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Who produces the best local talent?

Missourah!

Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

I’ve always enjoyed watching Albert Pujols play. Yes, I know he plays for the other Missouri team, but you must admit, seeing him turn back the clock and hit a home run against the Royals, then the standing ovation and the touching curtain call...well, if you don’t appreciate that, you might want to turn in your baseball fan card. After the Royals (and every other team) missed on Pujols in the 1999 draft, I’ve always wondered what the draft tally was of local colleges and universities. Thanks to the glory of Baseball Reference, we can look up (and compare) just about anything. For baseball nerds, it’s really a great time to be alive.

Starting with the area colleges, Drury University of Springfield, had some decent players a generation ago. Hot Rod Kanehl, Roy Smalley Sr., and Bill Virdon all came out of the small school. Kanehl, from Wichita, Kansas, was known more 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’s also the brother-in-law of longtime manager Gene Mauch and father of Roy Jr., who was a 28 WAR player over a 13-year career from 1975 to 1987. Virdon, who just passed away last November, was the star of the group. Virdon hailed 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 walked off the powerful Yankees. After his playing days ended, Virdon embarked on a successful managerial career that spanned 13 more seasons. He was a pretty darn good manager too, finishing with a career record of 995 and 921.

Tiny Westminster College in Fulton has produced four pros’, the best being Bake McBride, who had a terrific 11-year career, primarily with Philadelphia and St. Louis. Shake ‘n Bake was a native of Fulton and won the National League Rookie of the Year in 1974 and a World Series with the Phillies in 1980. He closed his career with two seasons in Cleveland.

UMKC has only produced two pros, but they both enjoyed long careers. The first was former Kansas City Athletic pitcher Arnie Portocarrero, who carved out 7 seasons with the Athletics and Orioles. The second was local boy Steve Mingori, a Rockhurst High product who as a situational lefty reliever, enjoyed a solid 10-year career. Mingori spent the last seven seasons of his career with the Royals.

NW Missouri State biggest star was Gary Gaetti. Gaetti spent ten seasons terrorizing American League pitchers while playing for the Minnesota Twins. He somehow hung around for 20 seasons, accumulating 2,280 hits of which 360 were home runs. He spent three seasons in Royal uniform, including 1995 when he hit 35 home runs and drove in 96, picking up some 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 flat out play.

The University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg has produced several professional players with the best being Jerry Reuss. Ruess was an imposing (6’5 200 lb) lefty who played for 22 seasons between 1969 and 1990. Ruess was one of the more underrated players of his generation. Over his career, he appeared in 628 games, starting 547 of those and compiled a career mark of 220-191 with a 3.64 ERA. Today those numbers might get a pitcher serious Hall of Fame buzz, but for guys in 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 while finishing 2nd in the Cy Young voting. You’d think those numbers would be good enough, but Steve Carlton, one of the best left handers of all time, went 24 and 9 that season with a 2.34 ERA.

Which Missouri school has produced the best players? Missouri State University (formerly known as Southwest Missouri State) has excelled. For the old timers, they’ll recall 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 Athletics great seasons in 1962 when he slashed .308/.412/.495 with 25 home runs, 110 walks and 117 RBI. He was a four-time All-Star, won a Gold Glove at first base and was part of two World Series champions. The other big star out of MSU was Ralph Terry, another 12-year vet, primarily with the Yankees and Athletics. Terry won two World Series with the Yankees and was the MVP of the 1962 Series. After his baseball career ended, Terry lived a quiet life in Larned, Kansas, where he passed away on March 16th, 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 managed to snag Coleman, who has potential be a bullpen star, but they missed on the others. Particularly galling was missing on Howard, who clubbed 382 home runs, won a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP as part of a 13-year career. Does anyone scout the Springfield area for the Royals? Apparently not. It doesn’t appear that anyone scouts the University of Missouri either. The Tigers by far and away have produced the best talent in the state. For the old timers, 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 best player, but he was very good on the diamond and an excellent quarterback for the Tigers as well. The Royals have picked one Missouri product, Aaron Crow, who had some moments. They missed on the more recent crop of stars to come out of Columbia including Ian Kinsler, Kyle Gibson and Max Scherzer. Mad Max, he of one blue eye and one brown eye, is in his 15th season and on his way to Cooperstown five years after he retires. The Royals had the first pick in 2006 draft and selected Luke Hochever. That was a loaded draft with Evan Longoria, Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Scherzer all going in the top 11. The Royals, Rockies, Pirates and Orioles all had picks in the top ten and all blew their choices. That draft was so top heavy in stars, a monkey could have thrown a dart at a list of top prospects and more than likely hit upon either a Hall of Famer or a perennial All-Star. The University of Missouri campus is 119 miles from Kauffman Stadium. If the Royals don’t have a regional scout, I’d be willing to chip in for the gas money.

