University of Miami

Trick play by the Miami Hurricanes remains a college baseball highlight 35 years later

Miami shortstop Billy Wrona covers second and awaits the throw from pitcher Mike Kasprazak as Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson charges ahead thinking Kasprazak’s pickoff throw was wild during a 1982 College World Series game in Omaha.
Miami shortstop Billy Wrona covers second and awaits the throw from pitcher Mike Kasprazak as Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson charges ahead thinking Kasprazak’s pickoff throw was wild during a 1982 College World Series game in Omaha. YouTube

When the College Baseball World Series kicks off in Omaha later this month, the Miami Hurricanes will not be there.

Yet, rest assured, at least one play which lives on in Hurricanes lore will be featured at least once.

The Hurricanes pulled off perhaps the most famous play in college baseball history on this date 35 years ago.

It has been called the phantom pickoff, the hidden ball play and the grand illusion.

Whatever you call it, it was most definitely memorable.

“We made it look so good,” late Miami coach Ron Fraser said in 2007, “you'd want to eat it.”

Dave Scott was an assistant coach under Fraser in 1982 and came up with the idea for using such a play after seeing it used in an American Legion game in Jacksonville the year before.

Skip Bertman, Fraser’s lead assistant who went on to a Hall of Fame career at LSU, worked on the ruse with Scott and made the call to use it in the CWS.

The Hurricanes practiced the play at a high school in Omaha the day before it was put in play.

Now at FIU as an assistant athletic director, Scott has photos of the play hanging in his office and like those on the 1982 Miami team, looks back at the play with much pride.

“We had a 25-year reunion and that night, Rick Remer gave a presentation of Oscars to different players and coaches,” Scott said Wednesday. “I have all the photos of the sequence of events and everyone asks about it.”

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University of MIami baseball coach Ron Fraser holds the 1982 College World Series trophy as team members Eddie Escribano (left) and Phil Lane (right) carry Fraser around the field following a 9-3 win over Wichita Sate. AP AP

In 1982, the Hurricanes not yet considered a college baseball powerhouse and were an underdog to Wichita State and Texas (led by ace pitcher Roger Clemens) going into the College World Series.

On June 7, 1982, Miami was leading the Shockers 4-3 when it unveiled perhaps the most famous play in CWS history.

Phil Stephenson, a future big-leaguer and college hall of famer, was on first and was the most dangerous runner Wichita State had having set the collegiate record with 86 stolen bases (in 90 tries) that season.

LINK: Preston Mack’s documentary on the ‘Grand Illusion’ play by the 1982 Miami baseball Hurricanes

Miami pitcher Mike Kasprzak faked a pickoff throw to first, with Steve Lusby diving and cursing as if the ball got past him on a wild throw and bounded into foul territory.

Miami’s players in the bullpen behind first played their parts to perfection, jumping out of the way of the phantom wild throw, completely — and understandably — fooling Stephenson.

In the Miami dugout (which was on the first base side), players and coaches yelled directions to where the ball was.

Stephenson, of course, took off toward second and was thinking about rounding and heading to third.

CHECK THIS OUT: The best trick plays in Miami sports history

All the while, Kasprzak — the pitcher — had the ball in his glove.

As Stephenson raced to second, Kasprzak casually tossed the ball to shortstop Billy Wrona who slid over to cover the bag.

Fraser, who died in 2013 at age 79, got great national recognition for the play and ended up being on the Today Show the next day — huge exposure not only for the Hurricanes, but for the College World Series as well.

The Hurricanes would upset the Shockers that night, then move on in the CWS by beating Clemens and the Longhorns as well as Maine before reaching a rematch with Wichita State.

Miami didn’t need any tricks in that one, beating the Shockers 9-3 to claim the first major national championship in school history.

The Hurricanes’ first football national title under coach Howard Schnellenberger wouldn’t come until after the 1983 season.

Fraser coached Miami to a second national title in 1985 and led the Hurricanes to Omaha a total of 12 times before retiring in 1992. Fraser was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Current coach Jim Morris has taken the Canes to Omaha 13 times since taking over in 1994 and has won the national title twice (1999 and 2001).

Miami’s NCAA-record run of 44 consecutive years in the national tournament started under Fraser in 1973 ended last week when the Canes were the last team left out of the 64-team tournament.

Yet, when Omaha welcomes the CWS back next week, rest assured the Hurricanes will be represented — at least during the highlights.

“I'm probably remembered more for that play than I am for the 13 NCAA records I held when I left college,” Stephenson told the Miami Herald in 2007.

“It's too bad I don't have any royalties on it. If I had rights to that video, I'd be a rich man by now.”

In 1983, Wichita State came to Mark Light Field to play the Hurricanes. Gene Stephenson, Phil’s older brother and the longtime coach of the Shockers, knew something big had happened the previous summer — at his team’s expense.

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Former University of Miami baseball coach Ron Fraser, nicknamed the ‘Wizard of College Baseball.’ Miami Herald file photo

“I don't think people will remember last year's College World Series only because of that play,” Gene Stephenson said, “but I have to admit that the success of it probably gave college baseball more exposure than anything in history.

“We received the brunt of it because we fell for it but I can't be upset because the play enhanced the reputation of college baseball.

“It certainly was the greatest executed trick play that I had ever seen.”

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