TERRE HAUTE —
Currently in his 25th year as a college baseball coach, Rick Heller is in the midst of his third winning season at Indiana State and has embraced the university and the community. His office is adorned with memorabilia of Vigo County baseball icons Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Max Carey, Tommy John, Art Nehf and Dizzy Trout, as well as Terre Haute’s proud minor league baseball heritage that spanned seven decades.
Heller will fete members of Terre Haute’s 1955 Babe Ruth League world championship team at Sycamore Stadium on Saturday. On that day, ISU will host perennial collegiate baseball power Dallas Baptist. Game time is 2 p.m.
On Aug. 20, 1955 — nearly 57 years ago — when an all-star team representing Terre Haute vanquished Birmingham, Ala., in the final game of the Babe Ruth League World Series at Disch Field in Austin, Texas, it was a noteworthy achievement. WBOW’s Darl Wible provided play-by-play coverage for an anxious radio audience. Dodgers sportscaster Vin Scully narrated the documentary film. The All-Star team, managed by Glenn E. Staggs, ably assisted by Donas Dischinger, included some of the finest athletes ever produced in the Wabash Valley. The team consisted of Gary Auten, Jim Calvin, Willie Cheesman, Bob Clements, Gary Cunning, Terry Dischinger, Charlie Hall, Marvin Haney, Gene Jeffers, Bob Kehrt, Don Lanning, Larry Lucas, Luke Montgomery, Jerry Porter, John Roshel and Larry Rush.
At the time there were 16 Vigo County high schools. All except Calvin, Cunning and Lanning attended Terre Haute schools. Calvin attended Farmersburg High School, Cunning went to Fontanet High School and Lanning matriculated to Glenn High School.
As the 1954 Indiana champion, Terre Haute was chosen to host the 1955 state tournament at Memorial Stadium in July. Rush and Kehrt were the winning pitchers in tourney victories over Gary and Hammond. Champions from six states competed in the Ohio Valley Regional, also played at Memorial Stadium. Hall limited Stevens Point, Wis., to two hits in the opener while Rush was 4-for-4 at the plate.
Rush shut out Owensboro, Ky., 10-0, on two hits while Dischinger hit a home run and Hall had three RBIs. Kehrt, Terre Haute’s southpaw ace, and Hall shared the mound during the 9-5 regional championship triumph over Cincinnati.
Hall got the starting assignment against Stamford, Conn., the defending world champion, in the first game of the eight-team World Series in Austin. He struck out future major leaguer Cookie Rojas in the second inning. Kehrt relieved Hall in the 3-2 victory, which featured a squeeze play initiated by Dischinger and Rush’s game-winning single.
Rush knocked in two runs and limited Clarksburg, W.Va., to two hits for 61⁄3 innings on Friday. Leading 4-1 with one out and the bases loaded, Jeffers came in to retire the side with only one run scoring. The final score was 4-2.
Birmingham reached the championship game by defeating both Portland, Ore., with future major league pitcher Mickey Lolich, and Oakland, Calif., with future major leaguer Tommy Harper.
After 52⁄3 innings, Kehrt had a three-hitter but Birmingham led 2-1 and the bases were loaded. Hall relieved to secure the final out. Terre Haute scored four runs in the top of the seventh to take the lead. After Clements and Cunning walked and Cheesman sacrificed, Dischinger, Rush and Auten delivered consecutive singles.
Birmingham scored two quick runs in the bottom of the seventh. With the tying run on first and no one out, Calvin made his first World Series appearance. Two of his first three pitches were thrown behind the batter. After Staggs visited the mound, Calvin promptly fired three straight strikes past the batter.
Ground balls to infielders Cheesman and Clements ended the game. Fire trucks, city officials and about 2,000 fans participated in a triumphant tour through city streets on Aug. 22 to a reception at Seventh and Wabash conducted by Mayor Ralph Tucker. Staggs hosted several team reunions. The last one was the 45th reunion in 2000 when Glenn was 90 years old. He died in November 2005.
Team members are located in 10 states. Four remain in Indiana. Jeffers is pastor of Park Forest Bible Church in North Terre Haute; Kehrt, who played baseball and basketball at Purdue, recently retired after a long career in sales with Paitson Bros. Heating. Roshel, who attended Indiana State, IU and the University of Michigan, is a local orthodontist. Larry Lucas retired after 29 years with the Cummins Co. of Columbus, where he continues to reside. Recently deceased, Clements played baseball and football at Wiley and at Indiana State and then coached high school football. South Vigo’s football stadium is named in his honor. Porter, a Terre Haute Schulte alumnus, resides in Brandon, Fla. Rush, currently transportation director for a school corporation, moved to Florida while a senior in highschool and now resides there in Ellington. Hall and Calvin live in Las Vegas. A 1958 Indiana All-Star inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and a two-time Indiana high school high jump champion, Hall was a three-year starter for Branch McCracken at Indiana University. He has been associated with John Hancock Life Insurance Co. for many years
Calvin coached basketball at high school, college, pro and international levels, tutoring national teams in China, Kuwait, Australia, Venezuela, Bahrain, Egypt, Germany and United Arab Emirates. The New York Times called Calvin, recently inducted into the East Noble High School Hall of Fame, “The Coach Who Beat Saddam Hussein.”
Now a semi-retired orthodontist in Lake Oswego, Ore., Dischinger has been called the greatest athlete in Vigo County history. A three-time college basketball All-American at Purdue, 1960 Olympic gold medal winner and 1963 NBA Rookie of the Year, he was a three-sport all-State athlete at Garfield and was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1989.
A teammate of Dischinger and Kehrt at Garfield, Auten was a Little All America basketball player at Kentucky Wesleyan. He now resides in Benton, Ky. Cunning and Cheesman played pro baseball after college. Cunning signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and played five years or more in the minors. He taught school for many years and now resides in Rothbury, Mich. A multi-sport athlete at Franklin College, Cheesman signed with the Washington Senators. After a short pro career in the Appalachian League, he coached football and track at high schools and colleges in Indiana, Texas and Montana. He now lives in Austin, Texas.
After playing basketball and baseball at Glenn, Lanning was captain of Rose Poly’s baseball team for three years. He forged a successful career with Campbell Soups and now is retired in Bluffton, S.C. Montgomery held administrative banking positions in Watseka, Ill., before retiring a few years ago. Haney founded Legacy Homes of Pueblo, Colo., which is managed by his son.