Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Part 1: Infielders and Catcher

Lists. We love ‘em, especially when we disagree with ‘em. What better way to get Bulldog blood boiling than debating the very best or most favorite Diamond Dogs?

With another season in the books, and happily a good one even if it fell short of Omaha, it’s time to review our annual All-Dawgs’ Bite Era team. Or actually, repeat it.

Because there will not be any changes to the starting lineup nor rotation. No surprise of course. This team is made of players from 1976 to present who completed careers. So A) there won’t be some pretty great names from 1975 and before. That makes listing-life lots easier without comparing the radical changes in games played, competition, or just equipment. Did you know that metal bats became officially-approved for NCAA use in 1975? Quite the coincidence.

And B) no active players are considered. Meaning, a certain 2016 freshman phenom will have to wait a couple more years before qualifying. At Jake Mangum’s hitting pace, and with him presumably moving into centerfield now, that position will become a real three-Dog fight in the future.

And really, four decades is sufficient for assemble a heckuva Diamond Dog lineup and rotation mostly familiar to today’s audience. Some positions are so automatic as to not need explaining but we do it anyway.

Limiting the rotation to, well, a three-man rotation made for truly tough decisions. Overall though we follow our ultimate baseline-rule for assembling all-star teams and making the close calls. There will be and should be disagreements, and if anyone is truly over-looked the fault is entirely the writer’s.

Remember though, the key was not who deserves to be on this squad. The key always is who simply can not be left off it.

 

FIRST BASE: WILL CLARK 1983-85 .391avg (#1), 61hr (#2), 199rbi (#8), 126 walks (t#7)

Do we really need to support this automatic call? Just re-watch Thunder And Lightning a few more times, and be reminded why this is State’s accepted standard-setter. To be sure his numbers are paralleled and sometimes superseded by his club classmate, who would have made an all-time first baseman in his own right. But it was Clark earning the infield position, by mid-freshman season it’s always worth remembering. As for the larger image with fans then and now, well, it was just that with out-sized performance in every aspect (he was an high-level defender by the way) of the game, came an out-sized persona. He was either loved or loathed with no middle-ground and that was just fine with the brash Loosianner boy. It is still fascinating how Clark’s legend lives beyond Starkville and the SEC. Arriving at Ameritrade in ’13 and seeing of all the CWS legends on light-post banners, there was Clark’s image. Standing straight at the plate awaiting a pitch, his banner appropriately sited on a street parallel to first base. They never forget him in Omaha, either.

 

SECOND BASE: BRETT PIRTLE 2013-14 .337avg, 75 runs, .423ob%, .974fldg

This has always been a difficult spot to fill on our D.B. Era Team. There have been some fine and a few excellent candidates, just no one who truly stood out above the rest. One reason is that a couple of Dogs who could have been the all-time best here moved over to the other side of the infield for their final season(s). That makes sense of course as second basemen play second fiddle to shortstops in baseball hierarchy…even though as numbers show in college ball the right-side guys handle the ball more often. Anyway, after the 2014 season we filled the position. Why Pirtle over the others, since he was a two-year guy compared to three- and four-year standouts? This. I’ll argue Pirtle’s hitting .363 in the dead-bat era and on a 2014 team with absolutely no order-aid and opponents knowing he was their only Dog to go after ranks with the greatest offensive seasons by a State swinger. Defensively he more than held his own with good range and a stronger arm than just about any of the other strong second-sackers to play on Dudy Noble Field. Check his work in the Charlottesville Regional for proof. Still if any want to argue in favor of their own favorite at the position, we likely have them listed later.

 

SHORTSTOP: ADAM FRAZIER 2011-13 .348avg, 224 hits, 76 walks, 117 runs, .962fldg

For his first two seasons some suggested that Frazier might make the top second baseman ever here. After the third season in the six-hole he was recognized as the best shortstop period. Like all the great shortstops he had his share of errors so the fielding average doesn’t jump out. That’s obviously because he got to a lot more tough grounders than average fielders who don’t get chances to boot balls. Those he reached in time, were usually outs…though let’s give a tip of the MS cap to that big first base target Frazier was throwing at and making him look even better! Still it is the hitting most remember and Frazier might just be the most efficient top-of-order Dog ever. His NCAA-leading 107 base hits in ’13 will be a tough single-season record to top, along with his 304 at-bats. Like Pirtle, they shudder at his name in Charlottesville nowadays. It is fair to propose that with a better offensive order swinging behind him after reaching base, Frazier almost certainly would own the runs-scored mark. And yeah, he’d still have been a heckuva second sacker. Good thing nobody listened to the suggestion.

