Friday, January 6, 2017

Nerd Baseball Superstars – the Top Ballplayers from the Top Schools

When it comes to baseball stars, I usually think of big state schools in warmer regions of the country, like Florida, Arizona, Texas, and UCLA. I do not think Yale, Amherst, Northwestern, or the University of Chicago.  For those schools, I think US presidents, Noble laureates, and captains of industry. Wouldn’t it be cool, though, to see who those schools got into the majors or who their top players actually were?

Here's how I went about it:

  • I came up with what I thought were the 25 top, most exclusive (usually private) schools in the country. You’ll probably disagree with me on some of these, but hopefully these aren’t too off base.
  • I went to, found those schools, then saw which alumni had the best career WAR.
  • I listed them below, from worst to first.


#25  Emory | Ed Lafitte
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  3
MLB players:  3
Nerd ratio: 1.0
WAR :  2.0

Ed Lafitte actually didn’t graduate from Emory, but from neighboring Georgia Tech. He would go on to get a dental degree, and practice dentistry for 42 years. He would also serve in both world wars.

Things on the ball field were a little less accomplished. Ed pitched for 5 years in the majors and 9 in the minors. Though he threw the Federal League’s first no-hitter, he also led the league in walks that year as well. Overall, he finished 37-35, with an ERA of 3.33 and a WHIP of 1.438.

And, yes, that is a genuine Louisiana name. Ed was born in NOLA, where his family owned a house on Bourbon St.!

#24  Cornell | Joe Birmingham
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  54
MLB players:  12
Nerd ratio: 4.5
WAR :  3.3

Joe Birmingham was actually a local, having been born in Elmira, only 30-some miles away from Cornell.

In the majors, Joe played outfield, and was up for 9 years (all with the Indians). He stole over 100 SBs and was quite good on defense (regularly finishing in the top 5 in assists, double plays, and range factor).

Birmingham also managed the Tribe for 2 ½ years. Though he finished with a respectable .471 record, he had one disastrous season of 51-102.

BTW, Joe also attended Notre Dame, a little further down this list.

#23  Harvard | Eddie Grant
Presidents:  8
Noble laureates:  159
MLB players:  31
Nerd ratio: 5.13
WAR :  4.4

Well, it’s nice to know that the best school in the country is bringing up the rear when it comes to something.

Another local (he was born in Franklin, MA), Eddie Grant got a bachelor’s and a law degree from Harvard. While there, he also played on the basketball team.

Grant played major league baseball for 10 years, with 4 different teams, and was a starter for 4 of those years. In fact, he led the league in plate appearances 2 years in a row. An excellent fielder, he was in the top 5 for 3rd basemen in a number of defensive categories over those years.

Grant may be most well-remembered for dying in WWI, one of the few MLB players who did. He was honored with a plaque in centerfield in the Polo Grounds. When the stadium was razed, though, the plaque disappeared. It was only recovered 40 years later, in the home of one of NYC’s finest.

There’s a great story about Eddie, though I’m not totally sure it’s true …  Legend has it that Grant, when there was a fly ball on the left side of the infield,  would yell “I have it!” instead of the less grammatically correct “I got it!”

#22  Amherst | John Cerutti
Presidents:  1 (Calvin Coolidge)
Noble laureates:  5
MLB players:  14
Nerd ratio: 0.36
WAR :  6.6

Well, finally, a modern-day ballplayer. 

John Cerutti graduated from Amherst with a double major, in economics and math. The Blue Jays took him in the first round, the first time that had happened for the Lord Jeffs. Yup, that’s what Amherst used to call their sports teams (they’re now the Moose).

John played for 7 years in the majors, compiling a 49-43 record with a 3.94 ERA. After retirement, he became a broadcaster for the Jays. Tragically, John passed away in his hotel room at the SkyDome at the very young age of 44 (from a cardiac arrhythmia).

#21  MIT | Skip Lockwood
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  87
MLB players:  3
Nerd ratio: 29.0 (highest)
WAR :  10.7

Bet you didn’t know that MIT even had a baseball team. A chess club? Sure. Real, live baseball players though??? 

Interestingly, Skip got his degree from MIT after his MLB career was over. During his career, he made attending college in the offseason something of a hobby. Over the years, he attended Merrimack, Carroll College, Marquette, Boston College, Emerson (where he got a B.A.), Fairfield (where he got a Master’s), and Columbia (where he began a PhD program). His MIT degree was a second Masters, in finance and economics, from the Sloan School of Management. Not too shabby!

