Baseball at The University of Vermont: Part Two
In February, the University of Vermont Catamounts announced that it would be dropping its baseball and softball programs. The baseball team at Vermont has a long history, with its first collegiate games stretching back to 1888. In part two of this series, here is look at the Catamounts baseball program from 1906-1942.
1906-1918: Centennial Field, Larry Gardner, and Ray Collins
The University of Vermont Catamounts dropped their opening game of the 1906 season, 9-4 against Harvard in Cambridge. When they returned home to Burlington for their home opener against Maine, the Catamounts would not travel to the off-campus stadium, where almost all of their previous home games had been played since 1888. Instead, a brand new athletic park on the campus of the University was ready to welcome them in.
When many of the Universityâ€™s sports teams had complained about having to travel all about the city to play their games, the board of directors at the school decided it was time for a new, on-campus park. In 1904, during a celebration for the schoolâ€™s centennial year of their first graduation class, the University announced it was funding the construction of a new athletic facility for the baseball, soccer, football, and track teams. Finally, on April 16th, 1906, Centennial Field was ready for baseball. The first UVM batter and pitcher at the new park were both freshman, and combined, they formed one of the best player combinations in club history. The batter was Larry Gardner and the pitcher was Ray Collins.
Both natives of Vermont, no two Catamount players ever made a bigger impression in the major leagues than Gardner and Collins would. In 17 big league seasons, primarily with the Red Sox and Indians, Gardner racked up 1,931 hits and four World Series rings. Collins dominated for a few years with the Boston Red Sox, but mysteriously lost his ability at the age of 28 and retired after only seven major league seasons. The two players were both members of the 1912 World Champion Red Sox, although oddly enough, they would never strike up a friendship.
The first game at Centennial Field was a successful one for the University, which posted a 10-4 win over Maine, thanks in part to a complete game performance from Collins. The Catamounts would end up concluding the 1906 season at 9-8-1. The biggest victory came in the middle of the season, as in front of the first sellout in Centennial Field history, the 3-3 Catamounts beat 8-1 Holy Cross by a score of 9 to 4. Later in the year though, Holy Cross got its revenge, thumping Vermont 13-3.
The team finished 10-7 in 1907 and the young team was showing signs of improvement. Gardner was batting .400 before a broken collarbone sidelined him for half the season and Collins took over as the pitcher on a full-time basis. Both players received offers from major league clubs, but both declined and accepted captaincies offered to them by baseball coach C.J. Chase. The Catamounts blew a sigh of relief that both players were returning because the 1908 schedule was one of the toughest ones the team had to play in its history and the two juniors were going to be heavily leaned on.
Dreadful weather in the spring forced the cancellation of many of the clubsâ€™ practices and the rustiness showed at the start of the year, as Vermont started its annual southern trip off with losses to Fordham and Seton Hall. However, the team rebounded and had wins at Harvard, at Brown, at Dartmouth and two victories against Holy Cross. Vermont finished with a 15-9-2 record and were crowned the â€˜champs of New Englandâ€™ by newspapers. Gardner once again had a great season as the Catamounts leadoff man/shortstop and during the season, he took various calls from major league teams requesting his services. Towards the end of the season, Gardner narrowed his choices to two clubs: Philadelphia and Boston. He decided to sign with Boston, a team that would be associated with much of Gardnerâ€™s career. Nonetheless, it would not be the last of Larry Gardner at the University of Vermont.
With only five returning players, 1909 was expected to be a rough year but the team got a boost when Ray Collins decided to turn down any professional offer and return to school for his senior year. Even with Collins, the Catamounts were expected to do poorly but instead, they turned in a 14-9 record, with no victory better than the 14th. At home against Penn State, Collins, making his last collegiate start, struck out 19 Nittany Lions in a 6-3 victory. It was his 37th and final victory in college in only 50 starts, making him statistically the best pitcher in UVM history, surpassing Bert Abbey, Arlington Pond, and Ed Reulbach. After the season, Collins would follow his ex-teammate Gardner to Boston, where he would sign with the Red Sox.
