clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Which NCAA basketball tournament school produced the best baseball player?

New, comments

March Madness is upon us, so pick your tournament pool with this piece of baseball madness.

Kenny Lofton #7

If you are like most Americans, you’ve spent the last 11 months ignoring college basketball. But now you are intensely interested in the game because some guy in your office has started a pool and you need to fill out a bracket again. Besides, the tournament games are fun and hey, didn’t you used to date someone who went to that school? Maybe you’ll pick them to win it all.

If you’re struggling to fill out your bracket, I’m here to help. I’m here to guide you with a surefire way to win your office pool—pick the schools who have the best baseball-playing alumni.

Of the 68 teams in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, 65 of them have had an alumnus play major league baseball. The other three have had at least one minor leaguer. So what follows is the best baseball player to play for each tournament team and which team will be cutting down the nets in San Antonio on April 2 because of it.

A quick note on my selections for the best player on each team. This list is a bit subjective. I didn’t go by WAR because I didn’t want to pick a guy who was just decent for a long time over a player who made a bigger impact over a shorter career. Also, many ball players attend more than one school. The school listed is not necessarily the school they were signed out of. (I’m looking at you, Mike Piazza.)

Play-in Games

Most office pools don’t include the play-in games, but they are pretty important this year. By the way, the NCAA hates it when you call the first four games Tuesday and Wednesday “Play-in Games.” So with that said, here are the teams in the play-in games.

Long Island: Larry Doby

Radford: Eddie Butler

Arizona State: Barry Bonds

Syracuse: Dave Giusti

St. Bonaventure: John McGraw

UCLA: Eddie Murray

North Carolina Central: Andrew Vernon

Texas Southern: Zach Welz

—Wow. Three Hall-of-Famers and one that would be in without extenuating circumstances. Even if you want to disqualify Bonds, ASU can boast a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in Reggie Jackson as well. John McGraw is in the Hall for managing, but he was a very, very good ballplayer in the 1890s.

Andrew Vernon was a 28th-round pick of the Brewers in 2016 and played for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the Midwest League last season. Zach Welz played three years in the Angels organization, reaching as high as Double-A last season before he was released.

Long Island, Arizona State, UCLA and North Carolina Central advance.

East Regional

#1 Villanova: Mickey Vernon

#16 Long Island: Doby

#8 Virginia Tech: Joe Saunders

#9 Alabama: Joe Sewell

#5 West Virginia: Charlie Hickman

#12 Murray State: Kirk Rueter

#4 Wichita State: Joe Carter

#13 Marshall: Rick Reed

#6 Florida: David Eckstein

#11 UCLA: Murray

#3 Texas Tech: Josh Tomlin

#14 Stephen F. Austin: Hunter Dozier

#7 Arkansas: Brooks Robinson

#10 Butler: Doug Jones

#2 Purdue: Moose Skowron

#15 Cal-State Fullerton: Frank Tanana

—Mickey Vernon won a couple of batting titles with the Senators in the post-war years. Joe Sewell was a shortstop for the Indians and Yankees in the twenties and early thirties. He was a terrible selection for the Hall of Fame in 1977, but even the worst Hall of Famer was a heck of a ballplayer.

Hickman was a solid American League outfielder in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Arkansas will defeat Long Island in the regional finals to advance to the Final Four. Doby’s Long Island against Vernon’s Villanova is a very good first-round matchup, but the 16 seed will down the top seed and advance. Brooks Robinson’s Arkansas narrowly wins the Orioles showdown over Murray’s UCLA.

Midwest Regional

#1 Kansas: Bob Allison

#16 Penn: Roy Thomas

#8 Seton Hall: Craig Biggio

#9 North Carolina State: Dan Plesac

#5 Clemson: Jimmy Key

#12 New Mexico State: Marc Acre

#4 Auburn: Frank Thomas (The Hall of Fame one)

#13 Charleston: Brett Gardner

#6 TCU: Jake Arrieta

#11 Arizona State: Bonds

#3 Michigan State: Robin Roberts

#14 Bucknell: Christy Mathewson

#7 Rhode Island: Dave Stenhouse

#10 Oklahoma: Bobby Murcer

#2 Duke: Dick Groat

#15 Iona: Dennis Leonard

—For those who don’t know who Roy Thomas is (or think he writes comic books), he was a terrific center fielder for the Phillies in the first decade of the last century. He led the league in walks seven times and retired with a OBP of .413. He also ran pretty fast. With all due respect to Mark DeRosa and Doug Glanville, Thomas was the best Penn ballplayer.

