Stanford baseball has had a long storied history. Since 1963, they have made 16 appearances in the College World Series and were the runner up three times. The Cardinal baseball teams of 1987 and 1988 stole the national spotlight and won the College World Series. Led by coach Mark Marquess, the Cardinal cemented itself as one of the nation’s premier programs. This is their story.
Mark Marquess was born on March 24, 1947 in Stockton, California. After graduating from Stagg High School in 1965, Marquess went to Stanford University where he played as a first baseman on the baseball team and as a quarterback, spit end, defensive back and punt returner on the football team. After being selected in the 25th round of the 1969 MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox, Marquess played in the minor leagues until 1973, the final year as a player-coach for the Iowa Oaks which was the White Sox top affiliate.
In 1972, Marquess began his career at the Farm, joining Ray Young’s staff. When Young retired after the 1976 season, Mark Marquess was promoted to head coach. The Cardinal struggled the first four years of Marquess’ reign but by 1981 they became mainstays in the NCAA Tournament. In 1986, the Cardinal lost to Oklahoma State in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Tournament. However, Stanford had been building a contender for years and were primed for a championship run the next two years.
In 1984, the Cardinal signed outfielders Toi Cook and Ruben Amaro Jr. They also added pitcher Al Osuna in 1983 and pitchers Jack McDowell and Lee Plemel in 1984. Each of these players added immense value to the program and would prove to be the core of talent during their championship years. Slowly but surely, Stanford was putting together a championship team.
The First Championship
The 1987 Stanford Cardinal baseball team began their championship season by losing to San Jose State 2-1. But the Cardinal quickly rebounded and won the next four games, including a 7-1 demolition against San Jose State. After a 7-4 loss to Fullerton, the Cardinal wrecked havoc on their next two opponents by scores of 11-1 against Fullerton, 13-6 against San Francisco State. After defeating Fresno State by two, Stanford then lost the next two games to the Bulldogs. After splitting three games series against UC Davis and UCLA, Stanford’s season was at a crossroads.
They responded by defeating UCLA 13-5, thus beginning an 11-game winning streak which saved their young season. They finished the regular season by sweeping USC, entering the NCAA Tournament on a hot streak. By the end of the regular season, Ruben Amaro led the team with 38 stolen bases and Toi Cook was not far behind with 28 of his own. Jack McDowell led the team with 13 wins with Lee Plemel and Al Osuna winning nine of their outings. Ed Sprague led the team with 16 home runs while Paul Carey slammed 12 and Toi Cook hit 10 home runs. In the West I Regional, the Cardinal destroyed Minnesota 12-1 and UC Santa Barbara 12-5 and defeated Washington State 12-11. In the Regional Final, they defeated Oral Roberts 9-4.
In the College World Series, Stanford defeated Georgia 3-2 and top ranked Texas 6-1. However, they lost to Oklahoma State in the double-elimination tournament 6-2. When they lost to the Cowboys, Stanford was determined to redeem themselves. In the next game, they defeated LSU 6-5 in ten innings and again defeated Texas 9-3.
The Stanford Cardinal was bound for the championship game and standing in their way were the Oklahoma State Cowboys. They avenged their earlier losses to the Cowboys by defeating them 9-5 on June 7, 1987. Led by Jack McDowell, who was pitching on just two days rest, the Cardinal came back from a 3-2 deficit in the fifth inning. Freshman right fielder Paul Carey was also sensational, going three for five, driving in two scores and scoring two runs of his own on his way to being named the College World Series MVP. At long last, the Stanford Cardinal baseball team had become national champions.
The Second Championship
One of the most difficult aspects of sports is repeating as a champion. Following their 1987 championship, the Stanford Cardinal soon learned just how challenging it would be to repeat as champions. In the offseason they lost Toi Cook who opted for the NFL and eventually won the Super Bowl with the 49ers in 1994, Ruben Amaro Jr. who was drafted in the 11th round by the California Angels and Jack McDowell who was drafted in the first round by the Chicago White Sox and would earn the Cy Young Award in 1993.
Prior to the 1988 season, Stanford signed future Hall of Fame pitcher Mike Mussina, adding depth to their pitching rotation. The defending national champions began their title defense by losing to Santa Clara 3-2. However, they woke up in time and by the end of February, they were 13-5 having swept USC in a two game series to conclude the month. By the time the regular season ended, Stanford was 21-10 and were ready for a chance to repeat their success from the previous year.
They began the Northeast Regional by losing to St. Johns 5-3 but rebounded against Fordham (7-5), Rutgers (8-1), and twice against Kentucky (6-5, 16-2). Stanford opened the College World Series by defeating Fresno State 10-3 but lost the next game to Cal State Fullerton. The Cardinal rebounded the next day by defeating Miami 2-1 and would go on to win the rest of the games of the tournament. They avenged their loss to Cal State Fullerton by defeating them twice in the double-elimination tournament by scores of 4-1 and 9-5. On June 11 1988,
Following their victory over the Sun Devils, seven members of Stanford’s baseball team were selected in the 1988 MLB Draft. Ed Sprague (1st round), Lee Plemel (5th), Ron Witmer (7th), Steve Chitren (9th), Doug Robbins (10th) and Jim Price (25th) all represented the Stanford Cardinal in the 1988 MLB Draft and each had his own journey in the game thereafter. Since that great run of 1987-1988, Stanford has been to the NCAA Baseball Tournament many times and has been a runner-up in the College World Series three times. Coach Mark Marquess lasted until 2017 and was named the Pac-10 coach of the year twice in 1999 and 2003. When he retired in 2017, he left an indelible mark on the Cardinal baseball program.