by Nat Frothingham
MONTPELIER — On June 3, 1967 — 50 years ago — an underdog but talented Montpelier Solons (Division One) baseball team, surprised themselves and a lot of fans, by overcoming the Burlington High School Seahorses (the state defending playoff champions) in a 4-0 win that made Montpelier High School 1967 state playoff champions.
That 1967 championship win will be celebrated at a dinner for players, friends and fans at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier on Saturday, May 27 beginning at 6 p.m.
What was Montpelier High School like in 1967?
One student at the time remembered principal Dr. Robert Chasteney “as a man who ruled the school with an iron fist.” Gray R. Coane was Assistant Principal. And some of the many respected, well-remembered teachers were: Anthony Rocchio (English), Tom Saunders (English), Stanley K. Bond (History), Carolyn Silsby (Biology) and Johan F. Naess (Biology and Earth Science).
But for the baseball players it was coach Burt Morrison who appears to have won a special place in their hearts.
Morrison is described as the popular, athletic, soft-spoken but very competitive football, basketball and baseball coach.
In 1967 — and this was before Union 32 High School opened in September 1971 — Montpelier High School was then a large (Division One) school.
Sheldon Prentice, Class of 1968, played outfield on the 1967 playoff championship team. He remembers 192 student in his own graduating class. He estimates a total school population “that was very close to 800. That compare dramatically with today’s school number of 312.
As Prentice remembers it, there were the 10 to 12 games of the regular season and you had to have a winning record to make the playoffs.
“We made the playoffs,” Prentice said. But added, “We weren’t on the radar.”
As Prentice remembers it, “We ended up winning two or three playoff games.” Then the Solons headed for Centennial Field in Burlington for the title contest against Burlington High School.
During the regular season Burlington High School was one of the few teams that had won against the Solons and Burlington’s John Luman who pitched in the championship game against Montpelier had three playoff wins in 1966 and his overall high school games won record coming into the critical playoff game was 18 wins.
Gary McQuesten — a lawyer in Barre over the past 40 years — played second base. And he remembers some of the big lead-up moments in preparation for the June 3 game.
Speaking of coach Morrison, he said, “He worked us like the dickens the night before (the big game) — putting us through our paces. He was drilling ground balls at us just as hard as he could.”
As game time approached, the stakes were high.
According to McQuesten, Morrison invited players, parents, everybody around to his house for a steak feed after the game. “But I’ll tell you one thing,” Morrison said, “We’re going to have that steak feed whether we win or lose. But that steak is going to taste a whole lot better if we win.”
A chief memory of outfielder Prentice, who got a hit in the game, was the weather. “It was a hot day — very hot.”
Taking the mound for Burlington was the big lefty John Luman. Luman, according to one news account, was pitching the June 3 playoff game on Saturday on two days’ rest after a Wednesday 10-inning win over Rutland.
Pitching for the Solons was Bob Danahar, remembered by McQuesten “as a great, great pitcher. He had very good ball control, a good fastball, a good curve, good placement.”
Yes, it was hot, very hot. According to McQuesten, “Danahar threw almost 200 pitches in 100-degree heat. He held the Burlington Seahorses to four hits and pitched a full nine innings.
On the hitting side, both McQuesten and Prentice got hits. McQuesten got a double but did not score. “I must have been stranded on third. I remember standing on third (base).”
A highlight of the game was the two runs Montpelier scored in the fourth inning. According a news account, “With one out Denny Duckette tripled to right field, and then Dick Cody laid down a bunt in what should have been a suicide squeeze play, but Cody beat out the throw to first. A walk and a fielder’s choice moved Cody to third and then one of Luman’s throws bounced off the pad of Burlington catcher Hermie Bove, and Cody scored.
“We had some great hitters. We had a great ball club,” McQuesten said, summing up. And Bob Danaher and Dan Martin alternated as pitchers.
But on to the May 27 dinner at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
McQuesten, who is heading up the local arrangements said about 20 people have already signed up.
“We had a guy who thought he couldn’t come — his wife was sick — and now he’s coming,” McQuesten said.
But because they have died, neither Morrison nor Danaher will be there.
Morrison died of a heart attack in his early 60s while cross country skiing at Joe’s Pond, McQuesten said. “He was a great guy.”
Then he shared a memory of Morrison. “You take one look at him, the smile, you can tell the kind of guy he was. He was a great coach, a great athlete. He had a twinkle in his eye. He was a happy guy.”
Danaher’s death was more recent.
Said McQuesten,“Three or four years ago I got his phone number from a buddy of mine who sent me his number by email.”
When McQuesten reached Danaher by phone — Danaher said he’d been having some problems. “He said he was at the end of the line and nothing could be done. Two weeks later, I heard he died of cancer.”
The 1967 team — some sadly have died. But many will attend on May 27.
Dick Cody who laid down the bunt and scored in the fourth inning will be there. Cody who went on to West Point after graduating from Montpelier High School rose to the rank of General and then Vice Chief of Staff in the U.S. Army.
Also attending will be McQuesten, Prentice and J.B. McCarthy, the current baseball coach who will present the Miles Prentice award to a student, yet to be named, as the baseball team’s current “most valuable player.”
Talking about any of the current Montpelier High School baseball players who might be at the May 27 dinner, McQuesten said, “These kids are going to sit there and say, ‘Who are these old men?’”
It’s all a matter of perspective. Speaking for the 1967 team that is gathering for the dinner, he said. “The old friends are the best friends.”
Gary McQuesten has pulled together all the old clipping and photos and turned it into a short video that will be given out at the May 27 dinner. The background music for the video is Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”