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A (Somewhat) Brief History of Bedlam Baseball

With yet another Bedlam series approaching, here’s an in-depth look at how the series came to be and where it’s heading in the near future.

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This rivalry has been dividing households for more than 75 years.

The 2015 Bedlam baseball series starts tonight in Tulsa and there’s a lot on the line as OSU and OU are both at the top of the Big 12 standings.

Here’s a look back at this series’ history.

Bedlam By Birth

Roughly 85 miles separate these two schools, but Stillwater and Norman are two entirely different cities.

OU’s campus is a few minutes away from the heart of Oklahoma City, and Sooner students have endless options for food, shopping and entertainment; Stillwater is a college town dropped on the edge of the Great Plains, and students are still waiting for a mythical Target that’s been promised for what seems well over a decade.1

It’s not uncommon to be a part of this rivalry from birth.2

Most Oklahomans have someone in their family tree who attended one of the two universities, and almost all Oklahomans have a supporting preference.

Despite the natural hatred of the rivalry, it’s not uncommon for OU and OSU fans to get married and start families, resulting in “a house divided.”

As a child, the rivalry is one of the quickest ways to make new friends or find new enemies. For the students at each university, it’s the chance to take bragging rights home for the holidays with their old high school buddies.

Even the adults bring their team spirit into the workplace. They decorate their offices with orange and black flags, or crimson and cream pennants, or even a Pistol Pete bobblehead, just as a subtle reminder to coworkers that their school is better than that other school.

In a state where football is king, OSU has played the role of Little Brother for close to a century. Most Cowboy fans can tell you who led the football team into Norman and pulled off a monumental upset in 2001 (Josh Fields and Rashaun Woods), or where they were when Tyreek sprinted 92 yards down the sideline just a few short months ago.

But for Sooner fans, they are more likely to remember epic battles with their real rival, the Texas Longhorns, than any of the 84 wins against OSU on the gridiron.

The rivalry is much closer on the baseball side, even if it doesn’t garner headlines.

And the series has provided plenty of memorable moments as well, ranging from Robert Allen’s magnificent call on the Bedlam Brawl in the late 1980’s to last season’s 18-inning epic.

Even in a seemingly unimportant nonconference game, both teams refused to give up, refused to cave to defeat against the arch nemesis. This rivalry matters to everyone: players, coaches, recruits and fans alike, and it’s not always for the competition on the field.

It’s America’s leader in National Merit Scholar students vs. the nation’s largest land-grant university. It’s meteorology and journalism vs. agriculture and engineering. It’s Frank Eaton vs. The Sooner Schooner. It’s orange and black vs. crimson and cream. It’s right vs. wrong.

It’s Bedlam.

Good, Old-Fashioned Rivalry
Jared Womack (OSU) tags out Eric Ross (OU) in a 2011 Bedlam baseball game. Photo courtesy of The Oklahoman.

Jared Womack (OSU) tags out Eric Ross (OU) in a 2011 Bedlam baseball game. Photo courtesy of The Oklahoman.

“Look around. There are no enemies here. There’s just good, old-fashioned rivalry.” – Bob Wells, former Minnesota Twins pitcher

Oklahoma State played its first baseball game in 1909, but few records exist until 1934, when the Cowboys played under the legendary Hank Iba, who also served as the head basketball coach.

The Sooners played their first season way back in 1898, but it wouldn’t be until 1906 that Bennie Owen became the first official coach3. The two teams first played in 1935, a 9-6 OU win. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1937 before OSU won a game in this series.

Throughout the years, the schools have featured players from all over the country, and this season is no different.

The recruiting strategies for both coaches are evident when looking at what states these players come from. The Cowboys boast 17 players from Oklahoma, including four homegrown products from Stillwater; OU has only seven players from the Sooner State, bringing in most of their top talent from Texas (17 players) and California (5).

With more local players, it makes you wonder whether Bedlam is more important to the Cowboys, whose lineup features plenty of players immersed in the history of the rivalry.

Players like Donnie Walton and Corey Hassel have been engrossed in this rivalry since childhood, whereas the Texas and California players learn about Bedlam in their freshman orientation classes.

It’s not uncommon for high school teammates to find themselves on opposite sides of the field when Bedlam rolls around, and this year’s edition features some compelling storylines.

The first pair of high school teammates is OU’s Jacob Evans and OSU’s Trey Cobb. Both were a vital part of Broken Arrow High School’s state championship in 2011, won over an Owasso HS team4 featuring Andrew Rosa (OSU), Austin O’Brien (OU) and Mason O’Brien (OSU).

The Tigers were actually named the best high school team in the country that year, and both Evans and Cobb were highly recruited. Evans chose the Sooners, where the two-way star was named the starting closer and racked up nine saves his freshman year.

