The Vassallo Interviews — Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor who interviews Oxford’s and our region’s leading personalities.
Steve said: “If the final chapter is ever written about Ole Miss athletics, make no mistake that much of the content will be focused on one individual — Jake Gibbs. In the 1959 and 1960 seasons, Jake was an instrumental part of winning two national championships in football plus two outright SEC baseball titles! An All-American in two sports who called Grenada home, Jake Gibbs is a living legend. A more modest individual would be difficult to find. On the eve of the Rebels trip to Omaha, here is what this Oxford resident had to say:”
HT.com….Jake, what does going to the World Series mean to a college program?
Jake Gibbs — “It means quite a lot nowadays. You must have great players to get there. This is the ultimate goal in college baseball. It’s very hard to accomplish and much has to happen to make it possible. We had a great team in 1977, but lost to Clemson (the number one team in the nation) in the Miami regional that year.”
HT.com — When you’re watching college baseball, do you often recognize talent that you think might have major league ability?
Jake Gibbs — “Yes. I watch as much as I can. Anyone who knows a little bit about the game can identify potential. However, you don’t know what’s in a player’s heart. It’s the complete package that you want.”
HT.com. — Have you had a chance to evaluate any of the Rebels’ opponents in Omaha?
Jake Gibbs — “Only one team….Virginia, who we play first. They are a very good team all around. They have excellent pitching and the lineup to go with it. Vanderbilt is a young team that matured significantly during the season. They are able to recruit nationally even though they don’t have the greatest facilities. They have confidence and now are battle tested having gone through the SEC schedule.”
HT.com — Let’s shift gears a moment and talk about your years with the Yankees and the Rebels.
Jake Gibbs — “While playing for Ole Miss, these were the best days ever! There were 5-6 football players who also played baseball. Robert Khayat and Doug Elmore were in that group. We had a freshman team in that era. I was primarily an infielder and signed with the Yankees as a third baseman.”
HT.com — What is your greatest memory while with the Yankees?
Jake Gibbs — “It was actually the first time in 1961 that I walked into the locker room. I was scared to death. The thought of being face to face with stars like Mantle, Berra, Ford, Howard and a host of others was overwhelming. I actually got to spend 11 days with the major league club before heading to the triple A team in Richmond.”
HT.com — Coach Bianco has now had his finest season ever. Will his future years be easier or more of a challenge?
Jake Gibbs — “This definitely will not hurt. He has done an excellent job in recruiting. His record is very good. He has done an incredible job. Anytime you’re on national television it will help your university.”
HT.com — You knew Coach Vaught as well as anyone. Can you share a special story?
Jake Gibbs — “In 1965, I visited Oxford to watch football practice. I was outfitted in a dress shirt and certainly not prepared for football practice as a participant. Coach Vaught saw me standing on the sidelines and motioned me to come over and show the team how to run 36 slant which was the play call for sprinting out. I had not thrown a football since the 1961 Sugar Bowl. I ended up running seven plays in dress clothes.”
HT.com. — Your career at Ole Miss was legendary. Did you realize then what all had been accomplished in historical terms?
Jake Gibbs — “Those were such fun times that getting ready for the season occupied so much of our thoughts. Everyone enjoyed what they were doing. As for baseball at Ole Miss, we won the SEC outright for the first time in 1959, defeating Georgia Tech for the title. That fall we would win the national title in football. Then in 1960 we would the SEC again in baseball and later that year add another national title in football and a Sugar Bowl victory.”
HT.com — Final question. How did you become a catcher for the Yankees after being signed as a third baseman?
Jake Gibbs — “The Yankees needed help at that position as Yogi was now playing outfield and no one was ready to back up Elston Howard. I had mixed emotions until Ralph Houk (Yankee Manager) told me this — “Being a catcher will get you to the big leagues the fastest and give you the ability to stay the longest.”