Watch the last days of Albert Pujols“A profession, one has to remember. The man cast a huge shadow over the sport for so long, and his early days seem like a different era. To get a sense of the duration, I remember hearing about him for the first time from a physical version of USA Today Sports Weekly – The thing we used to read while walking to school uphill in both directions, etc., the Cardinals were reported to have been so impressed by a 21-year-old third baseman who barely played above the low that they were thinking of hooking him up in the opening day lineup.
The Pujols’ rapid rise to prominence is unusual but totally unheard of, and the appearance of a young, precocious hitter from the Dominican Republic conjures up some images: signing as a teenager, working through the low shorts, and proving himself against the old men when his American peers are still They eat the meal plan and go to fraternity parties.
But Pujols, who moved to New York and then Independence, Missouri, as a teenager, was a college baseball player. He played one season at Maple Woods Community College (now Metropolitan Community College – Maple Woods). There, he did what you would expect one of the best hitters ever to do against juco competition: Hit .466 with 22 points in 56 games, led his team to a regional title, and earned American honors. That spring, the Cardinals selected him for the thirteenth round of enlistment, and two years later he was in the majors. Two World Series, three MVP Awards and nearly 700 home tours later, you know the rest of the story.
As a self-described college baseball fan (others might use adjectives like “sicko” and “know-it-all”), I was struck by the idea that if one were to measure the success of a college baseball program with something like cumulative WAR or reward devices, Pujols alone puts Maple Woods on par with most Power Five software. It’s more fun thanks to Bryce Harperat Late Southern Nevada College, there are many middle schools with active MVP winners, but no Division I schools.
There are two points here, one serious and one not.
The serious point is that while some programs have a reputation for developing talent, and certain regions have a reputation for producing them, truly exceptional baseball players come from everywhere and go down dozens of different paths into the majors. They are the children of athletes, teachers, farmers, loaders, librarians, whatever. They were found playing in front of 10,000 screaming SEC fans or playing in front of Nobody in Particular in high schools in upstate New York.
The really cool thing is that, for over 70 years now, organized baseball has had an exploratory network able to find almost all of them. A few more may be sneaking through the cracks now that the draft is half the size it was five years ago, but in general, even a kid from a random community college can get a shot at the pro if he’s good enough.
The not-so-serious point is that making this point provides an apt path to a phenomenon that die-hard baseball fans tend to live by: obscure trivia that makes absolutely no sense.
See, it turns out there’s absolutely no correlation between a college baseball program’s reputation and its ability to turn out MVP-level players. The size, yes, that the school has some control over, but not the heyday of its greatest alumni. So, in order to distract America’s white-collar workers on a Friday afternoon, I set up a test. Since modern MVP voting rules went into effect in 1931, at least 39 colleges have produced the best player in either the Major League or National. How many of these can you name? (Including the two I mentioned earlier in this post.)
The history of baseball turns out to be full of goku legends, not even counting two of the all-time greats in this test famous for his transition from small colleges to major convention schools. More complicated matters: A number of the top professional baseball-reference players are listed as having attended college but never played baseball there. For example, Ernie Banks took night classes at the University of Chicago, where he supposedly learned a lot of cool things about economics. I’ve sorted through these as best I can using SABR player CVs (if anyone has evidence one way or the other as to whether Karl Jastrzemsky played for the new Notre Dame team, or if Don Baylor played at Blinn College, I’ll update the test). Only players are listed in the school from which they were drafted and/or signed.
Admittedly, just a [chooses euphemism carefully] A certain type of person may search for this information, or even find it interesting when they encounter it. But this kind of obscure trivia is baked into a baseball fan base, so have fun.