Who produces the best local talent?
I have always loved watching Albert Pujols play. Yes, I know he plays for the other team in Missouri, but you have to admit it, seeing him go back in time and hit a home run against the Royals, then the standing ovation and the touching curtain call …well, if you don’t. To understand this, you might want to return your baseball fan card. After the Royals (and every other team) missed Pujols in the 1999 draft, I always wondered what the local colleges and universities draft count was. Thanks to the glory of Baseball Reference, we can search (and compare) just about anything. For baseball nerds, it really is a good time to be alive.
Starting with area colleges, Drury University in Springfield had decent players a generation ago. Hot Rod Kanehl, Roy Smalley Sr. and Bill Virdon all came out of kindergarten. Kanehl, of Wichita, Kansas, was best known for his nickname. He spent three seasons with the expansion New York Mets. Smalley Senior had a respectable 11-year career with the Cubs, Phillies and Milwaukee Braves. He is also the brother-in-law of longtime manager Gene Mauch and the father of Roy Jr., who was a 28 WAR player during a 13-year career from 1975 to 1987. Virdon, who recently passed away in last November, was the star of the group. Virdon hails from West Plains, Missouri, and enjoyed a 12-year career with Pittsburgh and St. Louis. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1955 and won a World Series with the Pirates in 1960 when Bill Mazeroski left the mighty Yankees. After his playing days ended, Virdon embarked on a successful managerial career which lasted 13 more seasons. He was also a very good manager, finishing with a career high of 995 and 921.
Fulton’s tiny Westminster College produced four pros, the best being Bake McBride, who had a terrific 11-year career mostly with Philadelphia and St. Louis. Shake ‘n Bake was a native of Fulton and won National League Rookie of the Year in 1974 and a World Series with the Phillies in 1980. He capped his career with two seasons in Cleveland.
UMKC only produced two pros, but they both had long careers. The first was former Kansas City Athletic pitcher Arnie Portocarrero, who spent 7 seasons with the Athletics and Orioles. The second was local boy Steve Mingori, a Rockhurst High product who, as a situational left-handed reliever, had a solid 10-year career. Mingori spent the last seven seasons of his career with the Royals.
NW Missouri State’s biggest star was Gary Gaetti. Gaetti spent ten seasons terrorizing American League pitchers while playing for the Minnesota Twins. He sort of trailed for 20 seasons, racking up 2,280 hits including 360 home runs. He spent three seasons in royal uniform, including 1995 when he hit 35 home runs and drove 96, garnering MVP votes in the process. He won four Gold Gloves and was a key contributor to the Twins 1987 World Series championship team. The guy could go all out.
The University of Central Missouri at Warrensburg has produced several professional players, the best being Jerry Reuss. Ruess was a towering southpaw (6’5,200 lbs) who played for 22 seasons between 1969 and 1990. Ruess was one of the most underrated players of his generation. During his career he appeared in 628 games, starting 547 and compiled a career mark of 220-191 with a 3.64 ERA. Today, those numbers might get some serious Hall of Fame buzz, but for the guys of Ruess’ generation, it just meant induction into the Hall of Very Good. He was a 2-time All Star and won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981. His best season came in 1980, when he went 18-and-6 with a 2.51 ERA and led the league with six shutouts all finishing 2nd in the Cy Young vote. You’d think those numbers would be pretty good, but Steve Carlton, one of the best left-handers of all time, went 24-and-9 this season with a 2.34 ERA.
Which Missouri school produced the best players? Missouri State University (formerly known as Southwest Missouri State) excelled. For the elders, they will remember the names of Jerry Lumpe (12 years with the Yankees, Tigers and Kansas City Athletics) and Norm Siebern (12 seasons with the Yankees, Athletics and four other teams). Siebern had one of the great seasons in track and field in 1962 when he cut .308/.412/.495 with 25 home runs, 110 walks and 117 RBIs. He was a four-time All-Star, won a Gold Glove at first base, and was part of two World Series champions. MSU’s other big star was Ralph Terry, another 12-year veteran mostly with the Yankees and track and field. Terry won two World Series with the Yankees and was the 1962 Series MVP. After his baseball career ended, Terry lived a quiet life in Larned, Kansas, where he passed away on March 16, 2022.
