Although most of the teams seemed right out of last fall's football Top 20—Southern California. Oklahoma, Texas, Penn State, Arizona State—what it was was baseball. Oh, sure enough, there was a Heisman Trophy candidate here, a defensive halfback there and a reminder everywhere that you were in Nebraska's Big Red country, but the prevailing spirit in Omaha last week centered on The College World Series.
The exceptionally strong field also included a trio of gridiron nonpowers: newcomer Georgia Southern; Minnesota, which had won the baseball title in each of three tries under Coach Richard (Chief) Siebert (1956, '60 and '64); and Harvard, which, of all things, would next be playing Italian baseball teams in Italy. After five days of double-elimination paranoia, in which coaches never seemed quite sure if they wanted to win today or tomorrow, the finalists, unsurprisingly, turned out to be Southern California and Arizona State. As in 1972, the Trojans' poise and a confidence verging on arrogance bedeviled the Sun Devils, who had lately been accused of swallowing the big apple, core and all, at the opening strains of Fight On.
ASU had previously won the series with a bunch of Sal Bandos, Rick Mondays and Gary Gentrys in 1965, '67 and '69. But the Trojans came to town with eight titles, including the last three, and a high-stakes mastery of Arizona State that was extraordinary. "They have a good team this year," said SC's All-America pitcher. Randy Scarberry, a first-round draft pick of Oakland's, "but they don't win the big ones. They beat us three times at their place during the regular season but then we beat them twice in the Riverside tournament, where it really meant something. Those games at Phoenix were fun games, exhibitions. They play a weak schedule, beat a lot of people, get ranked No. 1 and then lose the important games. The poised, intelligent team will beat them. A team like ours."
Such talk became fashionable following last year's College World Series in which favored Arizona State won its first game against Southern California but then dropped two in a row to the Trojans. The Sun Devils, it was said, were great at rewriting record books (this year's team hit .340 during a 56-6 season before coming to Omaha) but dripped of goose grease when it came to picking up trophies.
"I want to beat those guys so bad," said ASU Shortstop Bump Wills, Maury's son. And then Bump let out an honest-to-goodness growl. First Baseman Clay Westlake, one of four Southern Californians among the eight Sun Devil regulars, was just as intense. "Those guys are bush, the way they razz the opposition. That's Little League stuff."
The Southern Cal viewpoint was expressed by Pitcher Russ McQueen, a philosophical banjo-plucker. "Why do Southern Californians go to Arizona State?" he asked rhetorically. "They know they are going to finish second."
Tormenting mentally as well as physically—that is the way the Trojans operate under Coach Rod Dedeaux, a fine strategist on the field and a millionaire trucking executive off it. Dedeaux has been Southern Cat's coach for 32 of his 58 years and his control over the baseball program is total.
It was Dedeaux's unwillingness to share responsibility that eased Pat Kuehner's switch from the Trojan to the ASU coaching staff this season. "I feel I'm more a part of the program at Arizona State," said Kuehner. "I'd rather be chasing Southern Cal than be back there being chased by Arizona State."
With Kuehner around, the Sun Devils could better understand the psychological traps set by Dedeaux. Coming into Omaha with a 46-11 record for the season, Dedeaux allowed that the Trojans were probably a year away. And that it was fifth-ranked Texas, not top-ranked Arizona State, whom the Trojans feared most. "Rod would have people believe we don't even exist," said ASU Coach Jim Brock, who is often as anxious to share a critical opinion of his team or opponent as Dedeaux is to disguise one.
SC opened with a 4-1 win over Harvard. Against Texas, however, the Trojans were mired in a 1-1 seventh-inning tie when an intentional walk brought up Centerfielder Fred Lynn. Before Lynn went to the plate Dedeaux whispered something like, "Now, Fred, you aren't going to let them do that to you, are you?" The SC bench had barely finished advising the Texas pitcher, loudly, that he had just made the mistake of his life by issuing that walk when Fred slammed a three-run homer, his first hit of the series.