It was the Cannes of baseball festivals, a nine-day orgy of ball girls, hidden ball tricks and metal bats. When it was all over last Saturday night, C3PO and R2-D2 walked off with all the individual honors, and Arizona State left Omaha as champion of the College World Series.
C3PO is Second Baseman Bob Horner, Arizona State's sophomore hitting robot who this season led the nation in home runs (22), RBIs (87) and hits (102) while batting .389. During the World Series Horner had back-to-back three-for-four games, hit .444 and was named the tournament's MVP. "Horner's the best hitter in Arizona State history," says Sun Devil Coach Jim Brock, offering no apologies to such Arizona State alumni as Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Rick Monday and Bump Wills.
R2-D2 is Handyman-Designated Hitter-Relief Pitcher Jamie Allen, a freshman who seems to be one part Al Hrabosky, one part Tasmanian Devil, one part Darryl Dawkins and two parts John-Boy. Or five parts Fidrych.
Having lost an early-round game to Southern Illinois in the double-elimination tournament, Arizona State faced expulsion as it played undefeated South Carolina on Thursday night, but Horner's three hits helped the Sun Devils take a 5-2 lead into the seventh inning. South Carolina loaded the bases with none out, and Brock waved in Allen from the bullpen. In short order Allen picked a South Carolina runner off second base and struck out two batters. He struck out five Gamecocks in the three innings he worked, but it was his flakiness that captivated the crowd.
June 26, 1977
Allen repeatedly jumped up and down on the mound and finished his wild hop-skip-and-a-jump follow-through halfway to home plate. He bounced around the infield; chased a foul fly along the right-field line to the stands; stared down batters; screamed at two hitters who stepped out of the batter's box; squatted on the mound to protest the plate umpire's calls; and sprinted from the mound to the dugout at the end of each inning, grabbing his warmup jacket from a ball girl, who held it out matador-style. "I naturally get psyched up," Allen said, "but I also realize that my act psychs hitters and is something that fans love. Hey, baseball is show business."
Allen, who hails from Yakima, Wash., enrolled at Arizona State last fall after spurning an offer from the Minnesota Twins, who had made him their No. 1 draft choice in 1976. "The Twins offered me good money," Allen says, "but I was determined to go to college." This season Allen batted .358 while playing five different positions, and he had a 5-2 record, mostly as a reliever. Next season Allen may abandon pitching and play only at third base or shortstop. "There were times this year when I'd be playing third or left field, and I'd have to go warm up for a possible relief appearance," he says. "We'd rush a catcher down the foul line, and in between pitches I'd warm up with him."
Still facing elimination, Arizona State played Southern Illinois Friday night, but 19 hits later the Sun Devils had a 10-0 victory and were headed for the finals against South Carolina. Horner had three more hits against Southern Illinois, prompting losing Coach Itchy Jones to exclaim, "Horner's the best hitter I've ever seen!"
A 6'1", 190-pound right-handed slugger, Horner was no Allen as a high school player in Glendale, Ariz. "I didn't get drafted until the 15th round," he says, "and even then it was by Oakland, so I wasn't offered any money to sign." Instead, Horner took a scholarship at Arizona State, and last year he hit .339 while playing shortstop. He played second base this season, and next year Brock plans to move him either to first base or third, where his lack of range will not be detrimental.
In the championship game Arizona State started Jerry Vasquez, while South Carolina countered with Jim Lewis, a senior righthander who had struck out 14 batters in the Gamecocks' 6-2 defeat of Cal State-Los Angeles. All season long Lewis had pitched in the shadow of junior righthander Randy Martz, the college player of the year and the No. 1 pick of the Cubs in the recent major league draft. Martz finished this season 14-0, including two victories in the World Series.
Lewis, in fact, was not even drafted by the pros. But he checked both Horner and Allen without a hit, and the score was tied 1-1 as the Sun Devils batted in the bottom of the seventh. Then Lewis made his only mistake of the night: he threw an inside fastball to switch-hitting Catcher Chris Bando, and Bando, a Xerox copy of brother Sal, lashed the ball over the right-field fence for a home run. The festival was over.