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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Sikeston man and his Mizzou teammates score a spot in Missouri Sports Hall of Fame

Sunday, February 8, 2004

Buddy Cox of Sikeston
SIKESTON -- Today Buddy Cox will reunite with some of his former teammates from his baseball days in college as they are inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield.

Stories will be told, laughter expressed and tears shed -- but more importantly, the team will recall one of the proudest moments of their lives -- defeating Rollins College of Florida and becoming the first -- and only -- NCAA National Champions the University of Missouri-Columbia has ever seen.

Cox, a resident of Sikeston, first learned of the team's induction by phone from the office of former teammate Norm Stewart, who was a pitcher, basketball player and eventually basketball coach for the Tigers. Cox later received a letter from the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame

"I was shocked," said Cox about finding out the team was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. "It's quite an honor. I'll never forget it (winning the championship)."

It was June 16, 1954, when the Tigers played the championship game under the care of legendary baseball coach John "Hi" Simmons.

After playing a 20-game regular-season schedule, including 12 games against Big Seven Conference rivals, the Tigers advanced directly to the College World Series, where they played six games against five teams as they advanced to the national championship.

"At that time it was the Big Seven. There wasn't a Big Eight, and now it's the Big 12," explained Cox, who played second base. "We were not even supposed to win. Michigan State was supposed to win, but we beat them in the semifinals."

After defeating Michigan State 4-3, the Tigers played Rollins -- a team they'd lost to in the first round -- again, this time for the championship.

"We were feeling pretty good going into the game. We knew the worst we could do was second," Cox recalled.

Prior to the championship game, Cox fondly remembered a talk the coach had with the team.

Cox said: "Coach called us up to the room and said, 'Now, I wanna tell you boys something: I didn't come up here to win second. If you don't win today, there will be no meal money tonight.'

"Well that made me so mad I couldn't see straight," Cox said. "So we went out there and won. I honestly believe we wouldn't have done as well if we went out there and hadn't played under pressure. We didn't make any errors. We just played our game."

Missouri won 4-1 with Cox hitting a home run and hitting .412 in the series. Cox was also selected as MVP by the Associated Press and the Omaha World-Herald.

"I led the World Series in hitting which was quite an honor. It's one of most memorable things that has happened to me," Cox said.

Unfortunately, the 1955 season wasn't as victorious for the Tigers. The team only lost their first baseman, but for some reason, couldn't get things going again.

"We just didn't do any better. We didn't play like we did last year. I was the only one who raised my average," Cox said.

Another thing players were facing was the Korean War.

"Everybody knew that in a month or so we'd be going over there so that may have had something to do with it -- but other teams were facing that, too. So I don't know what happened -- we've never discussed it," Cox admitted.

While Cox has several good stories to share (and some that can't be printed), he did admit there was a negative side to playing ball like the bus rides.

To this day Cox will not set foot on a Greyhound bus. "I traveled a lot of miles on those buses, and I won't ride one," Cox laughed.

Ironically, Cox went to Mizzou on a football scholarship after lettering nine times and receiving all-conference recognition at Sikeston High School.

His freshman year, Cox was injured in a game against Kansas.

"The doctor told me I wouldn't be able to play football again. Baseball was the only thing left so I went out for baseball," Cox said.

And the rest is history.

In addition to the 1954 Mizzou baseball team, lead game analyst for FOX Sports and former St. Louis Cardinal catcher Tim McCarver and former Kansas City Royal Hal McRae along with others will be inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame today.

"There was just a major push and a lot of support for the 1954 MU team to be inducted," noted Todd Yearack, vice president of operations at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. "Since this was their 50th anniversary, we just felt it was an appropriate time."

In 1994, the ball club was inducted into Mizzou's Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame. The team will also be honored at a 50th anniversary celebration in September at Columbia.

"It's always good to see them," Cox said about his teammates. "We've got one coming from New York, one from Chicago and the rest are in the state of Missouri. It will be a lot of fun."

Fifty years have almost passed, and Cox's old glove, now a little stiff, and the bat he played with remain on a book case full of awards, photos and plaques in his home.

Scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings and telegrams from family and friends wishing Cox luck on "game day" are also kept in a safe place.

"I don't look at this stuff all the time," Cox said, flipping through a scrapbook. "But boy does it sure bring back some memories."