Baynes and assistant coach Tom Jones in 1986
The other streak
By Michael Butler
When Tallassee folks talk about sports streaks, they likely talk about the 57-game unbeaten streak during the 1940s under coach J. E. "Hot" O'Brien in football. Rarely do any another impressive streaks at THS enter into the conversation.
In the AHSAA record books, Tallassee is third in Alabama with its unbeaten streak in football from 1941-'47. Tuscaloosa High School is tops with 65 straight from 1925-'31. Andalusia is second with 58 without a loss from 1972-'78. The longest win streak belongs to Clay County with 55 straight victories from 1994-'97.
During the unbeaten run, Tallassee had one tie with Wetumpka, a 0-0 stalemate on Sept. 29, 1944. The Tigers went on to win the next 33 games, the longest win streak in school history. Lanier ended the run with a 21-7 win on Nov. 14, 1947 at Cramton Bowl.
In baseball, the state's longest win streak belongs to Cottonwood with 54 in a row from 1985-'88. Tallassee is listed next with 40 from 1990-'91 during Ronnie Baynes championship run as head coach.
"Nothing was ever said about it. Baseball's not a streaky game," Baynes said. "We had some good ball teams."
The run was in the early 1990s. "We had a great team in '90. '91 was the undefeated team. That was going to be a rebuilding year. We win the state championship in both of those years. We start in '92 and expect a really good ball team. It was a senior laden team."
The streak ended in 1992 at Class 6A Benjamin Russell for the 4A Tigers. "We win the first ball game and lose the second," Baynes continued. "Somebody came up to me and said, 'Well, the streak had to end sometime.' I said, 'What streak?' They said, 'We had a 40 game win streak.' I said, 'No. We lost to Pleasant Grove in the finals.' They said, 'The playoffs are separate.' I said, 'Blankety blank blank blank.'"
Tallassee went 24-3 in 1990. The '91 team was 29-1 with a perfect regular season.
"At the end of that 1991 season we played Alabama Christian in Montgomery," said Baynes. "We played about as sorry as you can play. There was a sports reporter wanting to do a story on our undefeated season. He had to wait on me for an hour because I kept them out in the outfield and killed them. I ran them wind sprints. We did agility drills and grass drills.
"It wasn't about winning. We won. It was about the fact that we didn't play the game properly. The next day the reporter calls Tallassee, "Boot Camp Baseball."
As for the loss that broke the streak, Baynes wasn't thinking about 'the streak.' "I was thinking about next year and down the road," he said. "We get ready to go into the second ball game. We'd beaten Benjamin Russell pretty good (in game one). We had a bunch of kids that were about to go back down to Babe Ruth. That was going to be my team for the '93 season. I felt they need some varsity experience before they went back. I played two seniors. The rest were 8th, 9th and 10th graders. We lost 5-1. We did exactly what I wanted to do."
In 1993, Baynes took the head coaching position at Central Alabama Community College. One of the first people he met in Alexander City was the softball coach, a former Benjamin Russell player named Greg Shivers.
"Greg introduced himself," Baynes recalled. "Greg said, 'Coach, I was the winning pitcher the day we broke your win streak.' So, he even knew about it. I said, 'Greg, that's fine and good but honestly you beat our JV team.' It really wasn't about winning games. We wanted to win championships."
Baynes' teams did pile up state championships. The Tigers won five Class 4A titles during his tenure in 1986, '87, '89, '90 and '91. Two more came after that in 1995 and '98 under John Goodman.
The 1985 team was the state runner-up. "I always give that group of kids credit in '85 for really turning it around to a championship level," Baynes noted. "The '88 team lost in single elimination. If we played double elimination back then we might still be playing."
That dynasty of championship baseball in Tallassee ranks among the great baseball runs statewide. According to Baynes, the 1990 team was probably the "most talented," while the '91 was probably the "most successful" with its record.
"The '90 ball team had three pitchers. Jeri Goodman was a senior. People ask me, 'If you had one ball game who would you pitch?' If I had one game that my life depended on, I might go with Jeri. Jeri won 36 games over a four year period. He had the least velocity. He threw about 87-88 miles per hour.
"We had Craig Vaught, who was a junior throwing in the 90s. Then we had Jonathan Rivers, who was the tenth grader throwing in the mid 90s. We played several two-game series in the playoffs. We didn't even get to the third arm."
Goodman was 36-3 from 1987-'90. Vaught was 29-5 from 1988-'91. Rivers was 27-5 from 1989-'92.
Baynes with grandsons Brandon and Casey at his Hall of Fame induction last year
"One of the really good things we had in Tallassee was the opportunity to be involved in all levels," Baynes said. "It's so important to get everybody working on the same page. I got involved. I had kids involved. I was down there coaching. It was not unusual for me to coach high school practice, Little League and Babe Ruth.
"What I see now that's changed is at the Babe Ruth All-Star Game, half the kids were from Opelika, Auburn, Beauregard, Wetumpka, Eclectic, somewhere else playing for Tallassee. I said, 'We're in the business of developing Tallassee.' We shouldn't be in the business of developing everybody else. That's their community's job to do. Unfortunately, that's the way baseball everywhere has evolved. It's gotten into travel ball. We didn't do any of that. I understand why people do it. The kid that wants to be a great player goes where they can play a better level of ball.
"What we had going that was our big plus was every league was competitive from the kids right there in Tallassee. They didn't want to go anywhere else. They didn't have to spend $2,000 or $3,000 on a travel team. They could play right there and get as good as they wanted to be."