Mulvihill: Kid BP Pitcher for the ’51 Buffs

COACH WATTY WATKINS  AND MIKE MULVIHIL, AGE 13 1951 - THE KID WHO PITCHED BP FOR THE HOUSTON BUFFS ~

COACH WATTY WATKINS
AND MIKE MULVIHIL, AGE 13
1951
– THE KID WHO PITCHED BP FOR THE HOUSTON BUFFS ~

We are never too old to learn something new. Mike Mulvihill, my old friend and former classmate from St. Thomas High School (Class of 1956), is one of the most modest, down-to-earth people I’ve ever known. He never talks about his athletic accomplishments unless he is asked – and even then – it’s like pulling teeth. Mike always is guarded against the fear that someone may hear him and think that he is bragging.

Mike Mulvihill doesn’t have to brag. He was good. Dadgum good.

As one of the kids playing in our parochial school league, he was a terrific force as a pitcher in baseball and a running back in football. At St. Thomas, he teamed up with our also great Richard Quesada to lead the Eagles to three state TCIL titles in varsity baseball (1953, 1955, & 1956), also playing as a force for the St. Thomas American Legion team as it made its way to a state title in baseball during the summer of 1953. St. Thomas also won a state TCIL title during Mike’s 1952 freshman season and Mulvihill’s play in both baseball and football during high school were great enough to earn him a dual sport scholarship to Oklahoma State University starting in the fall of 1956.

As a pitcher for Oklahoma State, Mike played for the Cowboys team that took the 1959 NCAA Division One Baseball Championship at Omaha in 1959. This accomplishment established Mike Mulvihill in rarified company as the only student athlete from Houston St. Thomas who ever played for both a three-time state champion in baseball and a Division One National Champion in collegiate baseball, as well. We are hard-pressed to think of any other Houston high school to have performed that feat in baseball. Even in one exists, the accomplishment itself is spiritually singular.

Unfortunately for Mike Mulvihill, he stubbed his toe on the much later Bo Jackson cliche while playing football at OSU: “Because of an injury suffered in football, Mike’s future in either sport was taken from him.”

Post his life-changing injury, Mike Mulvihill proved that he was not the kind of guy to be derailed from a full life by adversity. He finished his degree at OSU, married Katie, a girl from Kansas and the love of his life, and then spent a professional career working in the oil field industry and raising a family. Mike is retired now – and living as a widower in a small town in north central Texas. Sadly, he lost Katie about three years ago. Although no one can replace her, Mike stays busy and in contact with his grown children, his grandchildren, and numerous good friends.

Now – here’s the proof of Mike’s modesty. A couple of days ago, Mike and I were discussing old times when, for the first time ever, he let it slip that he had once pitched batting practice against the Houston Buffs as a 13-year old youth baseball player.

“WHAT????” …. raced the thought through my head. …. “WHAT???” ….. I finally asked. – “How come you never told me about this until now?”

I got the almost expected Mulvihill answer: “I didn’t want to say anything that might sound like I was blowing my own horn or make you think I was bragging.”

As Mike relaxed and took the time to share this story with me, it proved to be one of the most awesome stories of kid achievement, old ties, serendipity, and a father’s love for his son that I’ve heard – and, believe me, I’ve heard some pretty amazing stories in my time.

The Houston Buff Story

Mike Mulvihill, Age 13 Pitcher Town House Buffs

Mike Mulvihill, Age 13
Pitcher
Town House Buffs

It was the summer of 1951. Al Hollingsworth, a native of St. Louis, was managing the Houston Buffs on their way to the Texas League Championship. Jack Mulvihill, the father of Mike Mulvihill, and also a much earlier “Kid from St. Louis”, was long-time settled and working in Houston. He was as proud as a only a father can sometimes be of his 13-year old son, Mike Mulvihill. Mike pitched for the Town House Buffs, a youth team managed by Father James Wilson, the longtime architect of the very powerful St. Thomas High School baseball program. Wilson also benefited from the presence of former Houston Buff and St. Louis Cardinal player Watty Watkins, a great baseball mentor who voluntarily helped coach and teach the young players of the Town House Buffs club. Mike Mulvihill was coming along at an astonishing rate of development as a pitcher and was also getting quite a bit of attention in Houston’s newspapers for his achievements in youth baseball.

One day, Manager Hollingsworth of the Buffs read one of these stories about the youth Buffs and noticed the name “Mulvihill”. He wondered if the kid might be related to another Mulvihill he had known back in St. Louis. He called Father Wilson at St. Thomas and learned that, yes, it was true. Mike Mulvihill was the son of his childhood friend Jack Mulvihill back in Missouri.

Hollingsworth called Jack Mulvihill, but let’s allow Mike Mulvihill to take it from here:

 

Mike Mulvill, Age 21 Oklahoma State Cowboys 1958

Mike Mulvihill, Age 20
Oklahoma State Cowboys
1958

“Boots Hollingsworth grew up in St. Louis, as did my father and uncle, and they knew each other as kids. All attended Beaumont High School, I believe, which was a producer of lots of famous ballplayers like Earl Weaver, Pete Reiser and Dick Williams. They also spent lots of time on the sandlots of a neighborhood area in St. Louis  known as ‘The Hill”. This was a largely Italian-Catholic area. This is where Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola were neighbors.

