Tabor’s marks stand test of time

By Clay Henry






These are the glory days of Arkansas baseball. Dave Van Horn has added to the legacy of Norm DeBriyn, his coach, with seven trips to the College World Series since 2004. Scott Tabor knows all about his 1982 teammate with the Razorbacks. The 62-year-old insurance man from Mountain Home was a senior rewriting the pitching record books and Van Horn was a junior- college transfer playing second base. “Dave was the same way as a player in the way he coaches,” Tabor said. “He doesn’t change expression and he’s very detailed. Solid. “He never got real high or real low. I see the same things in the dugout when I watch his expressions on TV. “By that I mean when a player maybe doesn’t get it done, he lets them go by him and doesn’t say much. He knows it’s a grind and he’s not going to get on a player all the time. Sometimes I want him to show more (emotion), but he knows baseball is about being ready when you get the right bounce and fighting through it when you don’t. “Baseball is baseball and you are not going to get all the right bounces. Sometimes a .150 hitter closes his eyes and gets a hit and you don’t win. It’s that kind of a game and he knows it.” Tabor was on the first Arkansas team to play in the College World Series. He was a freshman in 1979 when the Hogs lost two straight to Cal State Fullerton in the championship matchup. The Little Rock McClellan product set the still-standing freshman record with 10 victories that year. It started an incredible run for Tabor. He holds the UA record for wins (34) and complete games (28). “I’m not sure either record can be broken,” Tabor said. “No one gets to stay in for a complete game anymore in college baseball. You have deep pitching staffs and great pitchers to set up a closer. “I don’t think the good pitchers will stay in school for four years to get a shot at the (wins) record.” Tabor pitched all four years. He made 46 career starts, which ranks fourth on the career list at Arkansas. “I came as a walk-on, but I really didn’t worry about making the team,” he said. “I had only tried out for one team my whole life, when I went to legion ball at 16. I just figured I’d make it. “Sometimes it’s good to not know much. I didn’t know anything about what I was getting into playing at a place like Arkansas, but I didn’t see anyone that I was worried about beating out when I got there. “I threw 83 (mph) when I got there. I was 165 pounds, but with some mechanical help from (pitching coach) Tom Hilton, I was up to 87 by the middle of fall, and I was learning some new pitches.” Senior pitcher Bill Bakewell taught Tabor a “swing and miss” knuckle curve that danced straight down like a Kevin Kopps splitter. “I had thrown a three-finger knuckle ball in legion ball, but no one could catch it,” Tabor said. “I felt sorry for the catchers. College coaches don’t like the knuckle ball. But Bakewell taught me to take one finger off and how to throw it.” It worked in scrimmages and Tabor used it as a freshman starter behind Steve Krueger and Bakewell. He started the second game of the season, a 13-2 victory over William Jewell. “Mostly, I started, but I pitched in middle relief some,” he said. “You look at those 10 wins, it was mostly because I was the pitcher of record with a great team. We scored runs and had great defense.” All-America catcher Ronn Reynolds was quick to see the Tabor knuckle curve as a real weapon. It might be in the dirt, but Reynolds told him to keep throwing it. “I walked a lot, but I knew a strikeout was coming and we also might get a double play on any pitch,” Tabor said. “Larry Wallace was a great shortstop and you know Johnny Ray was the best second baseman. “They turned incredible double plays. I’d walk the first two and get out of it. “Reynolds would call it with a runner on third in a tie game in the ninth inning. He’d block it, look the runner back to third and we’d get a strikeout. We did it a lot, too. He kept calling it.” There was one game at Texas Tech when Reynolds was not calling the expected pitches. “I wanted to throw it, but he wasn’t calling it,” Tabor said. “So I’d shake him off. I did that for an inning or two. It was a big game in the league standings. We needed to win it for seeding in the tournament. “I didn’t know it, but early in the game Norm told Reynolds to look at him and he’d call the game. Norm never called pitches. It would be Hilton if it wasn’t Reynolds, and what Norm was calling didn’t make sense to me. Why would Reynolds not call my pitch? “Then in the seventh inning I shook off Reynolds and Norm comes sprinting out of the dugout. I was a freshman and I was shaking him off but I didn’t know it. He screamed at me and I said, ‘Yes, sir, I’ll throw what you call, sir.’ “It was kind of funny. I told Reynolds to let me know if Norm was ever calling the pitches again.” There are great memories of the 1979 season, although Tabor said he often wasn’t aware of what magnitude the games were worth. “I was 18,” he said. “I was like a lab puppy. Throw the ball and I’d go get it. “I didn’t know what we were doing. I didn’t know what the other teams might have because you didn’t see them on TV and didn’t read about them. We just played.” Tabor said it was incredible when they rolled into Omaha. The Razorbacks’ four opponents — Pepperdine, Arizona, Texas and Cal State Fullerton — had fancy travel bags with their names on them. They had more gear than the Hogs. “I’m not saying we were rag tag because we had the right gloves, bats and equipment, but we didn’t look like the other team as far as all of the gear,” he said. “We had a mesh sack that the football players used to pick up their shorts and socks before practice.” The big win in Omaha was a 9-4 thumping of Texas to set up two championship games. The Longhorns had beaten the Hogs four