on both sides this season. Clearly, these are two of the elite teams in the SEC, which means two of the elite teams in the country.
Mississippi State has dominated in recent seasons. The Bulldogs have won 14 of the last 16 meetings, including all four in 2019. (There were no 2020 games because of the season shortened by the pandemic.) One bright spot for Ole Miss: Jake Mangum, the catalyst for so many of those recent State victories, has moved on to professional baseball.
Three years ago, Mangum probably spoke for so many Rebels and Bulldogs after he scored the winning run in a Governor’s Cup game at Trustmark Park. “There’s nothing I’d rather do than beat those guys,” Mangum told me. “I like a lot of their players, but I can’t stand the team.”
It has been that way for a long, long time.