June 2022 Newsletter

Tournament selections raise questions about effectiveness of RPI for college baseball

Column by George Watson

Artifact of the Month

The John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Trophy is presented annually to a player who stands out on the pitching mound and in the field. The Olerud Award first was presented in 2010 and is named after the Washington State star, who excelled both on the mound (26-4 with a career 3.17 ERA) and at first base (.434 career batting average with 37 doubles and 33 home runs). Olerud was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. The trophy was created by sculptor Garland Weeks.

Where Are They Now

Photo courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics.

In 2021, Small won the Robin Yount award as the Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Throughout the 2021 season, Small pitched at three different levels for the Brewers organization, finishing the season with a 1.98 ERA and 92 strikeouts. In 2022, Small already has been named Pitcher of the Month for the International League. In April, he went 2-0 in five starts with a 0.77 ERA. Opponents hit just .114 off him and he struck out 31 batters. He finished the month atop the International League in ERA, batting average against and tied for first in winning percentage.

Inductee Spotlight

Henry “Hank” Rountree (back row, second from left) worked eight College World Series, including at least one in four separate decades. He umpired for 38 years and built long-lasting relationships with many coaches and fellow umpires. The crew pictured here, from the 1983 CWS, also features fellow National Collegiate Umpire Award winners Dale Williams (back row, third from left) and Dick Runchey (back row, far right), the inaugural award winner. Photo courtesy of Dick Runchey.

Rountree worked as an umpire for 38 years and is the only Division I umpire to work a College World Series in four separate decades — the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. He worked a total of eight College World Series, 25 Division I regionals and one Junior College World Series.

Tony Thompson, coordinator of umpires for several conferences including the ACC, SEC, Sun Belt and Ohio Valley, said Rountree began umpiring in the latter half of the 1950s and worked his first College World Series in the 1960s.

Thompson said he already knew of Rountree, but he met Rountree for the first time in 1978 when the two were signing up to umpire high school baseball in Atlanta.

“After that, we kind of went our separate ways and sort of knew of each other by reputation,” he said, “and then we really became friends in 1987.”

Up until 1987 there were three collegiate umpiring groups in the state of Georgia, but that year the presidents of the groups decided to merge. Thompson and Rountree were two of those presidents, and the merger began their friendship.

Thompson said the two worked on the same crew for the first time at an NCAA Super Regional in Gainesville, Fla., in 1989. By then, Rountree was the most respected umpire in the Southeast.

“He had numerous College World Series, regional and conference tournaments,” Thompson said. “I think any of the coaches in the Southeast would tell you that if it was a big game, they wanted to see Hank Rountree walk out on to the field.”

One thing Thompson said was unique about Rountree’s style of umpiring was his quickness in delivering calls.

In umpire schools nowadays, they teach people to wait about half a second before making the call, Thompson said, even if the decision is clear and simple. The half-second buffer allows the umpire to rerun the play in his mind to guarantee he made the right call.

“Anyone that worked with Hank would tell you he had absolutely no timing. Half the time he would call it before the ball got there or the runner even got there,” Thompson said. “The unique thing about it was, though, I never saw him miss anything.”

Rountree had several other things about his personality that were unique, Runchey and Thompson said, including his recreational vehicle he drove to every away game he umpired, and a glass eye he carried in his pocket on the field to play pranks on trainers and coaches.

“He just had a tremendous sense of humor,” Runchey said. “He could cut through tension moments just by things he would say or do. It would cut through a lot of tension on the field that comes from competition.”

In 1990, about one week into the college baseball season, Rountree was rushed to the hospital and had to have open-heart surgery, Thompson said.

Rountree recovered from that surgery and went on to his final College World Series, but he continued to have heart problems throughout the rest of his life.

One morning in 2006, after he had retired, Rountree was getting up to go shower when he suffered a massive heart attack and died immediately, Thompson said.

Rountree’s wife, Jane, was in hospice care when she learned of her husband’s induction into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, so she asked Thompson if he would be the one to accept the award on the Rountree family’s behalf.

Thompson said he was honored to be asked to accept the award, especially for a man who had been such a good friend and helped him so much throughout his career.

“It’s my pleasure,” he said. “Especially to go do it for a person that meant so much to younger umpires, to the umpiring community and to the NCAA.”

Several veteran umpires have contacted Thompson, he said, and will be in attendance when Rountree receives the award at the Hall of Fame’s Night of Champions.

“I know (Rountree) is up there in heaven with Jane looking down,” Thompson said, “and he’ll be very proud and happy that all those guys are there.”

* Beginning in 2021, the CBF included an umpire each year as part of the annual National College Baseball Hall of Fame class. Also, each umpire who already has been honored became a part of that year’s induction class instead of being recognized by a separate award.