Skip was in the bigs for 12 years, playing for 4 different teams. He was a starter for 4 of those 12 and was the Mets’ closer for another 3. Overall, he finished with a nothing-to-write-home-about 57-97 record, albeit with a decent 3.55 ERA, 1.311 WHIP, and 800-some strikeouts. His being a founding member of the Seattle Pilots (and then toughing it out for 4 more years in Milwaukee) probably helps explain that woeful W-L record.

#20  Princeton | Will Venable
Presidents:  3
Noble laureates:  42
MLB players:  30
Nerd ratio: 1.4
WAR :  12.9

Another modern player, Will Venable was quite the star for the Tigers. He actually went to Princeton for its basketball program. His dad, though, was major leaguer Max Venable, so I guess it was only natural that Will would try out for – and make – the baseball team as well. Will was actually All-Ivy in both sports.

Will’s been up in the majors for 9 years, from 2008 to last season. Most of that time was with the Pads, where he was a regular for a good 6 years. He was known to have a little pop, some nice speed, and a great glove. Similar players include Oddibe McDowell, Drew Stubbs, and Daryl Boston.

BTW, Will’s brother Winston is a former NFL player. 

#19  Caltech | Gary Roenicke
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  35
MLB players:  15
Nerd ratio: 2.53
WAR :  15.5

Yup, this is where the guys from The Big Bang Theory go. My guess is, though, that they’re not big fans of the Beavers (yup, that’s the mascot).

I actually couldn’t find anything on Gary’s time at Caltech (other than a link), so I’m thinking he probably wasn’t there long.

Gary’s another 1st rounder, going 8th to the Expos. An outfielder, he spent most of his 12 years platooning for Earl Weaver in Baltimore. He was, however, able to compile over 100 homers and 400 RBIs. He also had a pretty decent glove.

Today, Roenicke lives in the wonderfully name town of Rough and Ready, CA, where he is an advisor to an independent league and a scout for the Orioles. The Roenickes are quite the baseball family – brother Ron was in the majors for 8 years and son Josh is currently in the Reds organization. 

#18  Williams | Ted Lewis
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  1
MLB players:  9
Nerd ratio: 0.11
WAR :  18.8

Wow! What an interesting guy. Ted Lewis was a pretty decent ballplayer, but he also:

  • Taught English at Williams and Columbia
  • Was president of UMass-Amherst and the University of New Hampshire
  • Was good friends with Robert Frost, who read a poem at Ted's funeral service

As for baseball, don’t be too surprised that Lewis was known as “The Pitching Professor” and “Parson Lewis” (he had a divinity degree from Williams). Ted was up for 6 years, winning 20 games twice. He spent his whole career in Boston, 5 years with the Braves and 1 with the Sox.

Other famous Williams grads – though non-players – include Fay Vincent and George Steinbrenner.

#17  Northwestern | Mark Loretta
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  11
MLB players:  27
Nerd ratio: 0.41
WAR :  19.3

Mark Loretta was a college standout and a pretty decent major leaguer as well.  With the Wildcats, Mark was a 4-year starter at shortstop and a one-time Big 10 Player of the Year. 

In the majors, Mark was up for 15 years. During that time, he managed to bring home some silverware, including a Gold Glove and two All-Star berths. A decent hitter, he also topped .300 four times. Unfortunately, though, he never really had either pop or speed.

After retirement, Loretta coached Team Israel in the Olympics. Though not Jewish, Mark’s lovely wife Hilary is.

#16  Swarthmore | George Earnshaw
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  5
MLB players:  7
Nerd ratio: 0.71
WAR :  20.1

George Earnshaw came from a fairly tony family. One sportswriter joked that he was "a social register Johnnie" who “knows what to do in case of lobster and artichokes.”

At 6’4” and 210 lbs., Earnshaw played basketball and football as well as baseball at Swarthmore. Not too surprisingly, he went by the nickname of “Moose.”

As for the majors, Earnshaw was up for only 9 years, but was a 20-game winner for 3 of those. Overall, he won over 100 games and had over 1000 strikeouts. He once led the AL in wins and once in shutouts. Unfortunately, he also led the league twice in walks and twice in HRs allowed.

George teamed up with Lefty Grove for most of his career, when the two were with the A’s (and the A’s were very good). Earnshaw would get in 3 World Series with Philadelphia, finishing with a 4-3 record. 

After baseball, George distinguished himself as a Navy Commander in WWII, was a pitching coach for the Phillies, and then retired as a gentleman farmer in Arkansas.

#15  Washington University (St. Louis) | Norm Siebern
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  23
MLB players:  22
Nerd ratio: 1.05
WAR :  20.9

So, who we going to believe here? has Norm attending Washington. SABR and Wikipedia, though, don’t say a thing. So, I’m listing Norm here, but also Muddy Ruel, who I definitely know was a grad (actually, from the law school, which he attended in the offseason).