times in the regular season. “That was a great Texas team with Jerry Don Gleaton as the ace,” Tabor said. “We did beat them the first game of the first SWC series in Fayetteville, and we got them again when it counted.” Beating Texas was fun, but there were great moments all over Texas when the Hogs thumped Texas Tech and Texas A&M two out of three. “They were good and we lost the first game of both of those on the road, then swept the doubleheader the next day,” he said. “We’d usually have Kruger for the seven-inning game on Saturday and I might get the third game because I could go nine innings or come in early and finish.” One of the great pleasures was destroying the Aggies, 9-1, in Game 3 at College Station. “I was throwing that knuckle curve and they couldn’t hit it,” Tabor said. “I’d throw it over and over. It wasn’t a secret. It was a strike three pitch that day.” In a strange scenario, the Aggies’ players found out the Hogs did not travel until Sunday and invited them for burgers. “They had a keg, too,” Tabor said. “I doubt this happens now. I was standing with Reynolds and some of their hitters came to visit. They said, ‘We know when you are going to throw it. You tip your pitches. You drop one finger when it comes out of the glove and throw that knuckle curve.’” Tabor and Reynolds tried to keep from laughing. If they knew it was coming and still couldn’t hit it, why did they bring it up? “They Aggie’d up,” Tabor said. “Very typical. So I’m on the mound in Game 2 of the SWC Tournament against the Aggies a few weeks later and I began to toy with them. “I dropped that finger when I took it out of the glove and showed it to them. Then I threw a fastball. I threw it by them over and over. “Now why would you tell someone you figured out they were telegraphing a pitch when you still might play them again? I will never stop laughing about that. Thanks, Aggies.” It was on a different trip to Texas when Van Horn chose to play for the Hogs. “We were going through Waco and Dave was at McLennan Community College,” Tabor said. “We had no idea who he was but knew Norm was going into see him at the McDonald’s. We were in the bus and could see them sitting. “We started screaming at them, ‘Sign, sign, sign because we got another good player at Burger King if you don’t.’” It gives Tabor great pride to roll into Baum-Walker Stadium to see Van Horn’s teams play. “We have the greatest staff — and it’s been like it ever since Dave came back — and the greatest facilities,” Tabor said. “It’s nothing like what I was around. “I had Norm, Doug Clark and Tom Hilton coaching for my time and they were great, but you see what has happened with Dave’s staff and you see the same kind of character. It’s where Norm and Dave are alike in the people around him. “These are top-end assistant coaches and Dave lets them coach. He’s had many others that were good. It’s clear that good coaches want to work with him and he does not make mistakes.” The expectations are through the roof. “You want high expectations, but I think our fans probably don’t understand how hard it is to win at the rate Dave has won in this league,” Tabor said. “When we win the league or the conference tournament, you better celebrate that. It’s hard, hard, hard.” Tabor was a hard-nosed competitor who probably didn’t have the velocity of some of his adversaries in college. He made it to Class AAA with the Kansas City Royals only to struggle with an elbow injury just days before he was going to be called up. “I saw the papers that I was going up, me and David Cone,” he said. “I had some bone spurs and calcium buildup that had to be removed. It was fraying a nerve. I had the surgery instead. Then they cut me in spring training.” There was a great chance the St. Louis Cardinals were going to sign him just a few days later. “They told me they could sign me in two weeks, to just stay in spring training for a few days,” Tabor said. “I was young and didn’t want to wait around. I went home. I would give anything to have that decision to do over. I should have done what they asked.” Tabor’s record in the minor leagues was good. He was 36-10, not much different than his college mark of 34 wins. “I was under 3.00 with my ERA,” he said. “I didn’t throw as hard as anyone else and that frustrated (coaches and managers), but I got people out. Isn’t that what you are supposed to do? “I changed speeds. I did lose my gyroscope for a few weeks that last year when my nerve was frayed in the elbow. I kept pitching, but I wasn’t the same. I knew I’d be OK the next year after pitching a little bit. It wasn’t hurting anymore, but the Royals didn’t wait.” Tabor has been with Shelter Insurance 34 years. “It’s funny, I talk to my boss and he mentions my numbers,” he said. “I guess I’m about like I was as a pitcher, just a little better than average. I don’t have any bad years. Better than average is good.” Tabor was excited to attend the UA Hall of Honor festivities that included Bakewell’s induction earlier this month. “I’m close to him,” Tabor said. “He taught me a lot. He was a senior and actually had lost a little bit with a bad shoulder. But he gave me a lot of time and helped me learn that pitch. “I still spend time with him hunting. Bakewell, Ray, John Hennell and Kevin McReynolds join me for a pheasant hunt in South Dakota every fall. We have a lot of fun talking about how it was back then.” The Hogs missed a great chance to win a national title in 1979. Tabor recalls all of the line drives that were caught in the second championship game when Cal State Fullerton was out of pitching. The Hogs lost, 2-1. “We crushed the ball over and over, right at them,” he said. “But that’s baseball. You need a little luck. You need to be good, but things need to bounce your way. It will some day. When it does, it’s going to be a great celebration.”