STARKVILLE — It was a picture-perfect Saturday morning as the newest class of Mississippi State baseball legends was inducted into the Ron Polk Ring of Honor.
Named after the longtime head coach of the Bulldogs and one of the greatest coaches in college baseball history, 2023 marked the fifth class to have their names emblazoned on plaques around Adkerson Plaza.
This year’s selections consisted of two-time All-SEC pitcher Ken Tatum, three-time All-SEC first baseman Tommy Raffo and 1981 All-American outfielder Mark Gillaspie.
The three helped the Bulldogs win SEC regular season and tournament titles and reach the College World Series, with Raffo coming back to help coach the Bulldogs from 1994-2008, where they made three more College World Series appearances.
“Ken Tatum, Tommy Raffo and Mark Gillaspie are three men that have brought great resumes and we are thankful for all that they’ve done for the great tradition of Mississippi State University Baseball,” Polk said.
Friends, family, former teammates, and former Ring of Honor inductees such as Bobby Thigpen, Jonathan Papelbon and Paul Maholm, were in attendance on Saturday.
Tatum’s tenure with the Bulldogs saw them win back-to-back SEC titles while the team played in Columbus during the original construction of Dudy Noble Field.
It was an interesting tenure, but a successful one for him as he went on to play six seasons in Major League Baseball with three teams, finishing with a 16-12 record on the mound.
“It means a lot more to my family than me I hope,” Tatum said. “You want your family to be proud of you and I’m proud of them too, so it’s been a special day. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Raffo’s time in Starkville saw him and the Bulldogs make the postseason in his four years there, including reaching the College World Series in 1990.
Finishing with a .366 career batting average, 45 home runs, 207 RBIs and a 1.086 OPS, he still ranks in the top-10 in a number of offensive categories, and made the switch to coaching with Mississippi State several years after his college playing career came to a close.
Now the head coach at Arkansas State and playing the Bulldogs on Tuesday, it was a full-circle moment.
Saturday was the culmination of that after spending nearly two decades with the program as both a player and coach.
“It’s overwhelming,” Raffo said. “It’s humbling just to be alongside and look up to these gentlemen here in the Ring of Honor. Coach Polk has influenced and touched our lives in so many ways while we were here and continues to do so in a lot of the lessons he taught us on and off the field. That’s what we carry today. That’s the common bond with a lot of us here.”
Gillaspie’s Mississippi State career was the shortest of the three, spending just two years in Starkville, but his All-American season in 1981 coincided with Mississippi State reaching the College World Series.
His .523 on-base percentage still remains the program record and his .384 career batting average is second all-time in MSU history, showing how much of an influence a player can have even in a short time.
These three helped build the foundation that has resulted in continued success and championships for the Bulldogs.
“It’s a great honor and like I said, it’s about relationships and the great people I met when I was here,” Gillaspie said. “The fact that my name is up there, it means a lot to me. This is amazing.”
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