VETTEL: Greatest Gator Baseball Players

I attended my first Gator Baseball game in the spring of 1979, and I've been watching them ever since. In that time I have seen the majority of the best players to wear Orange and Blue. With one of those greats Matt LaPorta ending his Gator career, it seems like a good time to put his career in context and consider the best players to perform at McKethan Stadium/Perry Field.

One Man's Top Ten

I've been paying attention to gator baseball for the past 30 years and have seen most of the top players in school history. Here's my list of the ten best in Florida history, granting that I offer no view of those who played prior to 1978. This is based solely on their productivity at UF, not their talent or their pro careers.

#10 Rob Bonnano ----- He looked overmatched early in his career but this curveball specialist from Tampa ended up the Gators' second winningest pitcher (28) and all-time strikeout leader (392).

#9 Dave Falcone ----- "The Bopper" set the UF record with 19 homers in 1981 back before the aluminum bats went nuclear. His showdown at bat against Miami's Mike Browning was one of the great moments in Perry Field history.

#8 David Eckstein ----- He walked on at UF, but was too small to warrant playing time until the 1994 NCAA Regional when he produced solid numbers filling in for an injured teammate. Eckstein finished in Florida's top five in hits, runs, total bases, doubles and stolen bases.

#7 Mark Ellis ----- While Eckstein was very good, Ellis was even better. No I admit I rolled my eyes when Andy Lopez signed a middle infielder from South Dakota, but it worked out. Ellis is Florida's All-Time leader in runs, hits and doubles plus is in the top five in homers and RBI.

#6 Jeff Gidcumb ----- For two years this righty out of Jacksonville was as good as any starting pitcher in the country. "Giddy" set the school record with 16 wins in 1998, helping pitch the Gators to Omaha for the first time.

#5 Mike Stanley ---- Stanley had a superb four year career behind the plate and was a consistent, productive hitter. He added power with 14 homers as a senior and had a .350 career batting average. Stanley is in UF's top ten in batting, runs, RBI, hits and doubles. He gets extra credit for doing it while spending most of his time behind the plate.

#4 Scott Ruskin ----- Ruskin and Stanley were side by side during their Gator careers, but Ruskin also produced on the mound with nine victories in 1985. Ruskin hit .406 the year before and finished a .358 hitter. I still can't figure out how that 1985 team failed to win the SEC, the SEC Tournament or an NCAA Regional.

#3 Matt LaPorta ----- The big fella shattered the career home run record with 74 and trails only Wilkerson in runs batted in. LaPorta led the Gators to the finals of the College World Series as a sophomore and carried the Gators this season.

#2 Marc Valdes ----- His repertoire wasn't all that complicated with the occasional slider supporting a power sinker, but the results were something else. Valdes won 31 games for the Gators and was an innings-eating machine on the mound, averaging 131 in his three seasons. He was plenty aggressive, setting an NCAA record by hitting 65 batters.

#1 Brad Wilkerson ----- There can be no doubt that the lefty from Owensboro, Kentucky is the greatest ever to suit up in Gainesville. Wilkerson left UF #1 in Batting (.381), Homers (55), Slugging Percentage (.714), On-Base Percentage (.531) and RBI (214). He ranks #1 based on his offensive stats alone, but Wilkerson was also a great first baseman. Oh, yeah I almost forgot, he's probably one of the five best pitchers in UF history, too. Wilkerson won 26 games on the mound and saved ten more. It's no wonder FSU Baseball Coach Mike Martin referred to him as "Super Boy".

Well, that's my top ten, with apologies to Near misses Darren O'Day, Josh Fogg, Brian Duva, Mark Kiger, Ben Harrison and Ryan Shealy. What's yours?

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