Poor Norm Siebern. Though he came up with the Yankees, they traded him to the lowly Kansas City Athletics in the Roger Maris deal. Overall, Norm garnered a Gold Glove, got MVP votes 3 times, and made the All Star team 4 times. He was also a particularly good 1st baseman as well. In fact, if he’d had a chance to stay with the Yankees, you’d probably have heard of him.

Muddy Ruel (born Herold) was a top-notch defensive catcher back in the teens, 20s, and 30s. Up for 19 years, he led his league in categories such as games (2), putouts (3), assists (3), double plays (3), fielding percentage (2), and range factor (2), and caught stealing (1). He got Hall of Fame votes for 9 years running during the 50s. Ruel was barely behind Siebern with a career WAR of 18.5.


#14  Carnegie Mellon | Hans Lobert
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  21
MLB players:  4
Nerd ratio: 5.25
WAR :  22.8

Hans Lobert was a major speedster in the first two decades of the 20th Century. Though he never led the league in SBs, he did finish with over 300 for his career. He also beat Jim Thorpe in the 100-yard dash once and also took on a race horse before a game.

After his playing days were over, the former 3rd baseman coached at West Point, and was also a major-league scout, coach, and manager. That last bit was for only a year, with Lobert ending up with a woeful 42-111 record.

Interestingly, CMU (one of my alma maters, by the way) doesn’t even have a baseball team anymore.

#13  Dartmouth | Red Rolfe
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  3
MLB players:  34
Nerd ratio: 0.09
WAR :  23.5

So, not only was Red Rolfe a fine Dartmouth grad, he also went to Phillips Exeter prep school. Not sure why he didn’t end up on Wall Street or in the halls of Congress instead of on the baseball diamond.

You may have already heard of Rolfe, as he managed the hot corner for the Yankees during the ‘30s (when they were pretty much in the postseason every year). Rolfe himself would actually get into no less than 6 Series, finishing with over 100 at bats and with a .284 average. 

Though only up in the bigs for 10 years, he made the most of his time there. He was a 4-time All Star, hit .300 four times, and was a league leader in runs, hits, doubles, and triples. He wasn’t a bad fielder either, finishing 1st in fielding percentage 2 years in a row.

After hanging up his spikes, Red was the baseball and basketball coach at Yale, managed the Detroit Tigers for a couple of years, then became the athletic director at Dartmouth. The baseball field in Hanover is named after him.

#12  Duke | Billy Werber
Presidents:  1 (Richard Nixon got his law degree here)
Noble laureates:  11
MLB players:  30
Nerd ratio: 0.37
WAR :  25.1

Billy Werber was actually a neighbor of mine. He lived up the street, at a retirement home. We never actually met, but he sure was in the local paper and on local TV a lot. 

And that’s probably because he was the oldest living major-league ballplayer when he passed away at age 101 in 2009. Hard to believe that a person who was alive in the days of Facebook and Androids once played baseball with Babe Ruth.

Werber was also a pretty good ballplayer as well. Another speedster, he led the NL in steals 3 times and runs once. He was a pretty good 3rd baseman as well, leading the league in fielding percentage (1), putouts (2), assists (2), and range factor (3).

After retirement, Werber ran a successful insurance business, and was also the author of 3 books.

By the way, Werber played both baseball and basketball at Duke (my other alma mater). In fact, he was Duke’s first All-American hoopster.

#11  Johns Hopkins | Davey Johnson
Presidents:  1 (Woodrow Wilson got his PhD here)
Noble laureates:  36
MLB players:  7
Nerd ratio: 5.14
WAR :  27.5

You probably know this guy as a manager. You’d probably have to be a little bit older, or more of a baseball nerd, to remember that he was quite a decent ballplayer as well.

Player-wise, Johnson was up for 13 years, mostly as a 2nd baseman for those great Oriole teams in the 1960s. Davey was a 4-time All Star and a 3-time Gold Glover. He had one incredible year in Atlanta when he hit 43 homers (his previous high being 18).

Dave (what he was often called) actually managed 4 more years than he played. Overall, he finished with an excellent 595-417 record, won Manager of the Year honors twice, and grabbed a World Series ring with the 1986 Mets. He also managed Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and in the Olympics.

Johnson actually only attended Hopkins (and that in the offseason, while he was a major leaguer). He also attended Texas A&M (where he played baseball and basketball), and got his bachelor’s, in math, from Trinity (also in TX). That math degree actually helped him in becoming one of the first managers to employ Sabremetrics.

