SMITH COLUMN: Steve Webber

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, November 16, 2022

As Georgia fans are enjoying a bountiful football season with expectations being met and national rankings accompanying the Bulldogs much of the fall, we pause to pay our respects to former baseball coach Steve Webber who died of cancer this past weekend.

Webber moved UGA to the head of the class in baseball, which has always been important in Athens. In fact, in the days before and during World War I, baseball was the most important sport on most college campuses.

A feud took place between Georgia and Georgia Tech, starting in 1917, following Tom Philpott’s no-hit game on Grant Field. The crafty Bulldog lefthander was one of the biggest heroes in Athens for years.  Talk about a big deal — Philpott’s not allowing any hits against the Yellow Jackets help precipitate Tech’s decision not to compete with UGA sports teams for nine years.

Georgia played its football games on the baseball diamond in the “hollow” at the foot of Lumpkin Street. Football’s popularity had not become entrenched as it is today. Baseball has always been popular in Athens.  Charley Trippi was as big of a star in baseball as he was in football. While he chose football when it came to competing professionally, he played against major leaguers during his time in the Air Force and knew that he could hit Big League pitching.   

While baseball at Georgia experienced up and down seasons over the years, Webber brought a national championship to Athens when the Bulldogs won the College World Series in 1990. He would become the winningest coach in UGA history with 500 victories. Georgia was the first school in history of the SEC to win the College World Series.

Webber didn’t have the biggest stadium on campus, he didn’t work with the biggest budget, but he had an eye for talent, he could communicate with players. It is doubtful that any coach, except, perhaps Dan Magill in tennis, got more bang for the buck than Webber did in baseball.

One of my favorite photos is the one with Webber and President George H. W. Bush who invited the Georgia team to the White House following the winning of the College World Series.

The first President Bush was a passionate baseball fan. He kept in the Oval Office the first baseman’s mitt he used when he played in the infield at Yale. He treated that glove with enduring respect, keeping it oiled and looking like it did during his days on campus in New Haven. Webber took two Georgia teams to the College World Series. His first trip was in 1987 after winning the SEC regular season championship.  Stanford won at Omaha, but Webber was inspired by his team’s success that season and worked for a return trip.  

Inducted into the UGA Circle of Honor in 2018, Webber, whose teams averaged 32 wins a year for 16 seasons, is one of Georgia’s national championship coaches who did more with less to win a championship.