|1966 Baseball Team - 2012 HOF|
In 1966 Idaho baseball fielded its most successful team in program history. For a team that won four Big Sky Conference Championships in a six year span, that’s saying a lot.
The 1966 Vandals boasted a 34-9 overall record, advanced to the NCAA District 7 finals, narrowly missed a trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series, and finished the year ranked No. 18 in the final national poll. Idaho’s bid to the NCAA tournament was the first in program history, and the first for any team in the history of the Big Sky Conference, which sponsored baseball for the 1964-74 seasons.
The Vandals won games with quality pitching and speed on the bases. Two pitchers from Idaho’s 1966 staff went on the play in the major leagues, and the Vandals stole 106 bases in 38 regular season games. But it was more than just the highly talented players that made Idaho’s 1966 baseball team special. It was the way that on any given day, anybody in the lineup could step up and be the hero.
“Actually we don’t have any one player that is a true key to our success,” said Idaho coach Wayne Anderson said in a May, 1966 article in the Spokesman-Review before the NCAA Tournament. “This is a little different than any kind of team I’ve had in the past. It’s sort of a group thing they’ve developed. No one takes special leadership. We’ve had many players provide the key hit or clutch pitching when we’ve needed it all season long.”
After winning the Big Sky title, the Vandals headed to Greeley, Colo., for the NCAA regionals. They were ranked 12th in the nation with a 31-7 overall record. With victories over Northern Colorado and Air Force, Idaho advanced to Tucson, Ariz., to face the University of Arizona in the NCAA District 7 finals - known today as the Super Regional, with a berth to the College World Series on the line.
Two close games against Arizona went in favor of the Wildcats, as Idaho lost 3-2 and 8-5 to come up short of the College World Series and ended its season at 34-9.
“At Tucson we played at night,” Anderson said. “It was 100 degrees. It was hot. That’s not an excuse, we still played pretty darn well.”
The 1966 team was full of characters. There was pitcher Bill Stoneman, who had a 6-2 record in the regular season and led the team with a 0.45 Earned Run Average, an unheard of mark for a pitcher at any level. Stoneman went on to pitch in the major leagues for the Chicago Cubs, Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Angles from 1967-1974, throwing two no-hitters as an Expo. After his playing career, Stoneman, a charter member of the Vandal Athletics Hall of Fame as an individual, eventually moved into the front office. After a stint in the Expos’ front office, he became the general manager of the Angels in 1999 where he hired current Angels manager Mike Sciocia, and won the 2002 World Series, before stepping down in 2007.
There was also pitcher Frank Reberger, who owned a 7-1 record in the regular season and a 4.68 ERA. He went on to play in the major leagues from 1968-1972, before a embarking on a major and minor league coaching career in the 1990s.
There was Wayne Adams, from Lewiston, who had a knack for hustling on every play, no matter what.
“He would get a walk and he’d sprint to first base,” Anderson recalled. “He ran like he just hit a single and was trying to leg it out. He could steal bases, too.”
There was Rich Toney, who came to Idaho on a football scholarship and played baseball as well.
“He played quarterback without shoulder pads because they thought he could throw the ball better, then he would put them back on for defense,” Anderson said.
There was Babe Brown, who also excelled in another sport at Idaho.
“He was so strong,” Anderson said of Brown, who also was the heavyweight wrestling champion of the PCC.
While Anderson said there wasn’t one key player to Idaho’s success, several Vandals were recognized for their efforts throughout the season, including Anderson himself, the 1966 Big Sky Coach of the Year.
“Thirteen players were named to all-star, all-conference or an all-tournament team,” said Anderson, “Some guys came alive here, some came alive there.”
Even though every player played a role in Idaho’s success, Coach Anderson didn’t have the resources he would have liked to compensate all of those players for their efforts.
“I had one and a half scholarships to give out at first,” said Anderson, who took over coaching the Vandals in 1958. “By the end it went up to three. I was splitting it up about eight ways. It was about 75 dollars for a scholarship.”
The shortcomings didn’t end with a lack of scholarships. It wasn’t uncommon for players to have to find their own transportation to away games. While this may have been a burden to some players, one in particular, Benny Blick, found it to be a blessing in disguise.
“Our budget was so limited we couldn’t afford a bus,” Anderson explained. “So the kids drove their own cars and we gave them gas money. Benny had a car, and he maintains the only reason I kept him on the team was because he had a car.”
One thing there was room in the budget for was new uniforms, although it took several years to get a complete set. The previous uniforms were Idaho’s old school colors, red and gray, with bumble bee striped socks. Those were replaced by white uniforms with a cursive “Vandals” across the chest, piping running down the front and a grumpy Joe Vandal logo on the left shoulder.
“We really looked bad in the old uniforms,” Anderson said. “Then after Clem Parberry took the job, he bought these nice looking uniforms. We couldn’t afford to buy a whole set, so we would replace about six a year. I thought they were sharp. The kids liked them too.”
The 1966 team paved the way for future Idaho baseball championship teams. The Vandals won their third Big Sky title in 1967, and added their fourth and final title in ’69.