Bubba Starling and the Greatest Kansans in Major League History

Born in Kansas. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Bubba Starling, as you may have heard, is from Kansas. This was already fairly noteworthy on draft day, and became even more so when the Royals selected him. Elite high school players simply aren't from Kansas very often. Of course, not much of anything is from Kansas these days, merely because Kansas is a small population state. That being said, there are also secondary reasons for the relative dearth of top-shelf Kansans in high school baseball: the complications related to the longer winters, the lack of a training/high-end/marginally insane youth sports infrastructure as compared to the Sun Belt states, etc.

If we grant that Bubba Starling is a great talent for his current age group, how rare would it be if he became an All-Star level player out of Kansas?

  • Only 32 Kansans have amassed more than 1,000 PAs at the Major League level. To date, only eight Kansas-born players have appeared in a Major League game this season.
  • Of those eight Kansans (of some degree) in the Major Leagues, one is, of course, our own Aaron Crow, who was born in Topeka. Kyle Farnsworth was also born in Kansas (Wichita) as was Andy Larouche (Fort Scott).
  • Overall however, Kansas has been a respectable state in baseball history. 205 Kansas-born players have made the Major Leagues, which is more than South Carolina (169) and close to neighboring Oklahoma's total of 236 and Iowa's 213. Truly barren Major League states are either small northern states like Rhode Island (73) or Vermont (37) or Western states that were essentially un-populated until quite recently. Thus, Arizona, has only produced 89 players to date.
  • The glory days of Kansas baseball were roughly from the 1920s to the 1960s. At any random point in the 1950s, you might find 20 odd Kansans on Major League rosters (when MLB was also much smaller). In the early part of the twentieth century Kansas had 10 electoral votes, which compared to their current total of 6, reveals how much larger the relative population of Kansas was one hundred years ago.
  • The greatest Kansan of all-time is Walter Johnson, who was born in Humbolt in 1887. Of course, a quick look at Johnson's stats reveals that he's also one of the greatest pitchers, period, of all time. Humbolt has a decaying monument to Johnson in place, as well as a sign.
  • Johnny Damon dominates the born-in-Kansas leaderboards for offensive players. Damon leads Kansans in PAs and hits by wide margins, and is second only to Tony Clark in HRs (251 to 223). Damon, however, went to high school in Orlando, so he doesn't have much similarity to Starling as a high school player patrolling Kansas outfields. Clark, actually, was similar in this regard. Though he was born in Newton, he graduated high school in El Cajon, CA. I'm noticing a trend here.
  • Other notable Kansans include Joe Tinker (who is somewhat mysteriously a Hall of Famer), 1980s journeyman Mitch Webster, 1990s journeyman David Segui, 1980s slugger Bob Horner, 1970s starter Mike Torrez and 1990s college star Darren Dreifort. Random 1990s Twin Pat Meares is 14th all time amongst Kansas players in lifetime hits.
  • To return to the original question, it would be somewhat notable if Bubba Starling becomes an All-Star level player from Kansas. An all-Kansas all-time team would probably not be very good, aside from having Walter Johnson and Johnny Damon. And I guess Tinker, although he played 500 years ago with bats made out of whalebone. (If anyone wants to figure out who would win an all-midwest all-time tournament, please do!) The odds are long that Starling has a better career than Damon, who was very good for a very long time. Then again, Damon, as mentioned above, wasn't fully from Kansas the way Bubba is. And, like Dennis Rodman, Damon seemingly had a complete physical and personal transformation over the course of his career, which makes his Royals-years hard to remember. Tony Clark was also a very good player for a few years, posting three 30 HR seasons and randomly making an All-Star team in 2001. If you are extremely optimistic regarding Bubba, you might project that he'll end up somewhere between Damon and Clark career wise. If we're being super optimistic, we might hope that he ends up as a Damon-like OF, with more power. In that scenario, he might become the greatest position player in Kansas history.
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