HOUSTON - After more than a half-century of being tucked-away and undisturbed, two almost-forgotten historical documents are back on the Rice campus where their coded, hieroglyphic-like markings are under examination for further study.
The two University artifacts that alum John Wolda has returned are not from some dig site of antiquities, but are a pair of original baseball scorebooks from the Owls' 1955 and 1956 seasons. His historical-find may not be Raiders of the Lost Ark material, but certainly unique enough to get the attention of Rice fans and baseball history fans.
"(Rice University Sports Information Director) Bill Whitmore gave me the scorebooks a few years after my senior year in 1956," said Wolda, an energetic and outgoing 82 years of age. "I had not lost nor misplaced them. They were just at my house along with all the other scrapbooks and mementos you get over a lifetime. I asked Mr. Whitmore for the scorebooks, and he gave them to me. They are the complete seasons."
An accomplished right-handed pitcher from Houston who enrolled at Rice in 1952, Wolda has a deep respect for the game that is matched by his regard for his alma mater. It was Wolda and his former teammates Carl Reynolds and Herbie Chabysek who started the Dell Morgan Award in 1973, in honor of their former Owl coach, to be presented to the Rice baseball program's annual MVP. Wolda's love of baseball and Rice has resulted in both 60-year old scorebooks being kept in good condition. There is almost an urge to use the special white gloves when perusing the archives because the book's pages have faded and worn over the decades. The names and outcomes though are legible.
True baseball fans can in fact follow each game's outcome by deciphering the same scoring symbols that are believed to have been around for the last 150 years. Flip through the pages to April 5, 1955, where Wolda pitched 8.1 innings as Rice defeated Texas at home 3-1. A closer look at the scorebook shows he helped himself avoid some trouble in the top of the second inning as he started a 1-4-3 double play.
The scorebooks may verify a score or a stat with their play-by-play account of the games, but there is still a missing ingredient. An example is the scorebooks show Rice swept a pair of home games from Minnesota in 1956, but Wolda explains there's still more to it than that. When the personal memories of a player like Wolda are added-in, then the events on the field really seem to come to life.
"We beat Minnesota in 1956," Wolda recalled, "and they were a very good team that went on to win the College World Series. They only lost nine games all year, and we beat them twice. Their shortstop, Jerry Kindall, went on to play in the major leagues and then became the head coach at Arizona where he won three national championships. He was the first person to win the College World Series as a player and then as a coach. Their third baseman, Jack McCartan, was a really good all-around athlete. He was the goalie on the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team that won the Gold Medal in Squaw Valley. There were a lot of good athletes, and just good ballplayers, at that time."
Explaining just how good a Golden Gopher team is one example. Wolda has other personal memories that resonate even more for current Owl fans, and the program's head coach with more than 1,100 Division I wins.
"We played Texas twice late in the '56 season," Wolda said. "I was a senior and Texas had a sophomore named Wayne Graham. I pitched against Wayne with Texas in the first of the (back-to-back) games, and we were lucky to beat them. I promise you, Wayne was a very good hitter. He made it to the big leagues when there were only 20 major league teams. You had to be careful pitching against him. I walked him three times that day.
"That was the first game, then he pitched against Rice the next game," Wolda added. "We beat coach Graham. Carl Reynolds hit a home run off him. We see Carl a lot, at our baseball alumni events and season-ticket functions, and Coach Graham still remembers that home run. Wayne has a great memory."
Wolda likewise has a great memory and also he has the scorebooks, the hard proof, to back-up his accounts and the Owls' accomplishments. It may have taken some sixty years to produce the supporting evidence, but the lesson is the players from all the different decades of Rice baseball have had moments, games and seasons to remember.
"I remember a lot of the games," Wolda said, "but I mostly remember the ones I pitched. There were some highlight games in the books, like beating SMU when I was a junior in 1955. They were in first place in the conference with A&M at the time, and we beat them 2-1 in 13 innings. I was fortunate enough to pitch all 13 innings, and I did not walk a batter - and it's in that scorebook."