#10  Vanderbilt | David Price
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  7
MLB players:  38
Nerd ratio: 0.18
WAR :  32.2

Hey, another current ballplayer! David – and Vanderbilt – will undoubtedly rise in these rankings. Price is only 31, and just finished a year where he won 17 games and was a league leader in games started.

In his short 9 years in the bigs, Price has actually accomplished quite a lot. He has one Cy Young Award to his credit, and was runner-up for 2 others. He also led the AL in ERA twice, and in wins and strikeouts once each.

Vanderbilt actually has a pretty decent team, winning the NCAA title in 2014. Though David wasn’t around for that, he sure starred for them when he was there. He was an All-America every year, and in his final year made a clean sweep of all the top college awards (Golden Spikes, Dick Howser, and several others). In that year, he went 11-1, with a 2.63 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 133 innings. Wow!

David and Astro

#9  Univ. of Pennsylvania | Roy Thomas
Presidents:  1 (William Henry Harrison dropped out of the med school)
Noble laureates:  28
MLB players:  61
Nerd ratio: 0.46
WAR :  40.2

So, back to total obscurity. Roy Thomas was in the majors for 13 years in the early part of the 20th Century. He did finish with a nice .290 average and 244 SBs though. He also holds some rather unique records: 

  • He is the only player with 3 times more runs than RBIs
  • He once fouled off 22 balls in a single plate appearance

He was known in particular for his ability to walk, leading his league or the majors no less than 7 times. He was also a top-notch outfielder, leading his league in multiple defensive categories.

Roy was later a coach for the Quakers, leaving them with one of the best winning percentages in college ball during his tenure.

#8  Georgetown | Doc White
Presidents:  2 (LBJ and Clinton)
Noble laureates:  2
MLB players:  43
Nerd ratio: 0.05
WAR :  42.6

Roy Thomas and Doc White’s careers almost completely overlap. Doc, though, was a pitcher. In fact, he led the AL in wins, ERA, and WHIP in different years, and finished with almost 200 wins, not quite 1400 strikeouts, a 2.39 ERA, and a 1.121 WHIP. He also threw 5 straight shutouts, fashioning a record that stood 64 years until broken by Don Drysdale in 1968. White could would well be in the Hall of Fame.  Similar players include members Jack Chesbro and Rube Waddell.

The “Doc” comes from Guy’s (his real name) getting a DDS from Georgetown’s School of Dentistry. In addition to pulling teeth, White also moonlighted as a composer, putting the music to lyrics provided by sportswriter Ring Lardner.

#7  Brown | Fred Tenney
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  8
MLB players:  41
Nerd ratio: 0.21
WAR :  43.6

Here’s another old timer. Fred Tenney actually split his years fairly evenly between the 19th and 20th Centuries. Over his 17 years in the bigs, he hit .294, topped .300 seven times, scored almost 1400 runs, got over 2000 hits, and stole not quite 800 bases. It was at 1st base, however, where Fred truly shone. He is, in fact, credited with inventing the 3-6-3 double play, stretching for the throw, and other innovations.

Interestingly, at the time Fred played, college grads typically did not play organized baseball. I guess it was considered a little too rough for them. If you can believe it, Tenney actually went by the nickname “The Soiled Collegian.”  

After hanging up his spikes, Fred did a little journalism (including writing for the NY Times) and was an executive for an insurance company and a shoe manufacturer. 

#6  Yale | Jim O’Rourke
Presidents:  5
Noble laureates:  55
MLB players:  30
Nerd ratio: 1.83
WAR :  51.3

Our first Hall of Famer! Jim O’Rourke actually played all but a handful of games in the 19th Century. For the time he played, he ranks only behind Cap Anson in major categories such as games, hits, doubles, and total bases. 

O’Rourke actually graduated from Yale Law School, and was a practicing attorney in the offseason. That’s undoubtedly how he came by his nickname of “Orator Jim.”

Up for 23 years in the majors, O’Rourke played minor league ball up until he was 50. He actually returned to the bigs for a pinch-hitting stint at age 54 – and got a single! His last stunt was catching a complete game in the minors at 62!

#5  Rice | Lance Berkman
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  3
MLB players:  38
Nerd ratio: 0.08
WAR :  51.7

So, if Jim O’Rourke can make it to the Hall, why not Lance Berkman? gives him a Monitor score of 98 (likely member = 100) and a Standards score of 44 (likely member = 50). Unfortunately, his similar players include such unlikely candidates as Jim Edmonds, Moises Alou, Jack Clark, and Brian Giles.

