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  • Do you have any idea where Kirby Puckett went to school? He and a host of successful and unique big leaguers attended the schools that are looking to stage upsets in this year's NCAA tournament.
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
March 21, 2019

If you're looking for the most famous alum from all 64 tournament teams, consider that you probably know that Barry Bonds went to Arizona State and that Tim Lincecum went to Washington. SEC schools like LSU and Florida routinely churn out early-round draft picks and have multiple big contributors at the big league level. That's why this list is devoted to the little guys among this year's NCAA tournament. The rules are thus: if the school does not have a major FBS football program or is not one that you even knew had a college baseball team, then they qualify. Plus, since Prairie View A&M and North Carolina Central rarely get any ink, we kept them in the ranking. The schools are listed in order of most likely to advance in the tournament to least likely. 

Buffalo: Tom Makowski

Buffalo has a rare distinction among the colleges that have produced professional baseball players. Not only is Makowski the lone player to play in the big leagues from the school, he’s the only baseball player in the entire Baseball Reference database. Makowski logged just three outings in his career, and gave up at least one earned runs in all of his appearances.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): See above. The answer is literally nobody.

Totally Random Notable Alum: If the school has an ex-president, you’ve got to lead with them: Millard Fillmore helped in the founding of the university and served as its first chancellor. Former president and prime minister of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed graduated in 1993 with a bachelor’s in history and master’s in political science.

Nevada: Lyle Overbay

Overbay never lived up to the hype that accompanied him, but he still retired with a .266/.347/.429 slash line and 151 homers over 14 big league seasons. He quietly compiled an outstanding 2006 season in Toronto, slashing .312/.372/.508 over 157 games with 22 homers.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): The Wolf Pack have done a good job getting people into the league over the last 15 or so years, but we’re going to go with Ryan Church, who the Mets put on a plane to high-altitude Colorado after sustaining his second concussion of the season.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Ron Toomer invented the “Corkscrew” rollercoaster at Knott’s Berry Farm in California—the first to go upside down. Toomer was considered a legend in the industry before his death in 2011.

Wofford: Spades Wood

He’s not the most accomplished of the six players to make the big leagues from Wofford, but he has the best old-timey name. Wood played just two seasons for the Pirates from 1930-31 and retired with a 5.61 career ERA. Not great, but there’s also not much on the team’s roster page.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Poor John Cornely’s only big league appearance was in the ninth inning of an April 2015 game between the Nationals and Braves. Cornely surrendered four earned on three hits including a three-run homer to Denard Span. He did, however, strike out Ian Desmond to end the inning and, consequently, his big league career.

Totally Random Notable Alum:  Jeopardy! fans will remember Ben Ingram, the winner of the 2014 Tournament of Champions, who recently appeared in the Jeopardy! All-Star Games.

Marquette: Skip Lockwood

Lockwood is one of just two Golden Eagles to make the big leagues. He was on the expansion Seattle Pilots of 1969 as a rookie before logging a 12-year career with four teams. Despite some ultimately weak career numbers, Lockwood compiled a standout 1975 season, logging a 1.49 ERA over 24 games and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings for the Mets. That season led him to become one of the most stable members of the Mets bullpen from 1976-1979; he appeared in 203 games and finished with a 118 ERA+.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): A man named Ralph Shinners from Appleton, Wisconsin compiled 163 career games between 1922-25. Shinners managed the Kenosha Comets of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League n 1947 and is commemorated on their permanent display at the Baseball hall of Fame.

Totally Random Notable Alums: Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show and Breaking Bad fame attended, but didn’t graduate, so we’ll go with the late Chris Farley, who graduated in 1986 and can be seen wearing a Marquette rugby jacket in Tommy Boy. Steve Rushin, one of the most recognized writers in the history of Sports Illustrated, graduated in 1988.

