The clear blue afternoon sky above St. Joseph’s Phil Welch Stadium on June 8, 1968, had long since given way to bright lights as late night continued to advance on two teams battling it out for the 1968 NAIA National Baseball Championship.
William Jewell College of Liberty, MO, and Georgia Southern University had taken similar, grinding roads to the title game, advancing through district and regional tournaments. Players were growing weary and only a victory would satisfy the team that could successfully end what had become a marathon game.
Two country boys, hailing from Gilman City, MO, complemented the WJC Cardinal squad. The path to the championship for brothers David and Dick Michael began years earlier in first peewee, then little league and pony league, and finally American Legion baseball, where they were scouted by William Jewell Cardinal Coach Fred Flook.
Both men are retired educators. David and his wife, Kayla, live on a farm north of Gallatin. Dick and his wife, Tori, live in Blue Springs. Between them, David and Dick have six children. All attended William Jewell and all six met their future spouses there.
“Dick was very interested in William Jewell from the very beginning,” said David. “I had already enrolled in the University of Missouri with no thought of baseball,” he added, “but after one year I transferred to William Jewell.”
It was perhaps fitting that both Michael boys ended up in Cardinal uniforms because they idolized the St. Louis Cardinals and particularly, Stan Musial.
David, a pitcher and first baseman, and Dick, an infielder, credited their diamond success to their father, Frank, and Trenton Little League Coach Bill Simmons, who later joined the St. Louis Cardinals as equipment manager.
“Dad really loved baseball,” David said, “While we were growing up, he always told us that when he was our age, he only got to play baseball with his brothers, using primitive equipment.”
Another important early influence on the boys was legendary Gilman City resident, Carl “Cotton” Gutshall.
“Cotton’s son, Terry, was my best friend,” Dick Michael relates. “Cotton was pretty well known around the state as a horseshoe pitcher and as a baseball and softball pitcher.”
Gutshall put together a Gilman City team and was the first organized team coach for the Michael brothers.
“Mom and dad found out that Trenton organized leagues and I would play Little League and David would play with the older team,” Dick said.
At Trenton, players were organized into six teams that played twice a week. Coach Simmons usually umpired behind the plate but the players, themselves, would call the bases, Dick says. “And you sure wouldn’t see this today, but parents were not allowed to stay and watch the games,” he added.
Later the talent level on Trenton’s American Legion team was evident, Dick says. A player by the name of Bobby Johnson signed with the Dodgers. Trenton native Mike Arbuckle was drafted by Cardinals in 1969. He later scouted for both the Phillies and Braves before becoming a senior advisor in the Kansas City Royals organization.
Coincidentally, another Gilman City product, Jim Griffith, coached Trenton American Legion teams for years.
Luck wears Cardinal red
The WJC Cardinals were floundering at the .500 level in mid-season. “We’d have a good stretch and then a not-so-good stretch,” David related. Injuries to two starters forced a major lineup shuffle that ended up paying big dividends.
“We won 12 consecutive games after that and lost only one game in the area tournament,” David said. The Cardinals would first sweep the District 16 tournament.
Their one loss came on a Saturday in game #2 of the NAIA zone tournament, also played at Phil Welch Stadium. The Cardinals fell to the College of Emporia, 6-5, in a 16-inning marathon that lasted until 3:30 a.m. Battling against elimination, Jewell trailed Nebraska-Omaha, 7-0, into the top of the ninth inning, in their first game on Sunday, Dick relates.
“I was the seventh batter due up that inning if we were able to get that far,” Dick says. “I was thinking it didn’t look good for us and actually took my cleats off and put my tennis shoes on,” he added. “As we continued to hit and score, I realized I better get my shoes back on.”
The Cardinals scored five runs with no outs. Dick reached on a hit, putting runners on first and second. However, back-to-back strikeouts put the Cardinals’ backs against the wall, but their #4 and #5 hitters in the lineup each came through with their second hits of the inning and Jewell tied the score, 7-7. Playing into the 11th inning, the Cards took the lead and won the extra-inning affair, 8-7.
Since College of Emporia had not yet lost a game in the four-team tournament, William Jewell had to beat them twice to advance to the NAIA championship event, which they did by scores of 4-0 and 4-3.
Winner Takes All
The Cardinals beat Buena Vista (Iowa), 4-3, to open the national tournament and David would start, but not finish, a 4-3 victory over Eastern Michigan. William Jewell beat Central Washington, 6-4, to set up a game against Georgia Southern, which had dropped an earlier 14-7 decision to Eastern Michigan. Georgia Southern defeated Jewell, 6-4, to set up a winner-take-all final game in the series.
Georgia Southern took a 2-1 lead after the opening inning and led, 3-1, going into Jewell’s half of the fourth inning. Cardinal pitcher Rich Stonum came on in relief in the third inning and pitched the remainder of the game. His 11-inning relief performance remains an NAIA championship game record.
“We were a bunt-and-run, hit-and-run team,” Dick Michael says. “Speed and defense was our strength,” he added. “Sometimes we would run in the most unlikely situations.”