 “Jack Mulvihill, my dad, hurt his knee badly in high school and that injury cut short his sports play. My Uncle Lee Mulvihill was a really good high school player. Lee gave up any hope of going to college due to finances and WWII. He joined the Navy and served in the Submarine fleet. He retired as a Lt Commander. 

“Dad was so thrilled to hear from Mr. Hollingsworth, maybe even more so than me. Dad’s excitement was my dismay. Mr. Hollingsworth had invited me to come out to Buff Stadium in my Town House Buffs uniform and pitch batting practice for the Houston Buffs.”

(It’s me again. Put yourself in Mike’s shoes. How would you have felt as a 13-year old pitcher who had just been invited to come pitch batting practice for your home town heroes at a time when they were tearing up the AA Texas League?)

“Dad really enjoyed our first BP trip to Buff Stadium. He got to visit with an old friend and, as Dad was prone to do, get in a little too much bragging to suit me. I always hated it when he did that whenever I heard it, and it was hard not to hear it when he was talking while I was pitching.”

Mike Mulvihill, age 21 Pitcher Oklahoma State Cowboys

Mike Mulvihill, age 21
Pitcher, 1959
Oklahoma State Cowboys National Champions

 “I was in awe just being on the field that day in Buff Stadium. It was huge in comparison to the kinds of fields where I normally played. I remember throwing behind a screen for the first time. As  memory serves, I only threw to 4 or 5 hitters. In the back of my mind, I believe I pitched to Jerry Witte, Rip Replulski, Billy Costa and Dick Landis. I recall Landis for a special reason. Many years later, when we lived on West Galveston Island, a man came up to me and said, ‘I know you’. He explained that he used to play for the Houston Buffs and remembers this kid (me, of course) who pitched to him in batting practice. As it turned out, I remembered him also. It was Dick Landis, who was a catcher for several seasons.  

“Later I again pitched against Jerry Witte, Gerry Burmeister, Frank Mancuso and some other ex-Buffs while playing on a summer league team that Father Wilson coached. It was the St. Thomas American Legion team he entered in the summer league to play against older players. Our club was sponsored by Stuart’s Drive Inn. The competition against real professionals also gave us a real edge against players of our own age. I recall that one of the ex-Buff  pitchers was the knuckle baller, Al Papai. That was the one and only time most of us would ever have to bat against that particular pitch. Thank goodness.

“I did pitch a second short round of BP for the Buffs, but don’t remember much about the second trip. I do remember that both times I pitched the Buff hitters were not out there to show me mercy. They were swinging for the fences. As best I remember, none of them ever made it.

“My time in baseball and football are both filled with many fond memories. I still am most thankful for all the life lessons that came to me from playing team sports, and, of course, all the life long friends I’ve met as a result of this part of my life. When all  is said and done, I am simply most grateful to all the many people who helped me along the way.” – Mike Mulvihill.

The Pecan Park Eagle thanks you today for a most wonderful story, Mike Mulvihill, and I must say this to you also as an ancient friend and classmate: I know of no one from our graduating St. Thomas Class of 1956 who is more deserving of honor and respect, both for your accomplishments in sports and your genuine goodness as a most decent and giving human being. And guess what too? I am just one member of your St. Thomas legion of respectful friends and fans. You truly are – the embodiment of everything that St. Thomas High School is all about.

 

 

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8 Responses to “Mulvihill: Kid BP Pitcher for the ’51 Buffs”

  1. Pat Callahan Says:

    Bill:
    . . .you’re going to be (very) “hard pressed” to best this article/story for the remainder of 2015. GREAT – As you note, it’s a privilege to be in the Class with both of you guys

    Best regards,
    PAC

  2. stanfromtacoma Says:

    Neat story. Baseball especially at the minor league level is fertile ground for stories like that. I can’t imagine such a story taking place on a football field.

  3. 3550Park Says:

    I am amazed that Mike Mulvihill has not (yet) been invited to join the St. Thomas Hall of Honor. Is St. Thomas waiting to learn about Mike’s further personal and athletic accomplishments at age eight?
    Rob

  4. gregclucas Says:

    Bill, You ARE setting aside and keeping the many articles such as this one for another book I hope. You have written and collected a lot of great historical and/or anecdotal stories that deserve a book of their own someday.

  5. Fred Soland Says:

    My Dad, Walter (Buddy), was at STHS at the time of Mike Mulvihill and Richard Quesda. I think he was a year or two behind them. I grew up with Richard Quesda’s son Karl and we played little league and some teenage ball together, and we played one year at STHS, before Karl transferred out. Dad said STHS was a powerhouse because of those two and Bobby Cleboski. He said those three were the rare ones who suited up for the Varsity as freshmen and then went directly to the varsity as sophomores.

  6. Jack Reidy Says:

    Mike Mulvihill, STH ’56, is being inducted into the St. Thomas High School Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 30, 2015.

    http://shop.sths.org/sports-hall-of-fame-c141.html
    Or RSVP by May 20 to Alumni@sths.org or 713-864-6348 ext. 150

    Jack Reidy, STH ’79 – friend & classmate of Mike’s son Pat Mulvihill

  7. Mary Jo George Galle Says:

    Hi Mike,
    Was surfing the internet and came across your name by serendipity. Read about your athletic career. Very impressive! It brought back fond memories of my years at St. Anne’s. I have often wondered how the lives of my classmates have played out. We are fortunate to have lived into our late seventies. Congratulations on being inducted into the Sr. Thomas Hall of Fame. Hope life is good and you’re enjoying retirement.
    Regards,
    Mary Jo

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