Florida baseball: 60 years later, 1963 team members reflect on what could have been

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
(Left to right):  Neil MacMillan; Ray Rollyson; Jim Duncan; Ron Creese; John Fuller; Tom Moore; Dave Fuller, Jr.; Tracey Biggart Reese (daughter of Jim Biggart); Brad Braddy (son of Ed Braddy) at the 60-year reunion of Florida's 1963 team at Condron Family Ballpark.

Even 60 years later, former Florida All-American third baseman Tom Moore still reflects on what could have been.

Coming off an SEC championship in 1962, expectations were high for Florida baseball in 1963. The Gators went 30-9 with a strong blend of speed and pitching - and a win percentage of .769 that stood as the best in program history for 57 years.

 But because of a pair of losses to Auburn, Florida didn’t repeat as SEC champs, and wasn’t invited to the NCAA Tournament.

“We should have been in Omaha,” Moore said.

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Florida tried to petition for an at-large bid, but Moore said the NCAA held firm on its rule at the time of allowing only the conference champions to take part in postseason play. The field stood at 25 teams. USC, which came into the postseason with an identical 30-9 record to Florida, won the College World Series.

Members of Florida’s 1963 team and their families reunited last weekend to watch the 2023 Gators sweep Vanderbilt at Condron Family Ballpark. With the NCAA Tournament at 64 teams, Florida won’t need to win an SEC championship to secure a bid this time around. At 40-12 and 18-9 in the SEC, the Gators are a game behind Arkansas (19-8 SEC) for a regular-season title with three games remaining, assured of at least hosting a regional.

“If they don’t win the SEC championship, that is OK as long as they beat whatever SEC team they need to beat in the (College World Series) finals,” Moore said.

Pitching complements speed

Florida’s SEC championship team in 1962 was dubbed the fastest in program history with 108 stolen bases. But the 1963 Gators were as aggressive on the bases with 94 steals and 27 triples, the latter a program record that stood until 1980.

That philosophy was reinforced by head coach Dave Fuller, who ordered the green light to steal any base, including home.

“He was a risk taker,” Moore said. “He loved base running when we had a fast team.”

But what separated the 1963 team was its pitching. Florida’s 2.29 ERA that season remains the second lowest in school history, and the pitching staff issued the fewest walks (93) of any Gator team. Florida pitchers also finished what they started, with 25 complete games, two shy of the school record (27 in 1978).

Jim Biggart, Charlie Anderson, Ray Rollyson and Danny Eggart were the pitching standouts. Rollyson went on to help coach the Gators as a graduate assistant under Fuller when his playing career ended.

"Danny Eggart was really, really good," Rollyson said. "Charlie Anderson was really, really good. I pitched a decent amount for a sophomore, but we had a really, really good team."

Tracey Biggart Reese holds a picture of her father, the late Jim Biggart, who was a standout starting pitcher on UF's 1963 team. The Gators 1963 team held its 60-year reunion last weekend at Condron Family Ballpark.

Offensively, Florida relied on speed because the team was smaller (“a bunch of 5-7, 5-8 fast guys,” Moore said.) Aluminum bats didn't come to college baseball until 1974 and in the wood bat era, extra-base hits were harder to come by.

Earl Montgomery had team highs in homers (3) and doubles (6). Bernie Haskins led the team in triples with six. Moore, whose idol was Ted Williams, batted a team-best .357 with 20 steals. He was batting over .400 (.402) before going into an 0-for-20 slump late in the season.

Highlights of the season included taking 3 of 5 games from rival Florida State and beating Pfeiffer University, 27-1, in one of the most lopsided wins in program history.

But the Gators came up short in their goal of going to Omaha. Moore eventually got there as a fan in 2011, watching UF come up just short in the CWS Finals against South Carolina. Six years later, he celebrated UF’s lone national title in 2017 when the Gators took two straight from LSU.

Moore’s hopes are for the Gators to win another national championship this season. He sees similarities between the 1963 team and 2023 team in terms of how aggressively the Gators ran the bases in the Vanderbilt series.

“The Gators are getting it together on really every aspect on the game,” Moore said. “Watching the runner get off a good jump from first base and score on a double, two perfect bunts, including one for a hit, it's good to see.”