More recently, the Bears have produced Bill Mueller, Shaun Marcum, Luke Voit, Dylan Coleman, Brad Ziegler, Ross Detwiler, Jake Burger and Ryan Howard. The Royals were able to catch Coleman, who has the potential to be a star in the bullpen, but missed the others. Particularly lacking in exasperation was Howard, who hit 382 home runs, won rookie of the year and an MVP during a 13-year career. Anyone scouting the Springfield area for the Royals? Apparently not. It also doesn’t seem like anyone is discovering the University of Missouri. The Tigers have produced the best talent in the state by far. For oldies, you have Art Shamsky, Mike Shannon, Darold Knowles and Sonny Siebert. They had a bit of a lull in my generation with Phil Bradley being the better player, but he was very good on the diamond and a great quarterback for the Tigers as well. The Royals picked a Missouri product, Aaron Crow, who had a few moments. They missed the most recent crop of stars to come out of Columbia, including Ian Kinsler, Kyle Gibson and Max Scherzer. Mad Max, he with one blue eye and one brown eye, is in his 15th season and on his way to Cooperstown five years after his retirement. The Royals had the first pick in the 2006 draft and selected Luke Hochever. It was a busy draft with Evan Longoria, Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Scherzer all in the top 11. The Royals, Rockies, Pirates and Orioles all had top ten picks and all spoiled their choice. This draft was so star-rich that a monkey could have tossed a dart at a list of top prospects and more than likely hit a Hall of Famer or perennial All-Star. The University of Missouri campus is 120 miles from Kauffman Stadium. If the Royals don’t have a regional scout, I’d be willing to contribute gas money.
Things aren’t as lucrative on the Kansas side of the river. Jim Thorpe briefly played Haskell. Bob Veale, one of the best players I’ve ever met, played at Benedictine College in Atchison. Veale was a tall southpaw (6’6) who, in his debut, threw some serious heat. He had a string of good to great seasons with the Pirates between 1964 and 1967. I met him after a 1973 game when he was playing for the Red Sox. He stood on the third base rail and showed a group of us how to throw different pitches, while chatting and signing autographs.
The University of Kansas basketball team is in no danger of losing its crown to the baseball team. The Jayhawks produced talent years ago in the likes of Bob Allison, Chuck Dobson and Steve Renko, but haven’t produced a major player since.
It’s even drier west on I-70. Kansas State has seen a recent revival in its baseball program, but hasn’t produced a notable professional since Ted Power, a native of Abilene, Kansas, who played for 13 seasons between 1981 and 1993. Power played the 1988 season for the Royals. . The Wildcats’ best player was certainly Elden Auker, who came out of the small northwestern market town of Norcatur. Auker, a right-handed submarine-style pitcher had 130 and 101 over 10 seasons from 1933 to 1942. The Wildcats also produced Bob Randall, a native of Gove, Kansas (population 80). The Los Angeles Dodgers really wanted Randall, drafting him three times. They finally got him, but ended up trading him to the Minnesota Twins in 1975. He played five seasons in Minnesota before becoming a coach. Randall spent 12 seasons as head coach at Iowa State University and seven years as head coach at the University of Kansas.
Wichita State claims to have the best baseball program in Kansas State, and the Shockers have produced many professional players. Unfortunately, few Shockers have produced at a high level. Ken Berry had a strong 14-year career between 1962 and 1975. Pat Meares, who prepared for Sacred Heart of Salina, had a strong college World Series appearance in a 9-year pro career with Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Wichita has had a handful of players who have carved out double-digit careers, including Koyie Hill, Braden Looper, Doug Mirabelli, Charlie O’Brien and Mike Pelfry. Wichita’s two biggest stars were Casey Blake, who had a 13-year, 25-WAR career with five different teams, and of course Joe Carter. Carter was a formidable talent who was All Star five times during his 16-year career. For a player of his talent, Carter was a bit of a wanderer. He got his start with the Cubs, before spending time with Cleveland, San Diego, Toronto, Baltimore and San Francisco. He finished his career with 2,184 hits and 396 homers. He had ten seasons where he drove more than 100 runs and 12 straight seasons in which he hit more than 20 homers. The guy was a serious power hitter. Baseball fans will long remember the end of Mitch “Wild thing” Williams’ Carter’s home run streak in 1993.
In surrounding states, my son’s alma mater, Colorado State-Pueblo, produced George Brett foil Rich Gossage. Goose briefly played for the Thunder Wolves, which at the time was known as the University of Southern Colorado. Hard pitcher Gossage was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
The University of Nebraska has produced some solid pros, including Stan Bahnsen (who gave up George Brett’s first hit), Bob Cerv, Joba Chamberlain, Brian Duensing, Darin Erstad, Pete O’Brien, and a certain southpaw you have maybe heard of. A child named Gordon.
My oldest son went to the University of Iowa, so we have to talk about the Hawks. Like Kansas State, the Hawkeyes baseball team has seen a bit of a makeover in recent years under coach Rick Heller. The Hawkeyes were home to the first star Cap Anson. Mike Boddicker, a Hawkeye from Little Norway, Iowa, had a stellar 14-year career from 1980 to 1993, including two seasons with the Royals. Cal Eldred of Urbana was another Hawk who also played in the big leagues, 14 seasons between 1991 and 2005. I remember Eldred when he pitched for Iowa, and he was a terrific college pitcher. We will leave it there.