Utah State: Dyar Miller

Miller is the only player in Aggies history to log more than three seasons in the big leagues, playing for four teams from 1975-81. After retiring, Miller worked as a pro coach for 28 years, including 19 in the Cardinals organization.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): There really isn’t much here. The entire university has a slash line of .155/.239/.175 and seven career RBI.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Former senate majority leader Harry Reid, who graduated with a double major in political science and history, attended Utah State after growing up in rural Nevada with no indoor toilet, hot water or telephone.  

Seton Hall: Craig Biggio

The Pirates have a richer baseball tradition than you might anticipate: Biggio, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015, was college teammates with fellow future big leaguers Mo Vaughn and John Valentin. Biggio remains the school’s all-time leader in triples and would become a seven-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger for the Astros.

Other Notable Baseball Alums: Matt Morris finished third in the NL Cy Young voting and received down-ballot MVP votes after going 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA in 2001 for the Cardinals. In 1997, he finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting to future teammate Scott Rolen.

Totally Random Notable Alum: It’s March, so let’s acknowledge Bill Raftery, who earned a masters and eventually coached the basketball team from 1970-81. He remains one of sports’ finest color commentators.

     

VCU: Brandon Inge

One of the contemporary favorites of any scouts who likes grit and dirty uniforms, Inge logged a 13-year career and was most known for his 12 years in Detroit, where he was named an All-Star in 2009. Inge always surprised people with his power, as he hit 27 homers in both 2006 and 2009. He last appeared with Pittsburgh in 2013.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto may have learned his crazy trading ways as a member of the Rams before playing 329 games in the big leagues as a reliever from 1993-2000.

Totally Random Notable Alum: If you’ve ever been in an airport bookstore or seen a mid-50s man thumbing a paperback, then you’ve seen a book written by David Baldacci, who did his undergrad there.

Belmont: Jerry Bell

Bell is one of only two pitchers to reach the big leagues from Belmont. The best season of his four-year career came in 1972, when he logged a 1.66 ERA over 25 innings. Bell’s strangest trait was his seemingly inability to strike anybody out. He retired with a 2.8 K/9 and finished with 114 career walks and 89 strikeouts.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): The only other Belmont big leaguer was Dwight Bernard, another reliever who was more adept at striking people out (4.7 K/9 over his career) but lacking control (4.4).

Totally Random Notable Alum: Brad Paisley and Lee Ann Womack are probably the most famous musicians from a school that has produced multiple Broadway stars and two American Idol finalists.

Murray State: Kirk Rueter

A #ForeverGiant to the faithful fans of San Francisco, Rueter had no flash, a lot of junk pitches and a rubber arm. Rueter’s Baseball Reference page is one of no bold font, no league leads, no awards votes except a couple of down-ballot votes for Rookie of the Year in 1993. Still, Rueter was one of the most recognizable Giants of the Barry Bonds years, always liable to induce some soft contact and make life extremely frustrating for power hitters.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Jack Perconte was a seven-year big league depth player who played in 433 career games but logged just two career home runs, both in 1985 with the Mariners.

A Totally Random Notable Alum: Any fans of Deadwood may remember Dan, the affable, big-hearted but physically imposing bouncer who could launch anybody out of the primary bar in town. He was played by W. Earl Brown, who graduated with a bachelor’s in 1986.   

New Mexico State: Mark Acre

Extremely slim pickings from the Aggies, who have logged just 37 total games in the big leagues. I’m giving it to Acre because the last player he struck out in his career was Albert Belle.

Other Notable Baseball Alums: I would invite all of you to see what a brutal season Jason Rakers had as the Royals mop-up man in 2000.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Alan Hale, co-founder of the Hale Bopp comet, is an Aggies alum. One of the great discoveries of the 20th century, Hale first discovered the comet while gazing into the New Mexico night. Little did he know that another astronomer, Thomas Bopp, saw something similar in the same region of the sky while in Arizona. Together, they’d make history.

Saint Mary’s: Tom Candiotti

One of the classic knuckleballers of the 80s and 90s, Candiotti pitched until he was 41 and logged a 16-year career. In 1986, he logged 17 (!) complete games for the Indians in 34 starts.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Fans of The Wire will remember Herc and Carver’s discussion of former Orioles catcher Gus Triandos.