1910 to 1917 featured many .500 seasons from UVM before the 1918 season was cancelled due to World War I. The best season in that stretch was in 1916, when the Catamounts went 16-6. The schedule was filled with impressive victories (Cornell, Colgate), heartbreaking losses (Yale, Notre Dame) and a hard fought 0-0 tie (Harvard). Like many other schools, Vermont cancelled its athletics during the War in 1918. The war ended many eras, including one on the diamond for the University of Vermont.
1919-1942: Between the Wars
Baseball at UVM wasted no time getting back on its feet after WWI interrupted play for one season. They went undefeated on their home soil and would finish with an 11-4 mark. That was followed by a 15-6 record in 1920 and two seasons of the Catamounts playing just above .500 baseball in â€™21 and â€™22. In 1923, Ray Collins returned to coach his alma mater but the results, a 14-13 record, were fairly similar.
Tom Keady only coached one year, in 1924, but it was a very successful year on and off the field. The former head football coach at Lehigh University, Keady came to Vermont to coach the varsity basketball team but accepted an offer to coach baseball when Collins quit before the fall semester started. On the field, Keady coached the team to a 16-9 record, with a veteran-laded squad. Off it, he helped recruit a strong class that would lay the ground work for successful seasons to come, although he would never coach his recruitments.
With the help of the football recruiters, Keadyâ€™s most prized signing was John Conway. In high school, Conway was a standout playing quarterback and shortstop; and he was heavily sought after by bigger schools, but he ultimately he chose Vermont. A well-mannered individual, Conway never missed a baseball game during his collegiate career, there was 102 of them, and in almost all of them, he took his customary spot leading off in the â€˜6â€™ position.
In all, the â€™28 graduating class fielded four players who would eventually go into the UVM athletic hall-of-fame. Conwayâ€™s infield partner for four years, John Smith, was a slick fielding second baseman who was also a very intelligent player. Howard Prentice was a big guy whom Keady recruited to play post on the basketball team, but he would also turn out to be a four-year starter at first base for the Catamount. Together, the three players would form Vermontâ€™s own version of Tinker-Evers-Chance. The fourth HoF player, Clifton Price, was elected for his great college golf career but he also played a few baseball games in his college days.
Collins came back to coach baseball for the 1926 season and the young team performed rather well for the former UVM ace, going 16-11. However, the team lost 18 of its 27 games the next season and Collins resigned again after the year was done. During the next two seasons under different coaches, the Catamounts went 34-18 combined and in that time, became one of the more feared teams in New England. UVMâ€™s 18 wins in 1928 were the collegeâ€™s best win total since 1892 and it would not be matched by a Catamount team until the 1956 season.
1929 represented the return of another Vermont legend, this time it was Larry Gardner, who would return to coach the Catamounts. Gardnerâ€™s major league career was cut short by injuries in 1924. Before he returned to his alma mater, Gardner gained coaching experience in the Texas League. As a manager, Gardner had the same hunger to win as he did as a player, but his demeanor was very calm, which made him a good player-manager.
For Gardner, however, gone was the fantastic infield that had carried UVM for four years and the only regular contributor returning was senior Carl Macomber, who was making a difficult move from centerfield to catcher. The results werenâ€™t good in Gardnerâ€™s first year at helm, a 10-12 record that was topped off with an embarrassing 13-3 loss to Boston College at home.
The â€˜30s were a terrible stretch for the Catamounts. Three times, the team won only five games all season and the southern trips, in which they used to play so well in, became a nightmare for Gardnerâ€™s group. The best year that decade for UVM was in 1937, when they posted a mark of 14-9, but the season included embarrassing defeats of 22-2 and 16-6 in the hands of William & Mary and Temple, respectively.
In the three years before the Second World War, the Catamounts improved. Building off some success in the latter part of the â€˜30s, the team went 10-7 in 1940 and in the last year before baseball was cancelled, the Catamounts had a record of 8-3, posting the schoolâ€™s best winning percentage since 1919. After the season, Gardner was also named the schoolâ€™s Athletic Director, but it was a role he would not begin until 1945, since the War cut off all of the schoolâ€™s athletics. Some good and some bad times would await the Catamounts after the War was over.