 

THIRD BASE: PETE YOUNG 1987-89 .322avg, 28hr, 169rbi, 185 runs, 56 doubles (#3), 13-6 record, 19 saves, 2.38 ERA 146ks

As another College World Series plays out, we of the correct age and era should sigh over this one. Because if ever, ever there was a Diamond Dog who belonged on the field at Omaha, this is he. In fact a case can be made there’s never been a bigger fan-favorite at Dudy Noble Field. About the ‘bigger’ bit, a less-than-textbook physique (we’re being kind) belied some honest athleticism as Young had a first step maybe only Wes Rea has matched. His second step usually found him diving to the dirt. Then there was the big ‘ol arm that gunned down guys with seemingly careless ease. This same arm of course compounded his impact as sooner or later he would stroll on over to the pitching mound, warm up just a little bit, then start throwing big-handed fastballs that looked faster than they read on the radar because of the delivery. His out pitch though was what he called ‘the hook’, a great big curveball that came out of the paw looking like heat. Plus, many a SEC batter knew how Peter and Richie Grayum had spent the evening before game day and wondered if he was pitching to the right guy among the two or three seen at the dish. Oh yeah, and the guy was a hard hitter, swatting not just singles but lots and lots of doubles to again show unexpected speed. And nobody ground more DNF dirt in his shirt when diving for grounders and belly (literally) flopping into a base. Sigh. Omaha never knew what it missed.

 

CATCHER: ED EASLEY 2005-07 .331avg, 19 homers, 137 rbi, 155 runs, .978fld%

Catcher is another position that had strong candidates for a lot of years of solid credentials, the differences often coming down to intangibles or image. After Easley’s three seasons the issue seemed pretty well settled at last. Easy Ed just was a little bit better or smoother going about his job in most every aspect. In others where he was not the outright best of Bulldog backstops he did assemble the better combination of skills all around. A good measure of his impact is seen in the wide, wide variety of pitching arms and attitudes Easley was able to work with and still do the job, which after all is the measure of a catcher right? So is taking and keeping a job. Easley played 182 games and started 179 of ‘em. He did have error issues as a sophomore, but as a 2007 junior became just brilliant with the mitt. He had only three errors in 522 chances, a .994 percentage at a pressurized position. Conventional catching wisdom claims offense is a bonus for great backstops, but Easley was excellent at the plate by any standard. As we said, he just did the job in every aspect at an excellent level.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS: What were the odds of a program having a pair of first-class catchers with the same last name? C JOHN McDONALD (1977-80) batted .318 for his long career, though the first half of it was spent at third base. He hit cleanup on the ’79 CWS club averaging .352. Then came C ROARK McDONALD (1984-86) making it look easy catching Brantley, Morgan, Thigpen, all those guys. C CRAIG TATUM (2003-04) wasn’t merely a great big physical backstop blocking pitches and plate. His senior year with 13 homers and 60 RBI might be the best single offensive season ever by a State catcher, and he also had just five errors all year. Know what the strongest single position for four decades has been here? Clearly first base. In fact our second-best first sacker will make the team as a DH. And there are more top-drawer guys here. OK, so maybe 1B BRUCE CASTORIA (1979-82) wasn’t the greatest glove in the game. But he’s still #3 in homers and his fly balls registered on GTR radar. Most any other program and 1B RICHARD LEE (1995-98) would be an all-timer; he #2 in career hits and doubles both, top-ten in runs and homers and undisputed #1 in RBI thanks to a four-year career. And up until May 1990 the most clutch home run of modern MSU memory was swatted in the 1979 SEC Tourney title game at DNF by 1B RICK DIXON (1979-80). Had MIF JON SHAVE (1987-90) played second base his whole career, or moved to shortstop earlier, he could have been our pick for either with both bat and glove. He is so remembered for that one great big hit in 1990 that many forget 2B/3B BURKE MASTERS (1987-90) is still #5 in career hits and #2 in runs scored. He does hold the record for career games, too. But the record-holder for base hits (335) remains 2B JEFFREY REA (2004-07), the Dog that Pirtle narrowly edges out here…though if you favor J-Rea nobody here will argue. If he’d stayed in one spot the whole time there’s no telling where SS BRAD FREEMAN (1995-98) might rank in the pecking order. And we can’t publish this without tipping the MS cap to our favorite tag-team. They didn’t get the honors or attention but boy were SS FRANK DAVIS (1984-85) and 2B GATOR THIESEN (1984-85) the perfect pairing on the middle-infield and ideal role players in the offense. They also ate a few revised fielding decisions on Monday mornings after series when a certain first base star visited the sports information director, but shhhhh don’t tell anyone…


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