Totally Random Alum: You may already know that two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali played basketball at St. Mary’s, but you may not know that the most successful high school football coach in history—Bob Ladouceur—is a St. Mary’s alum.

Liberty: Sid Bream

Just play the video:

Other Notable Baseball Alums: None

Totally Random Alum: ESPN Sunday NFL countdown host Samantha Ponder is probably the most notable outside of founder Jerry Falwell.

Vermont: Larry Gardner

Gardner had a 17-year career from 1908-24. In one of the finest examples of what baseball was before Babe Ruth, Gardner hit a combined six home runs between the 1920 and ‘21 seasons with 238 RBI. Besides Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, Gardner was probably the best player on the 1912 Red Sox, the first season the team played in Fenway Park. Another Vermont alum, Ray Collins, was on that team and started the first World Series game at Fenway Park.

Other Notable Baseball Alums: For all of you MVP Baseball 2005 fans, there actually was a player named John Dowd, who played 10 games for the Yankees in 1912. Otherwise, Vermont hasn’t had a big leaguer since Jack Lamabe—nickname Tomato Face—in 1968.

Totally Random Alum: William A. Wheeler, the 19th Vice President of the United States who served under Rutherford B. Hayes, one of the truly forgettable presidents.  

Northeastern: Adam Ottavino

The Yankees reliever has one of the most vicious sliders in baseball and is the latest weapon in New York’s bullpen. He edges Carlos Pena, who finished a 14-year career with 286 career home runs.

Other Notable Baseball Alums: None besides the aforementioned two, but George Yankowski played just two seasons in the majors: one in 1942 at age 19 and the other in 1949 at age 26.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Would you have guessed that talk show host Wendy Williams has a net worth of $60 million? The talk-show host is one of the most influential voices that you have never considered.

UC Irvine: Brady Anderson

Anderson still possesses the most inexplicable 50-homer season in history. Before hitting that mark in 1996, Anderson had 72 homers in 945 career games.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): I’m surprised there aren’t more. Excluding Anderson, there are only 302 combined games from seven other players.

Totally Random Notable Alum: If you ever saw the movie Freedom Writers starring Hillary Swank, famed teacher Erin Gruwell is a UC Irvine alumnus and daughter of a late Angels scout.  

Yale: Ron Darling

Darling is the only first-round pick in Yale history and finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting in 1986 after going 15-6 with a 2.81 ERA and 184 strikeouts. Now, he’s apart of one of the most beloved broadcast booths in baseball.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): The only Hall of Famer is Jim O’Rourke, who played from 1872-1993 … before reappearing in a game in 1904 at the age of 54. He even logged a hit!

Totally Random Notable Alum: If you’ve ever seen a Todd Solondz movie then your life is markedly different than before viewing that film. Otherwise just find a nearby alum and they’ll probably answer “myself.”

Northern Kentucky: Nate Jones

Jones is one of four Norse players—all pitchers—to ever make the show. He has been a generally disappointing, if available reliever for the White Sox over the past seven years.

Other notable baseball alums: None

Totally Random Alum: George Clooney, who has a net worth of $500 million!

Old Dominion: Justin Verlander

This one is not and will never be close. Daniel Hudson and Ryan Yarbrough are fine pitchers, but whenever Verlander retires, he will be one of the best power pitchers to ever take the hill.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Hudson’s arm troubles kept him from being a reliable starter. In 2011, he logged a 113 ERA+ over 33 starts and won a Silver Slugger award after hitting .277/.309/.369 with a homer.

Totally Random Alum: Ben Bailey. Because doesn’t everybody love Cash Cab?

Georgia State: Marv Rackley

He retired with a slash line of .317/.365/.390 over four seasons and was on the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson’s team, for 18 games.

Other Random Baseball Alum(s): The first big league home run that pitcher Larry Jaster surrendered was to Willie Mays.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Ludacris narrowly edges Julia Roberts because the latter didn’t graduate.

