Financial Restraints Didn't Stop Powers
June 1, 2020 by Todd Shanesy | Spartanburg Herald Journal | 2020news
Financial restraints didn’t stop Furman baseball under Jack Powers
When Furman University recently dropped baseball, it especially resonated with a man who guided the program through financial hardship to the closest it ever came to the College World Series.
Furman has been playing baseball since 1896 but cut the sport on May 18 as one of the ways the school is dealing with economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“I was so saddened by that,” said Jack Powers, 84, a Spartanburg resident who coached the Paladins in the mid-60s, went on to be head coach at South Carolina as well (also defensive coordinator for football coach Paul Dietzel) and later served as president of Spartanburg Technical College (now Community College) from 1985 to 1996.
Powers, from Mullins, played football and baseball at Furman, graduating in 1957. Years later, he decided he wanted to be a high school coach, so he went back to take education courses and help the football team as a graduate assistant.
“I became the baseball coach because nobody else would take it,” Powers said. “Furman had cut back its athletic budget and lost a football coach. I took that spot as a defensive backfield coach and graduate assistant. Bobby Jennings was the baseball coach (for one season in 1962) and he left. They couldn't find anyone to take that job.”
Athletics director Lyles Alley, a Spartanburg native and former multi-sport standout at Furman, first turned to another football assistant. Johnny Menger had been a star on the gridiron for Georgia Tech but didn’t have any interest in coaching baseball – especially for free.
“Coach Alley asked Menger if he would take over the baseball team,” Powers said. “And Menger said, ‘How much additional money would that be on my salary?’ Alley said, ‘Well, we don’t have any additional money.’ So Johnny said, ‘Then I don’t want it.’
“All the football assistant coaches were in one big room with their desks pushed up against the walls. I was just sitting on the edge of somebody’s desk. Coach Alley said, ‘Is anybody interested in coaching baseball?’ I raised my hand. That’s how I got to be the baseball coach at Furman.′ ”
The Paladins had a losing season in 1963 but finished second in the Southern Conference in 1964. Despite dropping their first six games in 1965 and being 6-11 after a loss to Wofford in early May, Furman won the SoCon with a 9-2 record. The Paladins advanced to a regional tournament along with automatic qualifiers from the Atlantic Coast Conference (Maryland), Southeastern Conference (Mississippi) and an independent (Florida State). The double-elimination tournament was held in Gastonia, N.C., with the winner going straight to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“The Greenville newspaper indicated that we shouldn’t unpack our bags,” Powers said, “because we’d be home before we needed to unpack.”
But the Paladins beat Maryland in 10 innings, 5-4, and then beat Ole Miss, 5-2. Furman had made it to Saturday with two chances to beat Florida State, which had a loss.
“We just got lucky and were on a good streak,” Powers said. “We had two boys who could really hit the ball. Ingram Haley (from Pinewood) and Phil King (from Clinton) were really good players. We had a couple of football players, too. We needed them because we only had three scholarships divided up for baseball.”
Furman had a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning of the first game against Florida State thanks to brilliant pitching of Ralph Harwood, who was the winning pitcher against Maryland. But the Seminoles rallied and took a 2-1 win to force a second game.
“We were out of pitching by then,” Powers said. “We had several pitchers that did well, but we just didn’t have much left. Andy Coe (Silver Spring, Md.) squared to bunt and the ball came up under his chin and liked to choke him to death. The trainer got to him, but Andy went back out and pitched the next inning. ... Our second baseman was like 120 pounds and we had to send him to the hospital for some hydration.”
Florida State won the second game, 7-5, and went to the College World Series, where Arizona State beat Ohio State in the title game for the championship.
“I was proud of our guys,” Powers said. “We never gave up. We had a lot of good breaks along the way and we came close.”
To this day, Powers kiddingly puts the fault on Lucy Herren, wife of former Furman assistant Fred Herren, who is in the Newberry Athletics Hall of Fame as a football coach and athletics director.
“Fred would go on baseball trips with me to help,” Powers said. “On Friday night, the day before the regional championship against Florida State, his wife went into labor. So he went home and their son Greg was born. On Saturday, we lost two games. I’ve always blamed it on Lucy.”