Things aren’t as lucrative on the Kansas side of the river. Jim Thorpe briefly played at Haskell. Bob Veale, one of the nicest players I’ve ever met, played at Benedictine College in Atchison. Veale was a big lefty (6’6) who in his early days, 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 bunch of us kids how to throw different pitches, all the while chatting and signing autographs.

Bob Veale - Pittsburgh Pirates
Bob Veale

The University of Kansas basketball team is in no danger of losing their crown to the baseball team. The Jayhawks produced some talent years ago with players like Bob Allison, Chuck Dobson and Steve Renko, but haven’t produced a player of significance since.

It’s even dryer west on I-70. Kansas State has been enjoying a recent revival in their baseball program, but haven’t produced a professional of note since Ted Power, an Abilene, Kansas native, 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 northwest burg of Norcatur. Auker, a righthanded submarine style pitcher went 130 and 101 over 10 seasons from 1933 to 1942. The Wildcats also produced Bob Randall, who hailed from Gove, Kansas (population 80). The Los Angeles Dodgers really wanted Randall, drafting him three times. They got him, finally, but ended up trading him to the Minnesota Twins in 1975. He played five seasons in Minnesota before he took up coaching. Randall spent 12 seasons as the head man at Iowa State University and seven years as the head coach at the University of Kansas.

Wichita State lays claim to having the best baseball program in the state of Kansas and the Shockers have produced many professional players. Unfortunately, few Shockers have produced at a high level. Ken Berry had a solid 14-year career between 1962 and 1975. Pat Meares, who prepped at Sacred Heart of Salina, rode a strong college World Series appearance into a 9-year professional career with Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Wichita has had a handful of players carve out double digit careers, including Koyie Hill, Braden Looper, Doug Mirabelli, Charlie O’Brien and Mike Pelfry. The two biggest stars out of Wichita have been Casey Blake, who had a 13 year, 25 WAR career with five different teams and of course Joe Carter. Carter was a terrific talent who was a five time All Star over his 16-year career. For a player of his talent, Carter was a bit of a vagabond. He made his debut with the Cubs, before spending time with Cleveland, San Diego, Toronto, Baltimore and San Francisco. He ended his career with 2,184 hits and 396 home runs. He had ten seasons where he drove in more than 100 runs and 12 consecutive seasons in which he hit more than 20 home runs. The guy was a serious power hitter. Baseball fans will long remember Carter’s Series ending walk off home run off Mitch “Wild thing” Williams in 1993.

In the surrounding states, my son’s alma mater, Colorado State-Pueblo produced George Brett foil Rich Gossage. Goose played briefly for the Thunder Wolves, who at the time were known as the University of Southern Colorado. The hard throwing Gossage was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

1980 American League Championship Series - Game 3: Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees
Brett and Gossage: Mano a mano
Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

The University of Nebraska has produced some solid pro’s including Stan Bahnsen (who gave up George Brett’s first career hit), Bob Cerv, Joba Chamberlain, Brian Duensing, Darin Erstad, Pete O’Brien and a certain leftfielder you may have heard of. Kid named Gordon.

My oldest son went to the University of Iowa, so we’ve got to talk about the Hawks. Much like Kansas State, the Hawkeyes baseball team has had a bit of a renewal in recent years under coach Rick Heller. The Hawkeye’s were home to early star Cap Anson. Mike Boddicker, a Hawkeye who came out of tiny Norway, Iowa, had an excellent 14-year career from 1980 to 1993, including two seasons with the Royals. Cal Eldred, from Urbana, was another Hawk who also played in the bigs, 14 seasons between 1991 and 2005. I remember Eldred when he pitched for Iowa, and he was a tremendous college pitcher. We’ll leave it at that.