Saint Louis: Charlie Comiskey

He played 13 years from 1882-1894, but is most famous as the owner of the White Sox during the 1919 Black Sox scandal. I have no idea how Baseball Reference calculates OPS+ for 19th century games, but his best season was a 111 mark in 1887.

Other Random Baseball Alum(s): Bob Miller played 17 seasons between 1957-74 and is one of those guys who had a spectacularly mediocre career. He finished with a career ERA of 3.37 (pretty good!) a K/9 rate of 5.2 (not so good!). His most impressive accomplishment came in 1964, when he allowed just one homer in 74 appearances.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Bradbury Robinson threw the first legal forward pass in the history of football, practiced medicine at the Mayo Clinic and was one of the first Americans to warn against the dangers of DDT. Pretty neat!  

Colgate: Bill Hunnenfield

A six-year veteran who played for four teams from 1926-1931, Hunnenfield stole 55 bases over his first three seasons. He wasn’t very good at anything else, but did finish his career with a 1.6 WAR.

Other Random Baseball Alum(s): None, but Colgate may have the best collection of names: Augie Swentor, Ebba St. Claire, Kid McLaughlin, Swede Larsen, Honey Barnes and Eppie Barnes (not the same person).

Totally Random Notable Alum: Former ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff, the winner of numerous journalism awardes who was wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006.

Montana: None

The Grizzlies don’t have a baseball team. The last alum to play professionally ended his career in 1970 in Single A.

Totally Random Notable Alum: The most impressive is Jeannette Rankin, the Progressive-Era suffragette who was the first woman elected to Congress and only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The most hipster is Decemberists head singer Colin Meloy. The best entertainer is Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons.

Abilene Christian: Bill Gilbreth

Gilbreth is the only guy to ever make it from Abilene Christian. He pitched just 14 games over a three-year career, but did have an awesome big league debut. Over nine innings, Gilbreth surrendered just one run, struck out Graig Nettles for his first MLB strikeout and went 2-for-4.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): None, but they once produced a ballplayer named Preacher Thurman who barnstormed around some independent leagues from 1928-33.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Rapper Big Pokey, who has a killer verse on Paul Wall’s “Sittin’ Sidewayz.”

Bradley: Kirby Puckett

This one is pretty obvious. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, Puckett was a 10-time All-Star, six-time Silver Slugger and five-time Gold Glover who finished with a .318 career batting average and led the big leagues in hits three different times. From 1986-95, he hit lower than .314 just twice and never finished a season with an OPS+ below 119. Puckett’s public fall of grace was an ugly, sordid affair before his death in 2006, but he remains one of the greatest players  

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Bill Tuttle was an unremarkable infielder over 11 seasons, but became one of the public faces of the dangers of smokeless tobacco after a Readers Digest article documented the disfigurations he suffered because of oral cancer.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Chick Hearn, who broadcast over 3,000 consecutive games for the Lakers, is widely considered the greatest basketball play-by-play announcer of all-time. Ralph Lawler, who has called over 3,000 games for the Los Angeles Clippers, is also a Bradley alum. For all you Werner Herzog fans, Timothy Treadwell AKA The Grizzly Man attended Bradley on a diving scholarship.  

Gardner Webb: Blake Lalli

Lalli is the only player from Gardner-Webb to reach the show. He logged 32 games over three seasons between 2012-2016 and finished his career with a .135/.151/.154 and, somehow, a -17 OPS+. While he never homered at the big league level, he did finish his MLB career on a high note: he singled in his last at-bat as a member of the Braves in September 2016.

Other notable baseball alum(s): None

Totally Random Notable Alum: NBA Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore started at Gardner-Webb, then a junior college, before transferring to Jacksonville. Gilmore was the first selection in the 1976 ABA dispersal draft by the Chicago Bulls, with whom he made four All-Star teams.  

