Mutka: Hoosiers bring back Big Ten baseball memories
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org June 16, 2013 7:22PM
Dustin DeMuth, Scott Donley
Updated: July 18, 2013 6:41AM
Just making it to the College World Series, let alone winning it, is a major coup for teams north of the Mason-Dixon line. Warm weather teams have a nearly insurmountable advantage over the Big Ten because they operate in a more favorable climate.
So, when Indiana’s Hoosiers punched their ticket to Omaha, ending a 29-year drought, it bordered on miraculous.
Crown Point DH Scott Donley, all but pinching himself, put it this way after IU beat Florida State to win the Super Regional: “It’s an experience you’ve been dreaming about since you were a little kid.”
Saturday, it became reality for the Virginia Tech transfer, who leads IU with 59 RBI in 63 games, and Dustin DeMuth, who has been named to at least three All-American teams.
Recently drafted by the Twins in the eighth round, the hard-hitting third baseman from LaPorte is batting .382 with 24 doubles, both tops for the team.
Until IU’s break-through the Big Ten hadn’t been represented in the CWS since Michigan back-to-backers in 1983-84.
Though the Wolverines finished no better than third those two trips are worth revisiting because coach Bud Middaugh stacked so much talent on his roster.
In those two memorable seasons Michigan feasted with future major leaguers first baseman Hal Morris, shortstop Barry Larkin and third baseman Chris Sabo. All three starred with Cincinnati, helping the Reds win the 1990 World Series.
It was the first full season for Morris, who played for Munster Hall of Famer Mike Niksic. He introduced himself with a .340 average and stroked a tie-breaking sacrifice fly to wrap up Cincinnati’s four-game sweep.
Unfortunately, the lanky first baseman didn’t receive enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, which went to Willie McGee of the Cardinals (.335). A year later he finished a percentage point behind Atlanta’s Terry Pendleton, who was crowned with a .319 average.
In 11 full seasons Morris hit only 76 homers, peaking with 16 and 80 RBI in 1996. A contact hitter who sprayed to all fields, he once linked a 32-game hitting streak.
Hampered by a couple of freak injuries, he managed just eight home runs in his last four years, but retired in 2000 with a career .304 average.
Larkin spent his entire career 19-year career with the Reds. The 12-time All-Star and 1995 MVP was elected to the Hall of Fame last year.
Sabo earned rookie of the year honors in 1988 with a .271 average and 46 stolen bases, seizing the opportunity when third baseman Buddy Bell started the season on the disabled list. Sabo was a three-time All-Star, but injuries shortened his career, which included a cup of coffee with the White Sox.
Footnote: The 1984 CWS field included Barry Bonds, who starred for Arizona State and was named to the all-time CWS team in 1996, years before his career was tainted by the BALCO steroid scandal.
Ohio State was the last Big Ten team to win the College World Series, beating Oklahoma State in 1966 with such headliners as Russ Nagelson, who was drafted by Cleveland and spent bits of three years in the majors; catcher Chuck Brinkman, who was a part-time catcher for the White Sox for six years, and two-sport standout Bo Rein.
Rein was one of the most storied and tragic athletes of his era. He played halfback for the legendary Woody Hayes, leading the Buckeyes in receptions twice and in rushing once.
He made the College World Series all-tournament team twice and was drafted by the Indians. Getting as far as AAA baseball before an achilles tendon injury ended his baseball dream, Rein switched to coaching.
He worked for Lou Holtz at William & Mary and North Carolina State, then coached the Wolfpack from 1976-79 when Holtz departed for the New York Jets. After going 27-18-1 with two bowl victories, Rein was named the head coach at Louisiana State.
Tragically, he was killed in a bizarre airplane accident on a recruiting trip before coaching a single game. It was supposed to be a routine flight, but a storm took the private plane dramatically off-course over the Atlantic Ocean, where it eventually crashed after running out of fuel.
Reportedly, lack of oxygen contributed to their deaths because the plane was spotted nearly 7,000 feet above the certified maximum level of 35,000 feet by a military aircraft after air traffic control lost contact. Coach Hayes delivered the eulogy.
Over the years, Ohio State and Michigan football so dominated in football that the conference was once dubbed the Big Two plus the Little Eight. But they played second-fiddle to Minnesota in the national pastime. Overcoming the sometimes frigid climate the Gophers won three NCAA titles in five appearances, but have been shut out since 1977.
Minnesota has been first or second in 20 of 27 Big Ten tournament appearances.
Calling Jack Campbell an “old-timer” doesn’t seem right. He’s been coaching baseball and girls basketball since dinosaurs roamed the earth, but seems ageless.
Just wanted to mention the celebrated senior citizen in this column since he did win a Big Ten batting championship in his senior season at Indiana University after graduating from East Gary Edison.
Congratulations to the Indiana Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, who put an exclamation point on his induction by guiding the Trojans to their first Duneland Conference title since 1985 with a 13-1 record.