Saturday, March 22, 2008

Now, let's cloud up and rain all over 'em

Baldwyn's "Babe" McCarthy was affectionately known as 'Ol Magnolia Mouth because of his so-called "honey-dew Mississippi drawl." In fact, Babe could always be counted on to come up with appropriate "Babe-isms" during games to motivate his players. "Babe-isms" were short funny phrases that earned McCarthy his nickname. A few of the more famous (and often used) Babe-isms were:

"Boy, I gotta tell you, you gotta come out at 'em like a bitin' sow,"

"My old pappy used to tell me the sun don't shine on the same dog's butt every day,"

"Why panic at five in the mornin' because it's still dark out?" and

"Now, let's cloud up and rain all over 'em."

McCarthy may best be remembered for his team crossing the color line in the segregated south of the 1960s. Even before it was certain that Mississippi State would face Loyola of Chicago and their four black starters, racist elements in the Mississippi media got into the act. On Thursday, March 7, 1963 the Jackson Daily News printed a picture of Loyola's starters to show that four of them were African Americans. As a caption to the picture, Daily News editor Jimmy Ward wrote that "readers may desire to clip the photo of the Loyola team and mail it today to the board of trustees of the institution of higher learning" to prevent the game from taking place. State got the invitation. A temporary injunction against the team leaving the state was drafted and sent to the campus by state police.

The team's original plan was to leave Starkville at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning. But learning that the Hinds County sheriffs would be expected to arrive in town at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night to enforce the injunction, MSU put their sophisticated contingency plan into effect.

Coach McCarthy, the athletic director, and the assistant athletic director drove to Memphis, and then flew to Nashville. The team itself sent the freshman squad to the airport as scheduled-posing as the varsity team. The real varsity team hid in a dorm on campus. The next morning, they boarded a private plane at the airport and flew to Nashville to meet up with the coach and team officials. From Nashville, the whole group took a commercial flight to the game at East Lansing, Michigan.

State lost that game, but the deceptive tactics used to get to the game is still talked about when Babe's name is mentioned.


  1. I remember about 1959/1960 Babe's sister Quana Vandiver (one of my all time favorite teachers)talked him into coming to the First Baptist Church at Baldwyn and bringing Bailey Howell to meet with the church youth on sunday night.
    Both were class acts.

  2. Bobby Shows, one of the Mississippi State players who was slipped out of the state to play against blacks, wound up as a Christian youth worker in Missouri. His testimony about Babe McCarthy and that MSU team was powerful to hear.

    Of course, Babe also coached Baldwyn High School to the 1948 state championship. And I've always felt he had a little bit to do with the BHS state championship that Coach Nelson Vandiver's team won. In the district championship that year against New Site, coached by the legendary Gerald Caveness, New Site was ahead at halftime, but Babe followed his brother-in-law and the Baldwyn team into the dressing room at the half. When I saw that, I told my father-in-law, Ralph Smith, the New Site principal, that he'd better watch out for Baldwyn the second half. Sure enough, Baldwyn made some major half-time adjustments, came back to win the game, and went on to claim the state title.

    Naturally, I have a poem about Babe. How could I not!


    You gotta come out at ’em
    like a bitin’ sow, he said.
    Let’s cloud up
    and rain all over ’em, he said.
    The sun don’t shine
    on the same dog’s butt ever’ day, he said.
    But long before he became
    the legendary ABA coach
    known as “Magnolia Mouth”
    for his honeyed Southern drawl
    and down home sayings,
    he had coached at Mississippi State,
    snatched four SEC championships
    from Adolph Rupp’s greedy grasp,
    incurred the anger and threats
    of Governor Ross Barnett
    and the White Citizens’ Council
    by slipping his white boys
    out of the state to play
    for the first time against blacks.

    And before that he coached
    the Baldwyn High School Bearcats
    to the 1948 Mississippi state championship.
    I was a fifth grader that year,
    watching from the stands
    as players I knew
    and passed on the school yard every day
    blossomed suddenly into heroes.
    My family listened excitedly
    to the broadcast of the final game
    on the Philco radio that usually sat
    on top of the refrigerator
    so Mama could hear “Stella Dallas”
    and her other soap operas
    while she worked in the kitchen,
    confiscated this day and moved
    to the living room so the whole family
    could follow the game.
    One of the Bearcats, Thomas Morris,
    nicknamed “Bucket,”
    was almost family, his brother
    being married to my oldest sister;
    and another, Herman Suratt,
    had dated my other sister for a time.
    The championship was all the sweeter
    because we beat our archrival, Booneville,
    in the tournament finals.

    Babe died in 1975 of colon cancer,
    not long after he was selected,
    for the second time,
    as the ABA Coach of the Year.
    He was only 51 years old,
    but I feel sure he faced death
    as confidently and fearlessly
    as he did opposing teams and politicians.
    Why panic at five in the mornin’
    because it’s still dark out? he said.

    --Bobby Hamblin

  3. P.S. The team that Mississippi State slipped out of the state to play in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Loyola of Chicago, went on to win the national championship. At the end of the tournament the Loyola team voted to honor the Mississippi State team with an award for their courage and sportsmanship. Someday, I'm sure, there'll be a movie about that team, their coach, and the political drama of the situation.

  4. Thanks again, Bobby. Boy, you are prepared for an addendum to most sports items. Great words, sure does add an ambiance to the stories.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. I just noticed that W. D. "Red" Stroud, a member of that 1963 basketball team died Saturday in Jackson. He was a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

  6. Thanks for mentioning, MC. Red Stroud was MVP of SE Conference in 1963. I remember when he came to MSU from Forest, MS. He was about 6'0" and weighed about 125 lbs soaking wet. He didn't bulk up very much but could really shoot.

  7. My first cousin Bill Taylor, an MSU grad, says he once saw Red Stroud sink one from mid court during a game. He thinks it was against Ky. in 1961.

  8. Don't remember that one, MC, but do remember that they won 4 out of 5 SEC championships from 1959 - 63, the last Bailey Howell team and 3 Red Stroud ones. Nobody but Babe could have gotten that much out of Stroud. I don't think anyone else offered him a scholarship.

  9. I just recalled seeing Babe in downtown Baldwyn a short time before he passed away. He told us about his problem immediately, although we didn't ask and didn't know anything about it. He was graciously accepting the inevitable as best we could tell.

    I just hope he had his Salvation prepared.