Iona: Jason Motte

The ex-Cardinals closer threw a perfect ninth inning in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series and was one of the best closers in baseball in 2012, logging 42 saves and a 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Motte last pitched in 2017 with the Braves to end a nine-year career.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Vito Valentinetti played for five teams in five seasons and finished his career with the ignominious distinction of retiring with more walks issued (122) than strikeouts (94). He also had one of the absolute worst big league debuts imaginable: On June 20, 1954, Valentinetti entered in the ninth inning for the White Sox against the Yankees and surrendered six earned runs on four hits in a 16-6 loss. He issued two walks—one to Mickey Mantle, the other two Phil Rizzuto—before Yogi Berra tripled them both in. It was the only appearance he ever made for the White Sox.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Don McLean, singer of “American Pie”, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.  

Prairie View A&M: Cecil Cooper

Cooper was a five-time All-Star for the Brewers and retired with a 121 OPS+ and finished top-five in MVP voting three times. Cooper was a legitimate power hitter. In 1980, he hit .352/.387/.539 and led the National League with a league-leading 335 total bases and a 155 OPS+.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Steve Henderson finished second in the 1977 NL Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .297/.372/.480 and logging a 133 OPS+ in 99 games.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Mr. T was expelled after his freshman year, so we’ll go with DJ Premier from Gang Starr, who was the campus DJ and performed with the school marching band.  

Fairleigh Dickinson: Bill Hands

Hands was a stable part of the Cubs rotation from 1968-1972 and was particularly good in 1969. Hands went 20-14 a 2.49 ERA and 18 complete games (!) over 41 starts (!!), a 162 ERA+ (!!!) and exactly 300 innings pitched (!!!!). Hands’s other admirable feature was his apparent refusal to walk anybody. In 1968, he walked just 36 of the 1013 hitters he faced over 34 starts. They’ve seen heat but they ain’t see Bill Hands’s heat!     

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Sam Dente landed on somebody’s 1950 AL MVP ballot. The Washington Senators shortstop hit a paltry .239/.286/.299 with a 53 OPS+ but compiled the truly incredible feat of walking 39 times striking out just 19 times in 654 plate appearances. That’s a 97.1% contact rate. In 2018, Joey Gallo’s contract was 58.6%. Dente, who died in 2002, was also the grandfather of Red Sox starter Rick Porcello.

A Totally Random Notable Alum: Stephen Spiro, who received a masters in economics from Fairleigh Dickinson, was one of the most public conscientious objectors of the Vietnam War. Citing the Catholic theory of just war, Spiro was jailed for avoiding the draft because U.S. conscription laws allowed for conscientious objection only on the grounds of opposition to all war. He was eventually pardoned by President Garold Ford.     

North Dakota State: Neil Wagner

Wagner is the lone player to ever make the majors from Carson Wentz’s alma mater. A 21st-round pick of the Indians in 2005, he made his big league debut in 2011 with the A’s and struck out the first MLB hitter he ever faced (Carlos Santana). He was a reasonably effective middle reliever for the Blue Jays in 2013 (a 3.79 ERA and 7.8 K/9 rate over 36 appearances) before an awful 2014. He probably wishes he could face just one more batter—he surrendered six runs over 1 ⅓ innings against the Indians, allowed the Indians to hit for the cycle on him in 11 batters faced, and ended the outing surrendering a three-run homer yo Yan Gomes. In 2018, Wagner pitched for the Seibu Lions in Japan.

Other Notable Baseball Alum(s): Nobody, but I do like the name Jeremiah Piepkorn, who compiled a solid .266/.328/.494 season with 22 homers as a member of Single-A Dayton in 2005.

Totally Random Notable Alum: Rep. Ilhan Omar, who recently became the first Somali American elected to the U.S. Congress, graduated with a bachelor’s in political science and international studies.

North Carolina Central: Nobody

The Eagles have never had a player make the big leagues or, frankly, come even close. Andrew Vernon was drafted by the Brewers in the 28th round of the 2016 MLB draft, but finished 2017 in rookie ball after a fairly disastrous 22 games with the Single-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Other notable baseball alum(s): None

Totally Random Notable Alum: Andre Leon Talley, the former editor-at-large of Vogue and one of the most influential African-American tastemakers in the U.S., graduated with a degree in French Literature. In a close second is Herman Boone, the coach portrayed by Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans.

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