The platinum season of diamond gold

Seventy years ago, the baseball Tigers won the NCAA national championship. Among the players? Norm Stewart.

1950s baseball game
Seventy springs ago in Omaha, Nebraska, the baseball Tigers became the first of only two Mizzou national championship teams (so far).

Published on Show Me Mizzou April 30, 2024
Story by Marcus Wilkins, BA ’03

baseball player receiving trophy
Missouri team captain Dick Dickinson, BJ '54, and Coach John "Hi" Simmons receive the 1954 NCAA Baseball Championship trophy from NCAA Coaches Association President Kyle Anderson. 1955 Savitar photo.

Like the nearby track’s cinders that on windy days wafted onto the diamond at Rollins Road and Maryland Avenue, photos in shades of black, white and gray capture the Tigers racing toward home plate, snaring line drives or hoisting championship plaques.

But unlike the vintage images, John “Hi” Simmons — head coach of the 1954 NCAA Champion Mizzou baseball team — was colorful. In fact, when his effusive pupil and former pitcher, Norm Stewart, honored the late legend at a 2003 event to unveil Simmons’ bust, Stormin’ Norman knew best how to encapsulate his beloved mentor.

“I can’t use the language coach used [during mound visits], so when I say ‘number one,’ think ‘chicken feces,’ two is ‘Lord’s name in vain,’ and three is ‘fatherless dog,’ ” said Stewart, BS Ed ’56, M Ed ’60, MU’s basketball coach for 32 years. “Here’s the story: One, two, three. One, two, three, Norm!”

As blue as Simmons’ vocabulary was, his results were golden. Seventy springs ago in Omaha, Nebraska, the Tigers became the first of only two Mizzou national championship teams (the 1965 indoor track squad is the other) when they defeated Rollins University, a Central Florida private school, to clinch the title. Simmons’ decade of success in the 1950s remains unparalleled in school history. He also led national runner-up teams in 1952, 1958 and 1964.

Unfortunately, the conquering champs returned to Columbia during the summer of 1954 to little fanfare; with the students on break, the town was hardly hopping. First baseman Bob Schoonmaker, BS Acc ’54, left directly from the College World Series for Los Angeles and an appearance with his wife on the TV show Queen for a Day. Other players were itching to get on with their summer vacation, which was significantly shortened by the tournament and victory.

“I remember several of the guys weren’t on the bus ride back from Omaha,” says Kent Henson, BS BA ’56, a sophomore reserve outfielder at the time. “But the Missouri Highway Patrol met us at the state border and escorted us back to Columbia, which was kind of neat.”

Coach Simmons retired in 1973 with a 481-294-3 career record, 11 conference championships and six College World Series trips. He died Jan. 12, 1995, at 89. Only four living players remain from the 1954 roster: Stewart; Henson; Bert Beckmann, BS Ed ’55, M Ed ’58; and Jack Gabler, BS BA ’58.

The 70th anniversary is traditionally signified with platinum, but the legendary “Hi” was perhaps best known for his gems.

“If you get to first base,” Stewart recalled Simmons advising from the dugout, “take a left.”

1950s baseball game
Mizzou Athletics file photo
1954 Mizzou Baseball team photo
1954 Mizzou Baseball team photo. Front row: Bob Musgrave, George Gleason, Todd Sickel, Bob Schoonmaker, Dick Dickinson, Jim Doerr, Bert Beckmann; Second row: Ed Cook, Bob Bauman, Jack Gabler, Lloyd Elmore, Kent Henson, Lee Roy Wynn, Sam Sayers; Back row: Coach John Simmons, Buddy Cox, Jerry Schoonmaker, Norm Stewart, Emil Kammer, Gene Gastineau, Herb Morgan, Doc Ollie DeVictor. 1955 Savitar photo.

For the record: The original version of this story omitted mention of a third Mizzou baseball team under Coach John "Hi" Simmons to make it to the national finals, the 1964 Tigers. Although the squad lost to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in the finals, the 1964 Tigers, notes reader Robert N. Simmons, are "the only Big Eight Baseball Team in history to go undefeated in the conference." That record still holds, even if, notes Simmons, "there is no Big Eight conference in existence any longer." (Simmons is a son of the late coach John "Hi" Simmons.) We have updated the post to correct the omission.

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