January 4, 2006
For some unknown reason, I can't stop thinking about college sports this week. Why do you think that is? Perhaps it's because I live in a town with a kiosk on every corner selling Rose Bowl paraphernalia. That might have something to do with it.
Of course, here at BP we don't concern ourselves with the lesser sports, the things people around the world do until they come to the realization that baseball is the one and only true sporting endeavor. And yet, we are confronted with no less than 28 bowl games featuring Division I teams in a three-week period. How are we supposed to sort out all of that?
By turning to baseball, of course. Chances are you have little or no rooting interest in the majority of these bowl games but find yourself drawn to the television because the networks have not yet seen the light and begun broadcasting winter league baseball from Puerto Rico in prime time. So, if you must watch, how should you go about choosing which team to root for? Uniform color? Reputation of the school's Philosophy Department? Might I suggest using as your rooting premise which college has had its attendees give the better showing in major league baseball.
Irrelevant you say? How is that anymore irrelevant than having two 6-5 teams playing for a trophy sponsored by a company that will, no doubt, change its name within three years?
Here's what I mean: tonight's contest for the national championship features the two colleges that have produced the most major league players in history. The University of Southern California has unleashed 96 players on the bigs, while The University of Texas at Austin has chipped in 92. No college has put more pitchers in the majors than UT, with 45, although USC's hurlers have won more games. Between the two schools, they've logged 1,255 major-league pitching victories. While UT can boast arguably the best pitcher to ever emerge from a college in the person of Roger Clemens, USC can counter with two others in the top five in Tom Seaver and Randy Johnson.
USC's hitters have been vastly superior to those of UT. In putting together a team of all-time alums based on their major league records, it's a bit of a stretch to fill every position with former Longhorns. Their best position player is probably Pinky Higgins, the All-Star third baseman of the '30s and '40s. USC can come back with Mark McGwire, Fred Lynn, Bret Boone, Geoff Jenkins, Ron Fairly and even Dave Kingman. Post-USC players have hit 3,311 career home runs while UT players have just 916--which is still top 20. Against just about any other school, Texas would have the advantage, but against USC they are the historic baseball underdog, much as they are in tonight's football game.
How about last night's FedEx Orange Bowl between Pennsylvania State University and Florida State? Who should have been your choice there, provided you hadn't a vested interest based on alma materdom or a wager? It's been a while since Penn State was used as the launching pad for a significant big-league career. Nate Bump and Joel Johnson are the only pitchers to come off their baseball team in the last 40 years. As for position players, D.J. Dozier is the only one since the '60s, and he's better known for what he did on the gridiron. Florida State's upper hand is a recent one, as their first major leaguer didn't appear until 1961 in the person of the much-missed Dick Howser. Of course, the school had spent most of the first half of the century as a woman's college.
This game helps illustrate the transition of power from the northeast to the schools in the Sun Belt. Even better evidence of this can be found in the example of the College of the Holy Cross. Only three schools have sent more players to the majors (the two mentioned above and Arizona State University), but it has been a long time since the Crusaders have been a relevant source of talent. Their last player entered the majors 30 years ago and, of the 77 former Crusader ballplayers who went on to play in the majors, only seven of them started their careers after World War II.
One of this bowl season's games stands out as the polar opposite of tonight's contest in terms of big leaguers the schools produced. Who did you root for in the 39-Character Bowl, also known as the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl? The combatants were Navy and Colorado State. Between them they have produced only four major leaguers. CSU has given us Mark Huisman, Mark Knudson and Tippy Martinez--all pitchers. The United States Naval Academy's sole major leaguer was Nemo Gaines who pitched in four games for the 1921 Senators.
Speaking of schools that have produced just one big leaguer, wouldn't it be nice to call attention to some colleges that won't be getting any ink this week what with all the attendant bowl hoopla? What follows is a team assembled from players who represent the sole big-league production for their respective schools.
Gil Hodges, St. Joseph's College (Indiana); 1943-1963
George Grantham, Northern Arizona State University; 1922-1934
Harry Wolverton, Kenyon College (Ohio); 1898-1912
Dick Culler, High Point University (North Carolina); 1936-1949
David Justice, Thomas More College (Kentucky); 1989-2002
Preacher Roe, Harding University (Arkansas); 1938-1954
Joe Nathan, Stony Brook University (New York); 1999-2005
Player counts come from SABR's Collegiate Committe channeled through baseball-reference.com.