Sept. 29, 2006
By Joseph Reaves, Arizona Republic -
Barry Bonds and Reggie Jackson knew how to kick-start their careers.
They played baseball for Arizona State University.
So did Rick Monday, Sal Bando, Bob Horner and 81 other major leaguers.
Only two schools - Southern California and Texas - have sent more players to the big leagues, and ASU is closing the gap, just 10 behind USC and eight back of Texas.
This year alone, three of the most talked about rookies in the majors are veterans of coach Pat Murphy's program.
Andre Ethier, the Dodgers' hot-hitting left fielder, is a leading candidate for National League Rookie of the Year.
The Texas Rangers were so high on second baseman Ian Kinsler that they felt comfortable trading superstar Alfonso Soriano.
And in Boston, the Red Sox have seen enough of Dustin Pedroia in the few weeks since his call-up that they've penciled him in to start at second or shortstop next season.
"Those three are a reflection on the program," says Frank Marcos, head of the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau. "It's a strong program and guys come out of ASU with good solid fundamentals.
"They play the game the right way and it gives them the chance to progress through the minor leagues a lot quicker."
Ethier, Kinsler and Pedroia certainly breezed through the minors. All three needed three full seasons or less to make it to the bigs.
And there's a pack of Sun Devils right behind them. Forty-four former ASU players were in the minors this summer, 16 of them at Triple-A and several others following Ethier, Kinsler and Pedroia on the fast track.
Catcher Tuffy Gosewisch recently was named the best defensive catcher in the Florida State League by Baseball America.
Relief pitcher Zechry Zinicola was drafted by the Washington Nationals in June and already has been promoted twice to finish the summer at Double-A Harrisburg.
Outfielder Travis Buck, the No. 36 overall pick by the Oakland Athletics a year ago, tore up Class A this summer with a .349 average, then hit .302 at Double-A.
He played in the Futures Game at the All-Star break, is headed to the prestigious Arizona Fall League next month and has been so impressive that Rangers manager Buck Showalter said, without prompting: "Travis Buck will be Oakland's starting left fielder next season."
Murphy, who has a .690 winning percentage (798-358-2) in 19 seasons as a Division I coach at Notre Dame and ASU, is convinced his players who move on to the pros have a psychological edge.
"Our guys are hungry to win here and really buy into our team concept and it seems like that mentality has helped them climb the ladder in minor league baseball," Murphy said.
Ethier is one Murphy disciple who believes his time at ASU helped his quick success in the majors.
"It (the ASU program) is a steppingstone from high school to the pro ranks, helping teach you to play the pro game and handle adversity," Ethier said by telephone before a Dodgers game this week.
"He (Murphy) is really good at getting the best out of his players and leading them not only to success on the field, but success after they leave that program."
To a man, his former players seem to agree. But not everyone is overjoyed at how "Murph" - as everyone calls him - goes about making winners of his young men.
"A lot of times you play for him, you don't see eye to eye or get along so well," Ethier said. "But once you leave and realize there was a reason for the way he went about things, you understand he makes you a better player and a better person."
Diamondbacks shortstop Craig Counsell agrees. Counsell is a close friend of Murphy's. He was the first player Murphy recruited at Notre Dame in 1988.
"I think the best trait he teaches you is mental toughness," Counsell said after a thoughtful pause. "More than anything what it allows you to do is when stuff gets thrown at you - bad things, good things - you're ready for it and you know how to handle it.
"He challenges you as a player. You might not always like those challenges when they're happening to you, but I think when you look back, you're happy you went through them."
The Kinsler case
Kinsler is a classic example.
Murphy recruited him and put Kinsler on the podium with him at a media day before the 2002 season, announcing the new kid was his starting shortstop.
By the time the Pac-10 schedule started that season, Kinsler was riding the bench.
At the end of the season he transferred to the University of Missouri.
"Honestly, I think that was a big year for me just to sit on the bench and watch the game," Kinsler said before a Rangers game this week. "I never did that in the past.
"When you sit on the sidelines you see things differently. It taught me a lot and kind of gave me a little fire. I had to prove myself all over again, I definitely didn't want it, but at the same time, I think it did help me in the long run."
So no hard feelings?
"No. He does things his way. That's the way he runs the program. That's just how it is," Kinsler said. "He's very, um, very - I don't know how to say this - he's very confident in what he believes in and he is going to stick with it. I don't have any problem with it."
Neither does anyone in the major leagues who drafts an Arizona State player.
"They play hard," said Marcos of the MLB Scouting Bureau. "It starts before they even get on the field. They wear their uniform properly. They respect the game.
"Murph is strict. He's a disciplinarian. But when you go see an ASU game, you know what type of game they're going to play. They're going to hustle, they're going to be aggressive and it's all a reflection of him."
And for 86 young men so far, a steppingstone to the major leagues.
Reach the reporter at (602) 444-8125 or email@example.com