Cobb committed to the Cowboys instead, and this season has become OSU’s go-to reliever – his 24 appearances are six more than any other pitcher on the team this year.

Rosa and Austin O’Brien were seniors on the 2013 Owasso team that went 36-0 on their way to their own state championship. The O’Briens are actually brothers, and exemplify the “house divided.”

After winning the state title together, older brother Austin went off to Norman; younger brother Mason – who missed his senior year of high school with knee problems – packed his bags for Stillwater.

A program’s tradition is one of the hundreds of factors that go in to deciding where to play college ball. While it may not be the deciding factor, both of these programs have enough tradition and prestige to impress McKayla Maroney, let alone any recruit who walks through the door.

State of Baseball
The logo used for the all-sports contest between Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma. Each year teams compete for the Bedlam Bell trophy. Photo courtesy of kfor.com.

The logo used for the all-sports contest between Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma. Each year teams compete for the Bedlam Bell trophy. Photo courtesy of kfor.com.

Although Oklahoma is nowhere near the largest or most populous state in the U.S., some tremendous ball players have come from the Sooner State, and many of them featured for either the Cowboys or Sooners.

The two programs have combined for 36 first-round MLB draft picks, with OSU holding a slight 19-17 edge.

OSU claims among its alumni arguably the two best college baseball players in the history of the game. Between Robin Ventura and Pete Incaviglia, the pair own six NCAA records, nine OSU single-season records and eight OSU career records – all of which have stood for almost two decades.

In 1985, “Inky” had the greatest season of any player in college baseball history, hitting 48 home runs and driving in 143 runs 5 – both records that stand today. Ventura would follow that up by hitting in 58 consecutive games in the 1987 season – a record that was almost broken, but still remains.

Other notable Cowboy alums include: Jeromy Burnitz, a star on Gary Ward’s late 1980s teams, who hit 44 homers in three seasons in Stillwater and finished with almost 1,000 RBIs in 14 MLB seasons.

Tom Borland, who went 19-2 with a 2.63 ERA in three seasons at OSU, including trips to Omaha in 1954 and 1955; and Dennis Livingston, the Cowboy record holder in career wins (33) and strikeouts (344).

The Sooners are no slouches either when it comes to producing successful professional baseball players. L. Dale Mitchell, for whom the Sooner ballpark is named, missed two seasons while serving in World War II.

Upon his return, he hit .507 the next season (still a Sooner record) before the Cleveland Indians drafted him. He’d go on to hit .312 in 11 pro seasons, and still owns the OU record for career batting average (.467).

Other notable OU alum include: Bobby Witt, a first-round pick who gathered 142 wins and almost 2,000 strikeouts at the professional level, along with a 2001 World Series title with the Diamondbacks; Mark Redman, another first-round pick and World Series winner (the 2003 Marlins) who was named an AL All-Star in 2006; and Russ Ortiz, who won the College World Series (1994) and went on to become an NL All-Star after winning a league-leading 21 games in 2003.

All of these outstanding players would accomplish little without remarkable coaching, something neither program is a stranger to.

Enos Semore led the Sooners through the ‘70s and ‘80s, during which OU would win six conference titles and make five consecutive trips to Omaha, from 1972-76.

He accumulated 851 wins during his time in charge of the Sooners, making him the most victorious coach in the program’s history.

Larry Cochell managed the Sooners from 1991-2005, during which he would compile 511 wins on his way to the 1994 national title and the 1997 Big 12 Tournament title.

His teams made three CWS appearances, though Cochell was forced to resign in 2005 after racial comments he made.

There might not be another coach in college baseball to achieve what Gary Ward accomplished in his 19 years in charge of the Cowboys.

The College Baseball Hall of Fame member amassed 953 wins during that span, while winning a stunning 16 straight Big Eight titles and appearing in Omaha 10 times.

OSU made the CWS each year from 1981 to 1987 – seven straight seasons that hasn’t been matched since.

Combine talented players with exceptional coaches and championships are sure to follow, as both programs can attest. The Cowboys hold a slight advantage over the Sooners in conference championships (31 to 26), though both schools have only won two of those as a member of the Big 12.

The Sooners have won four of their 12 Regional victories since the turn of the century, while the Cowboys have won just two Regionals in that time (out of 13 all-time).

OU has the edge in national titles, having won in 1951 and 1994, but hasn’t been to Omaha since 2010. The drought has been even longer for OSU: the Cowboys won their only Super Regional in 1999, and fell one game short of Omaha last season after hosting a Super Regional in Stillwater for the first time in program history.

