Aug. 19, 2010
By Randy Policar -
On April 26, 1963, a right handed pitcher by the name of Pete Lovrich made his Major League debut for the Kansas City Athletics, throwing a perfect eighth inning with one strike out in a 12-10 Athletics victory over the Washington Senators. While neither the victory nor the game itself holds much significance in Major League Baseball lore (the two teams finished 8th and 10th in the American League that year), the eighth inning was significant for Arizona State University. That day, Lovrich became the first former Sun Devil to appear in a Major League Baseball game, paving the way for 94 others to follow in his footsteps. Among them are a Hall of Famer, a Home Run King, numerous Most Valuable Players and several World Champions. The Arizona State-Major League Baseball connection that began that day is still going strong, as ASU continues to churn out talented baseball players who become bona fide Major League Baseball players.
The 95 Major Leaguers is third among NCAA schools for most players sent to the big leagues, behind only Texas and USC. However, baseball did not become a varsity sport at Arizona State until 1959. Since that year, ASU has sent the most players to the Major Leagues in the nation, and by a significant total. Over the past 51 years, USC has sent 77 players to the Majors, while Texas has sent 70, compared to the 95 of ASU. Since 2005, 15 former Devils have made their debut at the big league level, including at least one in each of the last six years.
Since Pete Lovrich made his debut, the star power to come through ASU on their way to the Majors has been nothing short of amazing. Arizona State was a dominant program almost from its inception, winning three College World Series titles during its first full decade of play. Sun Devils from that era who went on to big league fame include Sal Bando and Reggie Jackson, who were the backbones of the Oakland A's Dynasty in the mid-1970's. Jackson went on to earn the moniker Mr. October, winning three World Series rings and earning MVP of the Fall Classic twice. He was a 14-time All-Star, won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1973 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. Rick Monday, who starred on the 1965 National Championship team, was the first player ever drafted as the #1 overall pick in the inaugural MLB Draft in 1965.
The 1970's had its own share of big names come through the program, including Bob Horner, who won the first ever Golden Spikes Award and the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1978. Horner, who was on the 1977 National Championship squad, played 10 seasons in the Majors and was an All-Star in 1982. Lenny Randle played 12 seasons in the big leagues, while Larry Gura pitched in the Majors for 16 seasons, earning an All-Star Game berth. Floyd Bannister made his MLB debut in 1977, the beginning of a 15-year career that included an All-Star appearance.
The 1980's were an especially prosperous time for Big League Sun Devils, producing some of the program's most recognizable names. Hubie Brooks, who won a National Title in 1977, began a 15-year career in 1980, earning three All-Star berths and two Silver Slugger awards. Alvin Davis, who starred for the 1981 National Champions, won the 1984 Rookie of the Year Award and was an All-Star with the Seattle Mariners. Davis played nine Major League seasons. In 1985, Oddibe McDowell made his Major League debut after a Golden Spikes winning career at ASU. "O" played seven seasons in the Majors. A teammate of McDowell's at ASU, Barry Bonds had a standout career in college and moved on to have a historical career at the Major League level. Making his debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986, Bonds played 22 seasons for the Pirates and the San Francisco Giants, appearing in 14 All-Star Games, winning seven Most Valuable Player awards, including four straight, eight Gold Gloves and 12 Silver Slugger awards. In 2007, Bonds became Major League Baseball's Home Run King, breaking Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs. Bonds finished his career with 762 round-trippers. In 1989, Mike Benjamin began his first season in MLB, beginning a career that would last 13 seasons. Benjamin returned to ASU in 2010 and is currently an assistant coach under former Sun Devil teammate and current Head Coach Tim Esmay.
The 1990's continued the trend of ASU being a baseball factory, as more names broke into the bigs. Pat Listach started his Major League career in 1992, winning Rookie of the Year. Fernando Viña made his debut in 1993 and played 12 seasons, earning an All Star berth and two Gold Glove awards. Paul Lo Duca broke into the Majors in 1998, beginning a career that spanned 11 seasons and featured four All-Star games.
As the calendar turned from the 1900's to the 2000's, ASU Baseball continued to churn out Major League players. Over the past 10 years, the next generation of Sun Devils have been making their marks in the Majors, just as their Sun Devil predecessors did. Among those who have made their debuts in the past 10 years are Willie Bloomquist, Dustin Pedroia, Jeff Larish and Travis Buck. In 2002, Bloomquist made his debut for the Seattle Mariners, and he is currently with the Kansas City Royals. Pedroia made his Major League debut in September of 2006, giving Boston Red Sox fans a glimpse of a star-studded future. In 2007, Pedroia won the Rookie of the Year Award and helped lead Boston to a World Series title. The following year, he took home the Most Valuable Player award. He accepted both awards at Packard Stadium in Tempe, a nod to his Sun Devil roots. Andre Ethier made his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and earned his first All-Star appearance in 2010. Larish debuted in 2008 for the Detroit Tigers and is now an Oakland A, as is Travis Buck, who debuted in 2007.
The past three years have seen a flurry of Sun Devils make it to the Majors, including some who wrapped up their college careers a few months prior to their debuts. Since 2008, seven former Devils have gotten the call, including Brooks Conrad and Mitch Jones, both of whom spent several years in the Minor Leagues before finally making it to The Show. Ike Davis and Brett Wallace were each first round draft picks in the 2008 MLB draft, and each made their Major League debuts in 2010. Davis and Wallace both currently play first base and wear #29, Davis with the New York Mets and Wallace with the Houston Astros. Colin Curtis made his big league debut in 2010 as well, donning the pinstripes of the New York Yankees.
But there is perhaps no more remarkable ASU success story of the past 20 years than that of Mike Leake. Leake was the #8 overall pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2009 Draft following a remarkable career at ASU that saw him win 40 games, back-to-back Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year Awards and a National Player of the Year trophy. Leake went straight from ASU to the Majors, making his Major League debut on April 11, 2010. He became the 21st player since Major League Baseball began the draft in 1965 to skip the Minors and go straight to the Majors. He is the third Sun Devil to accomplish the feat (Eddie Bane in 1973 and Bob Horner in 1978) and the first pitcher to do it since 1994. He has been a valuable part of the Reds pitching staff in 2010, helping keep the Reds in contention for their first playoff berth since 1995.
For 51 years, Arizona State has been providing professional baseball with talented athletes, 95 of whom have made it to the highest level, the Major Leagues. So now the countdown to 100 begins for Arizona State Baseball.