With two outs and runners on first and second, the Cardinals pulled off a double steal. Stonum drove in both Pat Mann and Pat Crilly to tie the game.
Southern entered the NAIA Tournament with one of the best pitching staffs in the country, but it was the “rubber arm” of Stonum, David said, that kept Cardinal championship hopes alive. For eight straight innings, neither team could put a run on the scoreboard. Following the top of the 13th inning, Stonum reportedly told Coach Flook, “I don’t know if I can go another one, Fred.”
“It was getting late and I’m thinking I need to get to work the next day,” said David, who worked after the end of spring classes at a ditching company in Kansas City. “I was in the bullpen tossing a ball back and forth, hand to hand, when I heard the crack of the bat,” he adds. “I knew right then the game was over.”
Shortstop Larry Libeer, the first batter in the bottom of the 13th inning, slammed a 360-foot, first pitch homer over the left-centerfield fence at Phil Welch Stadium to send the Cardinals into the record books with the school’s only national championship sports team. Teammates swarmed Libeer at home plate and later grabbed the championship banner and ran around the bases with it.
Dick was sitting on the dugout steps with his back against the wall when the big blow came. “By the 13th inning, I wasn’t feeling well and I didn’t see him hit the home run,” he said. “I regret that to this day.”
The night before, Coach Flook tried to score Dick from first on a soft liner to the outfield. Rounding third base, Dick met the catcher up the baseline and the two collided, knocking Dick unconscious.
Post season honors
The 1968 NAIA championship game remains the longest in terms of innings played, and is eclipsed on the clock only by a five-hour, five-minute (12 inning) game between Indiana Tech and Embry-Riddle (Fla.) in 1999.
Stonum, Libeer, second baseman Dick Michael, first baseman John Lampton and outfielder Bob Buschmann were named to the all-tournament team.
Libeer, a .300 hitter who batted second in the Cardinal lineup, made 11 putouts in the field and that remains a tournament single-game record for a shortstop. He was named an All-American after the 1969 season and a WJC Hall of Fame inductee in 2006.
Stonum, who lives in Kansas City, saved three games in the series and was named tournament Most Valuable Player. He would go on to play three seasons in the minor leagues, finishing in 1972 with the St. Louis affiliate Arkansas Travelers in the AA Texas League.
Dick Michael, who batted lead off for the Cards, was named all-conference, all-district and honorable mention All-American following the 1968 season. He was a member of four Cardinal conference champion baseball teams and was named to the Cardinal Hall of Fame in 2008. While an educator and coach, he was responsible for initiating the baseball program at Excelsior Springs High School.
Pitching both as a starter and reliever, David Michael finished 2-2 in 1968 with the team’s second-lowest earned run average of 2.16. He was one of four Cardinal pitchers to throw at least 40 innings.
The 1968 Cardinal baseball team was inducted into the WJC Hall of Fame in 2002. The team finished 30-15 and also won the MCAU title, NAIA District 16 title and NAIA Area 3 title. In 2002, the team was enshrined in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield, Missouri.
A photo of the team with their NAIA Championship Plaque resides on the third floor of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
The 1968 William Jewell baseball team will be honored on Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Liberty between games of a college double header against Drury University. Players and family will tailgate before the game. In case of a rain out on Saturday, festivities will be moved to Sunday.
1968 NAIA Championship Facts
Charlie Berry, a 20-year veteran Major League Baseball umpire was behind the plate for the 1968 championship game. He umpired in five MLB World Series and called balls and strikes for Bob Feller’s fourth no-hitter in 1951.
Terry Doolittle caught all 49 innings for WJC in the national tournament.
Dick Michael led the team with seven runs and five walks and scored in the first inning of every Jewell win in the tournament.
Coach Fred Flook took Jewell to the national tournament eight times during his 34 years at the helm and held a record of 8-15. His overall record stood at 740 wins against 598 losses at the time of his retirement in 2000.
Mike Colegrove won two games on the hill in the 1968 tournament, against Buena Vista and Central Washington.
Freshman Cam Jury recorded the win against Eastern Michigan for his eighth win of the season. He went on to become the head baseball coach at Oak Park High School for more that two decades, posting an overall record of 321-16 and winning three state championships.
Rich Stonum recorded three saves (NAIA record) in the tournament and was the winning pitcher in the championship game. He became an umpire and officiated the NAIA National Tournament in 2010 through 2013.
Senior outfielder Bob Buschmann got two hits and drove in the game-tying run in Jewell’s seven-run ninth inning against Omaha-Nebraska in the Area tournament. During the previous fall, he hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass in the Mineral Water Bowl to preserve the undefeated season for the 1967 Cardinal football team.
Bob Jones, a sophomore on the ’68 team, became an umpire at the NCAA Division I World Series in 1988, 1989 and 1996. He was also an MLB replacement umpire and served as Supervisor of Umpires in the Big 8 and Big 12 conferences.
— written by Dennis Cox, sports editor of Gallatin North Missourian