College Sports

Price's death robs USC of a legend

The first time I ever heard Tom Price speak in person, it was one of those speeches that would become a legend.

He was holding court before one of the thousands of South Carolina baseball press conferences he attended in his over-50-year association with the school, discussing a trend he had seen at a recent game.

The final stanza of each verse of USC's alma mater ends with the words, "Here's a health, Carolina, forever to thee." Students and alumni are supposed to raise their hands as if they were holding a glass, toasting the university.

Apparently, some of the students were holding their hands out as if waving goodbye. TP, as he was nicknamed, was incensed.

"That is in-cuh-wrecked," he said in that classic TP delivery, enunciating every one of the syllables. "You-ah must raise yah hand as if you-ah wah hold-ing a glass of cheah!"

I think I told that story every time TP's name came up, offering my own feeble impersonation of his voice. Every sportswriter who ever came in contact with TP had his collection of stories about him and every one of them had his number on speed dial.

There was no better authority on Gamecock sports and there never will be another. TP died three days ago, the same day another USC baseball season, his passion, officially began.

He should have been over at Sarge Frye Field, talking about just how good Jeff Grantz and Hank Small were in 1975, the first time the Gamecocks went to the College World Series. He should have been bustling through the dugout with his USC baseball jacket buttoned, comparing this year's power-stocked lineup with every other one he's seen through the years.

But he wasn't. And the press box this year will be deprived of his expertise and Southern crescendo, hollering "That's a two-base hit and an errah!" and sending all of us scrambling for our erasers, sure we saw a triple.

TP was always the first guy you went to when you had a historical story to do. It was the easiest assignment you could ever get because you knew he'd know whatever you'd need.

The only problem was stopping him. TP's gift of gab rivaled basketball coach Dave Odom's -- when each got cranked up in full filibuster mode, you had to hope you remembered to put fresh batteries in the tape recorder.

"We were pulling out of the Roundhouse to go to Clemson," remembered Kerry Tharp, who succeeded Price as USC's sports information director. "We started leaving, and I think I asked him something about Mookie Wilson.

"I promise you, he was still talking about Mookie Wilson at the Newberry exit."

But everybody loved it. TP could rattle off statistics you never thought existed, and if you ever wanted to hear a good yarn, just ask TP about the time Tom Riker and John Ribock were tearing it up at a campus party.

USC's new baseball stadium hasn't had any naming rights attached to it as it's struggled to get out of the blocks. Now that all of us can see something going on over there, it's a good time to go ahead and put TP's name on it somewhere, be it press box or field or whatever.

If nothing else, TP deserves it for sticking with his alma mater through countless games. Think of the suffering he must have witnessed.

But despite how lousy the football team usually was, baseball was always just around the corner. TP would always show up at the Sarge on Opening Day, pencil sharpened and scorebook open. Every pitch was catalogued, every player's number entered, as TP taught a new generation of sports information cadets and sportswriters the rules of the game.

And you just begged for a rainy day. Those steel shutters would come down at the press box, giving us our own overheated closet for an hour or two, and TP would start preaching.

"Let me tell yah about Euhl BASS ..." he'd begin, and we'd all be treated to another tale of when USC, for one of those ever-so-brief times, was on top of the athletic world.

I have no idea if this year's baseball team truly got to know TP or if they'll ever know exactly who he was ... the freshmen might only know him as the reason for a black armband. That's a shame, that he'll never get to add any more Gamecocks to his recollections of all-stars.

But to those of us who knew him, whether for five minutes or five years, we realize USC has lost perhaps its greatest treasure.

"It's certainly not easy to talk about," baseball coach Ray Tanner said. "We've got the bookends (the late namesake of the field, Sarge Frye, and Price) in heaven watching over us."

So long, Tom. No matter where any of us went to school, rest assured we're all raising our glasses of cheah in your memory.