Over his 15-year career, Berkman made the All-Star team 7 times. He also came in third in MVP voting twice. Interestingly, he was only a league leader in a major category once, with 128 RBIs in 2002. Berkman went by two nicknames – the fearsome “The Big Puma,” as well as the much-less-so “Fat Elvis.”

After retiring, Berkman started coaching – as a hitting coach for Rice and as a head coach for local high school Second Baptist (where Andy Pettitte is his assistant).

Definitely the 2nd nickname for this one

#4  Univ. of Chicago | Ernie Banks
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  91
MLB players:  13
Nerd ratio: 7.0
WAR :  67.4

Another Hall of Famer. And another ballplayer who went back to college after his playing days were over.

Ernie Banks actually went to both Chicago and Northwestern (#17 on our list). Interestingly, only mentions Chicago., on the other hand, only mentions Northwestern. Go figure.

I probably don’t need to say much about this guy. In addition to being enshrined at Cooperstown, he was also an 11-time All Star, 2-time MVP, 2-time league leader in HRs, and 2-time leader in RBIs. Overall, his 19 years with the Cubbies netted him over 500 homers, 1600 ribbies, 2500 hits, and 1300 hits.

Banks was also one of the nicest guys to ever play the game. He passed away just a couple of years ago, in 2014. I’m sure he’s up in heaven right now, still celebrating the Cubs first Series win in over 100 years.

#3  Stanford | Mike Mussina
Presidents:  2 (Hoover and JFK)
Noble laureates:  60
MLB players:  95
Nerd ratio: 0.63
WAR :  82.7

Another “Moose”!  

And another legit candidate for the Hall. Mussina’s been eligible for 3 years now, garnering 43% in the last vote. His “similar players” include Juan Marichal and Carl Hubbell … though also David Wells, CC Sabathia, and Bartolo Colon.

Over his 18 years, “Moose” was a 4-time All Star and a 7-time Gold Glove winner. He also pitched 139 IP in the post season. And all of that was in the hyper-competitive AL East. Mike basically split his career between the Orioles and Yankees.

Despite the nickname, Mussina was also genuinely a smart fellow. He was the salutarian of his high school class, and was an economics major at Stanford. He also was an All-American for the Cardinal (yup, that's what they're called) and pitched in 2 college world series for them.

Finally, “Moose” sounds like a pretty interesting guy. In particular, he:

  • Was born in Williamsport, PA, home of Little League
  • Still lives in his hometown, where he coaches the high school baseball team
  • Serves on Little League’s board of directors
  • Is actually of Slavic descent
  • Is a big crossword puzzle enthusiast
  • Collects tractors and old cars

#2  Notre Dame | Cap Anson
Presidents:  0
Noble laureates:  2
MLB players:  85
Nerd ratio: 0.02 (lowest)
WAR :  93.9

Not too surprising, this one. The Irish have always been known for their sports teams. So, in addition to Joe Montana and Adrian Dantley, we’ve also got Cap Anson.

If you’re a real baseball fan, I probably don’t need to say a whole lot about this guy. Because, however, he played solely in the 19th Century, he’s probably not as well know as he should be. So, here are some reminders of how good he actually was:

  • 27 seasons
  • 20 seasons batting .300
  • Lifetime .334 average
  • 4-time league leader in average
  • 8-time leader in RBIs
  • 3435 hits overall

And on top of all that, he also managed for 21 years. In that capacity, he finished 1295-947 and also won 5 pennants.

Given all that, I actually debated even including Anson. “Pop” actually attended Notre Dame’s prep school, not the university. (Hey, I just do whatever tells me to do.) If we don’t include him, Notre Dame’s runner-up would be Yaz. Not too shabby either!

Plus, he also looked like Jimmy Durante

#1  Columbia | Lou Gehrig
Presidents:  3
Noble laureates:  100
MLB players:  22
Nerd ratio: 4.55
WAR :  112.4

Columbia, on the other hand, is not a school I associate with athletic achievement. In fact, these days at least, they appear to be most famous for a football team that went 0-for-the-‘1980s.

Ah, but what a storied baseball history there is. In addition to Gehrig, other Hall of Fame alumni include Sandy Koufax and Eddie Collins. 

Do note, though, that this is definitely a but-what-have-you-done-for-me-lately story. In fact, the Lions have produced only 2 major leaguers in the current century:

  • Fernando Perez was an outfielder for 2 years with the Rays
  • Mike Baxter was up for 6 years, with 4 different teams. 

Put ‘em both together, and you’ve got around 500 at bats, an average in the low .230’s, 7 homers, and 38 RBIs. Iron Horses they ain’t.