Many of them gathered again in Statesboro, Ga., on Saturday afternoon in the stadium named after their head coach, J.I. Clements. They reunited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first national championship ever won by a team from the state of Georgia.
Officially it was Georgia Southern College’s accomplishment, winning the 1962 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) college world series in a four-game sweep. Unofficially, it was an Augusta-area achievement.
“The thing that’s unbelievable, is in the three games that E.G. (Meybohm) and I pitched, there were seven players out of nine from the Augusta area,” said Pierce Blanchard, who pitched at Harlem with Meybohm. “That’s one of the things we were so proud of because most of us played American Legion ball, knew each other and had a relationship before we showed up down there. That was really neat.”
Starting on the 16-player team was Tommy Howland (Richmond Academy) at catcher, Charles Tarpley (ARC) at first base, Buzzy McMillan (ARC) at second, Bill Griffin (ARC) at shortstop, Miller Finley (ARC) in left field and Mickey Allen (Louisville, Ga.) in right. Only centerfielder Tommy “Chico” Jones and third baseman Denny Cline hailed from Florida, and Cline ended up becoming the football coach at Butler after school.
Backup catcher Don English was also from Louisville and relief pitcher Larry Crouch went to ARC.
“It was almost an all-Augusta team,” said Meybohm. “We’ve been able to get together and talk about it and do the stuff that old folks do over the years. It was a very compatible group of guys. I don’t think we were great at anything but just solid all the way around.”
The Augusta area has long been a hotbed for baseball talent, and rarely moreso than the 1950s and ’60s. Richmond Academy won seven consecutive state titles from 1951-57 and the area sent a pipeline of players down to Statesboro.
“Most of us went to Georgia Southern without a scholarship,” Blanchard said. “We just wanted to play baseball and they wanted us to come down there. It just worked that way.”
“We didn’t have any superstars,” said Griffin, who along with Blanchard was named a two-time All-American. “We won ballgames by being a team. Our Richmond Academy class (2,600) was bigger than Georgia Southern. So we were a small school as far as population, but we had big hearts and we played big schools.”
Those big hearts turned them into athletic pioneers in Georgia. John Heisman’s 1917 Georgia Tech football team might argue, but the first major sports team in the state to win a legitimate national title was that 1962 baseball squad from Georgia Southern.
That they even reached the NAIA world series was a miracle in itself.
After the final regular season game against Florida State, the team bus was leaving Tallahassee, Fla., when a truck carrying steel beams pulled in front of it and suddenly stopped. Bus driver “Seventeen” Humphries – nicknamed as the team’s 17th man – stood on the brakes and veered to the right but couldn’t avoid the collision.
Griffin was sitting in the front row and remembers it vividly.
“I saw the steel beams coming and fortunately he tried to get off the road to my side,” said Griffin. “If he hadn’t I probably wouldn’t be here today. He stood up right as we hit it. I remember I saw the speedometer right at 45 mph. He’d done everything he could. He literally stood up on the air brakes when it came through on him. It broke his legs in 227 places.”
Humphries survived but never walked again. Griffin was one of three players taken to the hospital with a badly bruised ankle that was caught up under the motor case. Almost everyone on the team suffered cuts or bruises, but none as serious as the driver.
“We had a meeting after we got back and coach Clements asked if we wanted to do this and were we prepared to play in the regional,” said Blanchard. “And we voted yes.”
“My foot was bruised up and swollen pretty good but I managed to tie them old spikes on, grit my teeth and keep going,” said Griffin. “We were tougher than they are now. They’ll have a hangnail now and miss 30 days.”
Facing elimination after splitting the first two games at regionals, the only way the Eagles could advance was to win three games in one day. They escaped the first one 7-5 against Carson-Newman and its ace pitcher Clyde Wright, who was drafted by the Angels the next month and won 100 games in a 10-year major league career.
Meybohm pitched against Pfeiffer in the second game, with the Eagles winning 1-0 on a squeeze play in the bottom of the 10th.
“My claim to fame was I pitched the 10 innings of shutout ball,” said Meybohm. “They hit some shots but our guys caught them.”
Georgia Southern beat Pfeiffer again 7-2 to complete the all-day marathon when it was finally called because of darkness.
“It’s a good feel-good story, with the bus wreck and getting behind and then coming back and winning three games in one day,” said Meybohm. “Not too many people do that.”
Most impressive was that Howland, who died a few years ago, caught all three games. He had already impressed his teammates the year before when he threw out Lou Brock from Southern University the first time he tried to steal on him. Brock – who eventually stole a major-league record 938 bases before he was passed by Rickey Henderson – jumped up in disbelief that the ball was there before he was.
“He gave Tommy a thumbs up when he ran back to the dugout,” said Blanchard. “That just shows you how good Tommy Howland was.”
Big at heart
At a banquet the night before the world series, the Eagles team stood up after being introduced and giggles were audible around the room when the other seven teams saw how small they were.
“We thought maybe we shouldn’t even be here,” said Blanchard, who weighed about 140 pounds at the time. “We didn’t have any big people except for Tommy Howland, who weighed about 180 pounds. It was unbelievable. We were so nervous.”
Size didn’t matter. Blanchard won the first and final games against Minot State Teachers College and Portland State. Meybohm and Dave Bell each won a game in between to help deliver the title. Relievers Crouch and team captain Clyde Miller were never summoned from the bullpen.
“The amazing thing about it is it was the first time in world series history that all four starting pitchers finished a nine-inning game and never used a reliever,” said Griffin.
“We had the lowest ERA for years in the NAIA series,” Meybohm said of the three starters who gave up only five runs and posted two shutouts including Blanchard’s 2-0 championship clincher. “It was one of those things where you kind of got a feeling of destiny after the bus wreck and coming back playing.”
Said Griffin: “I’ll be honest, I don’t think we had the most talented team in the tournament. But we had a better team than anybody else. We’d played together since grammar school and against each other in the summer leagues. We won two state championships in American Legion.”
Those teammates all went on to be successes after school. Some of them became coaches – including Miller at Newberry, Tarpley at Valdosta and Cline at Harlem and Butler. Meybohm, who also played basketball for the Eagles, coached briefly at Harlem before building a real estate empire.
Blanchard, who had a chance to get drafted before suffering a shoulder injury weeks before the end of his senior season, went into financing.
Only Griffin played professionally, spending the 1963 season with the Augusta Yankees before deciding not to report to Greensboro, N.C., the next season.
“I was a little bit disappointed in it,” he said. “If they’d paid $2.5 to $3 million like they do now it might have been different. But in 1963 making $12,000 a year it was work and it took a lot of the fun out of it. I’d always played ball for fun.”
The fun had carried them to great heights. Blanchard and Griffin had been NAIA runner-ups in 1960 as well. Meybohm and several others made it back to the world series in ’64. Georgia Southern was runner-up again in 1968 and twice reached the NCAA’s College World Series in 1973 and ’90.
But only that ’62 team 50 years ago won it all for the Eagles.
“I think it’s gotten more significant over the years than it was at the time we did it,” said Meybohm.
“It was a team of good friends, playing hard, supporting each other and making unbelievable plays to save a run,” said Blanchard. “It was almost like a movie. You dream about something like that happening.”
Most of them are alive 50 years later to celebrate that dream season for both Georgia Southern and Augusta.