Acre pitched four seasons with the Athletics in the mid-nineties, in case you’ve forgotten. I have.

Dave Stenhouse played three years in the majors and made two All-Star teams. Of course, two of them were in the same year, his rookie season, which was his only decent year. Also, he pitched for an expansion Senators team that needed some representation in the two All-Star Games that season. He’s the father of Expos outfielder of the early eighties, Mike Stenhouse, if that helps. It probably doesn’t.

Arizona State beats Auburn to advance to the Final Four. Bucknell gives ASU their biggest scare of the tournament with an early upset bid, but falls in overtime.

South Regional

#1 Virginia: Eppa Rixey

#16 Maryland—Baltimore County: Jay Witasick

#8 Creighton: Bob Gibson (Again, the Hall of Fame one.)

#9 Kansas St.: Ted Power

#6 Kentucky: Brandon Webb

#12 Davidson: Fred Anderson

#4 Arizona: Kenny Lofton

#13 Buffalo: Joe Hesketh

#6 Miami (FL): Mike Piazza

#11 Loyola—Chicago: Doug McWeeny

#3 Tennessee: Tommy Bridges

#14 Wright State: Carlos Pena

#7 Nevada: Lyle Overbay

#10 Texas: Roger Clemens

#2 Cincinnati: Sandy Koufax

#15 Georgia Southern: John Tudor

—This whole project was worth it just for discovering that there once was a major league ballplayer named Doug McWeeny. He pitched for the White Sox, Dodgers and Reds in the twenties.

I don’t care that Trevor Hoffman is in the Hall of Fame and Kenny Lofton isn’t. Lofton was the better baseball player. Also, Lofton famously played basketball for the Wildcats, reaching the Final Four in 1988. In fact, Lofton only had one at-bat for the Wildcats baseball team.

Gibson also went to Creighton on a basketball scholarship and made the switch to baseball. This regional would clearly be the toughest in basketball ability.

Rixey pitched for mainly the Reds in the 1920s. He’s one of the worst players in the Hall of Fame, but again, even a bad Hall of Famer is a terrific ballplayer.

Fred Anderson won the NL ERA crown in 1917 with the Giants, but his best years were with Buffalo in the Federal League. Second baseman Robert Eenhoorn was drafted in the second round by the Yankees in 1990 out of Davidson, but he only played 37 games in the majors. He later became a long-time manager of the Netherlands national team.

Roger Clemens’ right arm carries Texas to the Final Four over Bob Gibson’s right arm. Sorry, Sandy. Your career just wasn’t long enough.

West Regional

#1 Xavier: Frank Robinson

#16 NC Central: Vernon

#8 Missouri: Max Scherzer

#9 Florida State: Buster Posey

#5 Ohio State: Frank Howard

#12 South Dakota St.: Vean Gregg

#4 Gonzaga: Jason Bay

#13 North Carolina—Greensboro: Brian Moehler

#6 Houston: Doug Drabek

#11 San Diego State: Tony Gwynn

#3 Michigan: Barry Larkin

#14 Montana: Dan Rowland

#7 Texas A&M: Roy McMillan

#10 Purdue: Birdie Tebbetts

#2 North Carolina: B.J. Surhoff

#15 Lipscomb: Don Blasingame

Montana is the third and final school that has never produced a major leaguer. Rowland pitched in the Indians minor league system in the late-40s.

Florida State does have a Hall of Fame alum, but Tony LaRussa isn’t in Cooperstown for his playing ability, so Posey gets the nod here.

Vean Gregg pitched for the Indians and led the league in ERA his rookie season of 1911. He had two more good seasons in the majors after that. He would return to his native state of Washington and pitch in the Pacific Coast League for Seattle when Cleveland had no more use for him.

I selected Scherzer as the best Mizzou player over Ian Kinsler. If their careers both ended today, Kinsler would get the nod, but Scherzer has more left in the tank than Kinsler does.

Xavier becomes the only number one seed to advance to the Final Four as Robinson leads the Musketeers over Gwynn’s Aztecs. Both of the Orioles “Robinson Brothers” lead their team to the final four.

Final Four:

Arizona State over Arkansas.

Texas over Xavier.

Arizona State may have been the final team to make the NCAA tournament, but according to the data, thanks to Barry Bonds, they’re going to have “one shining moment” as America wonders why Babe Ruth and Ted Williams never went to college.