It is possible that baseball has been played on the campus of Centre College since the game's inception in the mid-1840's. While the 1906 Centre yearbook hints that the game had been played as an intercollegiate sport at Centre since the mid-1880's, the first written record of a baseball team at Centre College is dated to 1896. Under Coach Starling, the team amassed a record of 9-3-1, en route to a State Championship. Here it is noteworthy to point out that there was no conference or league in the old days of Centre athletics. Instead, the team competed for a championship of Kentucky against rival schools such as State College, Kentucky Wesleyan, Central University, Georgetown College, and Transylvania University. From 1896-1910, Centre won nine state titles in baseball.
There were no yearbooks or other records kept for the baseball program between 1898 and 1901, making it difficult to locate specific team or individual records. Unfortunately, this has been in trend in Centre's history. Still, what records that are available show that baseball was, for a long time, the premier sport on the grounds of Old Centre.
The teams won championships in every year from 1902 until 1904. However, a scandal regarding the "purity in athletics," based on the rumor that Centre had been allowing young men to play ball who were not actually full-time students, resulted in the team being disbanded midway during the 1905 season. Still, the program was able to bounce back and win the State Championship in back-to-back-to-back seasons from 1908-1910. The famous 1910 ball club, which beat the likes of the University of North Carolina and the University of Tennessee, featured future Supreme Court justice Fred Vinson as its captain and star hitter.
By 1911 the team was playing in its first real conference, the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Association (modern-day Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). That year Centre claimed the pennant by edging out Kentucky State by percentage points. In 1913 a new gymnasium was built, housing the teams' first batting cage in which to practice on rainy days. While there are no records from the team of 1913, the team of 1914 would win eight games and win another KIAA Championship. The team repeated as champions the following year with a victory over Georgetown by a score of 2-0. In 1916 Centre tied Georgetown and Transylvania for the championship, but World War I would halt play for the next two years. Baseball, along with every other collegiate sport in the state, was put on the shelf until the end of the war in 1919. That year the Centre nine again finished in a tie for the KIAA title, this time with the University of Kentucky.
But by 1920 football had taken over the reigns as Centre's premier sport. With the defeat of Harvard and subsequent National Championship in 1921, interest increased for football. As a result, it became more and more difficult for the Colonels to field competitive baseball clubs. Centre put together only one winning season (1923) during the entire decade.
The 1930's would be a difficult decade for Centre Baseball. In 1930 Coach Clark led his club to a 4-2 record, but the school had decided to drop baseball as an intercollegiate sport. The popularity of baseball in the state had been dwindling for years, and in the spring of 1930 Centre's administration decided to cut the program in favor of "a more extensive track program" (according to the 1930 yearbook). Luckily, the team was given a rebirth in 1939 thanks to Coach Decker, who was able to put together a modest schedule of three games. Though the team was back, it was evident that baseball would be considered a "minor sport" (according to the 1940 yearbook) behind the likes of football and basketball.
While a team was formed for the 1940 and 1941 seasons, World War II interrupted intercollegiate sports all across Kentucky. Baseball followed in line with Centre's other programs and shut down shop until the end of the war. A team would be fielded again in 1948, when they finished with a record of 6-11. The following year they would prove no better, finishing 6-12.
The 1950's would be a decade of success and rejuvenation for the Colonels ball club.. Following some poor seasons, the team finished 1953 with a 10-7 mark, finishing in a tie for the KIAC Championship under Coach Inman. The 1954 team would also prove to be a success, as they too earned a share of the KIAC title, finishing 12-5 for the year. The following year saw the club fall to 9-9 but still finish as runners-up in the conference behind the arm of Bill Vandemeer, who struck out 56 hitters in 48 innings of work for the season. Yet the team's success would be short-lived, as they would not finish better than 5-8 in the next five years.
The team improved in 1960, finishing 10-5. In 1962 Centre moved its athletic teams from the KIAC to the College Athletic Conference, which featured Washington University, Rhodes College, and the University of the South. In 1966 the team was led by the big bat of Bill Garriot, finishing second to Washington for the conference championship. The next year the Colonels finished 6-12 but still managed to finish as runners-up to the University of the South for the title. The Colonels would get a third straight conference runner-up in 1968, falling to Washington 15-7 in the championship game.
The 1970's would be the decade of greatest success for the Colonels baseball team. After finishing as runners-up in 1971, the team picked up its first CAC Championship flag in 1973. They followed suit in 1976, then won back-to-back titles in 1977 and 1978 under former slugger Bill Garriot, now one of the college's professors. By the end of the 1970's, the Centre Colonels had proven to be a force to be reckoned with on the baseball diamond.
The Colonels picked up where they left off in the 1980's. With defeats over Principia, University of the South, and Southwestern, the Colonels were CAC Champions for the sixth time. Coach Greg Wallace, who had led the club to the title in 1980, earned yet another championship in 1987 with a 19-19 mark. In 1989, the Colonels' baseball leadership was handed over to Ed Rall, a former star hitter for the Colonels in the 1960's.
In 1991, the CAC officially changed its name to the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC). The 1990's would be a decade of ups and downs in the new conference for the Colonels. In 1997 Coach Rall led his club to 20 wins for the first time in school history. Still, it wasn't enough to take home a SCAC championship.
In 2001, the Colonels posted a 22-15 record, the best in the program's history. Yet, the SCAC was too tough that year, and the Colonels could not pull out a title run. After the 2003 season the team's leadership was handed over to Coach Mike Pritchard. In his first season Coach Pritchard took a 4-29 club and turned them around, leading them to a 16-20 mark.
Like the college itself, Centre's baseball team has had a long, rich, and intriguing history. It has remained a favored sport among student spectators at Centre and continues to grow and improve in its program. The 2006 season was the first to feature a game under the lights, with Centre defeating its arch rivals from Transylvania 15-14 in extra innings. In 2007 the field, which has been home to the Colonels diamond contests since the late 1800's, will undergo a renovation that will include new dugouts and a new, brick backstop. A new scoreboard and new press box are also on the agenda for the coming years. When completed, the complex will be renamed Gary Wright Field, in honor of the former Colonels ballplayer who has so generously donated funds to make the renovation possible. One thing is for certain, as the team and facilities continue to improve, the future looks very bright for Centre College Baseball.
Written by Joe Mitchell Class of 2006 in May 2006