It’s been a while since either of these teams reached the pinnacle of college baseball, but a couple of young coaches are looking to rewrite that history.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt
The Cowboys and Sooners face off at ONEOK Field in 2012. At least one conference Bedlam game has been played in Tulsa since 1991. Photo courtesy of MiLB.com.

The Cowboys and Sooners face off at ONEOK Field in 2012. At least one conference Bedlam game has been played in Tulsa since 1991. Photo courtesy of MiLB.com.

Pete Hughes got his start in 1997 at small Trinity College in San Antonio. He won a Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title in his second season, and used that as a springboard to become the head coach at Boston College.

He spent eight years there, assisting with the transition from the Big East to the ACC, before leaving for Virginia Tech.

In seven years in Blacksburg, he brought the program back to the national spotlight, including two 40-win seasons and a home Regional in 2013. In 17 seasons as a head coach before coming to Norman, Hughes had faced OSU twice, both losses in the 2001 regular season while he was with Boston College.

In his first season at OU, Hughes went 28-27, including 8-16 in conference play. The Sooners went 1-2 in the Big 12 Tournament and missed out on postseason play for the first time since 2007.

More importantly, Hughes was 2-5 against the Cowboys last season, his first taste of Bedlam not as sweet as most Sooner fans hoped.

His counterpart, OSU coach Josh Holliday, is no stranger to Bedlam. Holliday has been around the Cowboy program most of his life: his father, Tom, and his uncle, Dave, both served as coaches for OSU.

Tom won 281 games in seven years in charge, including four Regional appearances and a trip to Omaha in 1999. Ironically, he accepted an assistant coaching job working with former OU head coach and current Auburn head coach Sunny Golloway6.

Holliday took over at the end of the 2012 season after the program became stagnant under Frank Anderson. Immediately, he rejuvenated the program with his dedication to small ball and hard work, which is reflected in every player who suits up for OSU.

Holliday’s team has earned the nickname Cardiac Cowboys for its penchant to give up early leads but come back and win.

That “never-say-die” attitude resulted in 46 comeback wins over Holliday’s first two seasons, and often makes the 9th inning just as exciting as the 1st.

The teams have played each other close to 300 times, but where the series stands depends on whom you ask. OSU’s media guide gives the Cowboys a 160-149 edge in the series, while OU’s media guide lists a 142-132 advantage to OSU.

Recent times have seen the edge go to the Pokes: OU hasn’t won the season series since 2009, and OSU has won the series each of the past three years after tying in 2010 and 2011.

Last season featured seven Bedlam matchups: one non-conference game on each campus, one conference game in Oklahoma City, two conference games in Tulsa, and two games in the Big 12 Championship in OKC.

It’s the most meetings between them in one year since 1986-88, when they faced off seven times each season.

Bedlam has been played in OKC since 1986. Tulsa was added to the list in 1991 when the schools took advantage of the higher capacities of All Sports Stadium and Driller Stadium to bring in more gate receipts.

The money was crucial in a time before huge television contracts and digital media, where there wasn’t much money trickling down from football and men’s basketball. Tulsa and OKC are also two of the largest alumni bases each school has, so alumni and fans were treated to a local Bedlam game without having to travel to campus.

However, the schools recently decided that less is more. Starting with the 2015 season, there will only be one on-campus game, with the schools alternating each year.

This year the teams met in Stillwater, a dominant 24-2 win for the Cowboys. Both coaches hope fewer meetings will keep the rivalry fresh and prevent burnout for the players.

“It’s just a lot of competition against anyone, let alone in your own state, where you have a rivalry built the quality of ours,” Holliday told NewsOK.com after last year’s 18-inning game in Stillwater. “What ends up happening is you get a little bit over-familiar with one another.”

When these two meet on the diamond this weekend, there’s more at stake than just a stronghold on this season’s Big 12 title.

They are battling for incoming recruits just as much as they are competing to gain future fans. They are vying for national prominence just as much as they are fighting for bragging rights, for the chance to say “we beat you” for 300+ days until next season starts anew.

And they are striving for those “I remember when” moments that players, coaches and fans alike will cherish for decades to come.


1. Thank goodness for the three Sonics and 12 Subways, though!

2. Disclaimer: Both of my parents graduated from Oklahoma State, so I’ve been an OSU fan for life. I’ve always thought crimson and cream was hideous, and I never even considered OU when deciding where to attend college.

3. Owen also served as the head football coach, head basketball coach and athletic director. The football field is named in his honor.

4. Owasso beat Edmond Santa Fe in the semifinals that year, which was Cowboy outfielder Conor Costello’s senior year for ESF.

5. The MLB leaders that year? Darrell Evans with 40 homers, and Don Mattingly with 145 RBIs.

6. That experiment is going surprisingly well: Auburn is 30-16 this season and is starting to earn some votes as a top-25 team.

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