By Robert Wilson
Ole Miss can indirectly thank the pitching machine at 2501 Coronet Place in South Jackson in the 1960s for getting to the College World Series in 1972.
Paul Husband, a then All-American junior right fielder, led Ole Miss to the SEC championship, a regional title, and a berth in the CWS fifty years ago.
Husband and the rest of Ole Miss Nation will be watching to see if the Rebels can reach the College World Series championship series for the first time in school history. Ole Miss meets Arkansas at 6 p.m. on ESPN in the semifinals. An Ole Miss win puts the Rebels into the championship series. An Arkansas win creates a second semifinal game Thursday against the same two teams.
One of the main reasons why Husband was an All-American and got the Rebels to Omaha was because of the hours and hours of taking swings from the pitching machine his dad, Warren, bought for his sons, Paul and Wayne, when Paul was nine years old.
“My dad had a ninth-grade education and was a watch repairman,” Husband said. “We didn’t have much money, but my dad did anything he could to help his boys and the pitching machine was the greatest present he ever gave us. We spent many, many hours on it and my friends from all over the neighborhood would come over. We would sometimes get up a five in the morning and take swings. My dad would even take the pitching machine to Battlefield Park early in the morning.”
Husband became a star at Wingfield High and led the Falcons to back-to-back state championship runner-up finishes as a junior and senior in 1968 and 1969 under coach Robert “Cooter” Berry. Husband also helped Wingfield to a state championship in basketball as a senior.
“I threw 100 balls a day and took 100 swings a day,” Husband said. “Every day. Even before the state championship basketball game, (boys basketball coach) Coach (Buddy) Bounds was catching pitches from me.”
Husband never intended to go to Ole Miss.
“I was going to play pro baseball,” Husband said. “I didn’t like school. The only reason I signed with Ole Miss was for leverage in the pro draft. I wasn’t a good student. It was bargaining chip.I had no intention to going to college. But the Angels scout who wanted me, Gerald Moses, passed away the night before the draft. I was drafted (in the 14th round), but I didn’t hear about it until I read about it in the Clarion-Ledger. About a month after the draft, a scout contacted me and told me that they didn’t have but $3,000 left out of their signing budget. I was ready to sign, but my parents said my scholarship was worth about $10,000 to go to Ole Miss and they wanted me to go to college.”
So Husband went off to Oxford where the Rebels, with Archie Manning playing shortstop as a sophomore, had made it to the CWS in 1969. Husband was a freshman when Manning was a junior.
“I idolized Archie,” Husband said.
By the end of Husband’s career, teammates and fans were idolizing Husband.
Husband was a star for the Rebels. He hit .351 with eight home runs in 1972. Ole Miss defeated Vanderbilt in two games for the SEC championship and then won the District III regional by coming back from loser’s bracket and defeating then No. 1 ranked South Alabama twice to advance to the CWS. Husband his three home runs in two wins over South Alabama. The Rebels had some major motivation.
“South Alabama was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and they were very good,” Husband said. “Eddie Stanky was their coach. They had beaten us about nine straight times over the past several years. He came on TV the night before we played and was talking about how their pitchers were rested and they had already made their hotel reservations in Omaha. Stanky said there was no way Ole Miss would beat us. (Ole Miss centerfielder and quarterback who replaced Archie in 1971) Norris Weese and I were on fire when we heard that. We were determined we were going to beat them. And we did.”
Two days later, Ole Miss lost to eventual CWS champion Southern Cal 8-6 in the first-round game of the CWS and then was up 8-0 but was eliminated by Texas 9-8. Ole Miss scored more runs on Southern Cal than any other team in the CWS. Southern Cal defeated Arizona State 3-1 and 1-0 to win the national championship. That was the third of five consecutive national titles for Southern Cal. No team has ever matched that record.
“We lost to (former Boston Red Sox star) Freddie Lynn from Southern Cal and then we got way ahead of Texas,” Husband said. “But we walked in six runs and then Texas hit a triple. But it was fun to get there.”
Husband and his teammates had a lot of fun and success under first-year head coach and Ole Miss football and baseball legend Jake Gibbs.
“Coach Tom Swayze was a strict disciplinarian and a great coach, but we played tight,” Husband said. “He retired in 1971 and Jake was 32 years old and had been catching for the Yankees. He came in and told us he wanted us to have fun and play loose. It was great experience. Jake was such a tremendous athlete. He was the No. 1 draft pick in football and baseball. He could still play and played some with us. That season was so much fun. We had some great players. Jim Pittman and Barry Gaddis were two great pitchers. Norris Weese was in centerfield. Dennis Starr, my roommate, was a tough catcher. Steve Dillard, who went on to play in the big leagues, was our shortstop. Left fielder Kevin McMahon our leadoff hitter and was our sparkplug. And we had many more good players.”
Husband hit .402 with a .622 slugging percentage the next year as a senior in 1973. He is one of three players in Ole Miss history to be named All-American two consecutive seasons. Husband had a .335 batting average, 18 doubles, 21 home runs and 93 runs batted in 123 career games at Ole Miss. He was named to the all-time starting lineup of Ole Miss by NCAA.com in 2019.
Husband ended up loving Ole Miss and feels his experiences in Oxford changed his life forever.
“I was a partier at Wingfield and my first year at Ole Miss,” Husband said. “But the end of my freshman, Campus Crusade came to campus and one of their staff members Mike McNames shared Christ with me. I couldn’t put the Bible down. I never studied much. I was more interested in sports and girls. But I studied that Bible. Norris Weese was the president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and we became close friends. When he passed away in 1994 (of spinal cancer), I spoke at his funeral. There were about 3,000 people there. In addition to becoming a Christian at Ole Miss, I met my wife Dixie and created lifelong friendships with my teammates and classmates. It was a blessing that God led me to Ole Miss.”
Husband was drafted in the third round in 1973 by the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit .314 in Class A ball in his first year but injured his arm in his second pro season and retired after five pro seasons.
“I had a good arm and a good stick,” Husband said. “I wasn’t too fast though. I tore up my arm before they came out with Tommy John surgery. I would have had that if it had happened a few years later and been back playing again. I had 26 cortisone shots. I just wasn’t the same. I was released in 1976.”
After he came home from pro baseball, Husband followed up his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Ole Miss with a Master of Divinity at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis and a doctorate in church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa.
Husband had a two-year internship at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis and preached at small churches in the Memphis area.
He became pastor at Tunica (Miss.) Presbyterian Church in 1988 and has been there ever since. Now, 70, Husband has officially retired, but will continue to be a pastor there. He was a part of starting Tunica Community Ministries where the organization promotes racial reconciliation.
Dixie and Husband have four sons – who all played baseball at Belhaven and all who are involved in ministry – and has nine grandsons and one granddaughter. The oldest, Paul, is a youth pastor at Grace Community Church in Memphis. Daniel is involved in sports ministry in Germany. Samuel is a chaplain at a public school in Memphis. Mark is studying Bible translations and is a youth minister in Dallas.
Husband and his Ole Miss baseball teammates had gotten together every year for a golf tournament in Oxford until the pandemic a few years ago. This spring, the 1972 team was honored during the Tennessee series and got together at the game and also went to Gibbs house.
“It was a special weekend for us,” Husband said. “We spent about three hours in Coach Gibbs’ basement with him telling us all his football and baseball stories.”