Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Best Ever College World Series Field

Last year in Omaha, the Fresno State Bulldogs made a run for the ages on their way to the College World Series Championship. With the Bulldogs being my hometown team, this was pretty exciting for me. Fresno isn't exactly known for its championships, and the path that the team had to take to the crown was far from easy. Immediately after the Bulldogs clinched the victory, I went online to the CWS website and ordered myself a pretty spiffy hat commemorating the title.

As good as the championship was for a native Fresnan like myself, though, I can't honestly believe that the 2008 Fresno State Bulldogs will go down in history as the best college team ever. It's just too much to ask out of a long-shot champion. But what about the full 8-team field from last year? How will they be looked at in the future? Was it filled with Hall of Famers? All-Stars? Or were there only a handful of marginal major leaguers in Omaha last year?

We'll have to wait and see before we can answer that question conclusively. Thankfully, though, we don't have to wait to answer that same question for years past. What, then, was the year that featured the best major league talent in the College World Series?

Normally, I'd answer this question by running some numbers in a database and comparing things like Hall of Fame selections and Win Shares. I was unable to find a list of College World Series rosters that was in a database-friendly format, though, so it wasn't that easy. Instead, I started looking through Wikipedia. If you go to a specific year's CWS page - for example, the 1980 College World Series - you'll find details on the All-Tournament Team for that year and a list of "notable players" on those rosters. Under the assumption that Wikipedia editors aren't going to miss obvious talents like Chipper Jones or Frank Thomas, I've decided to use those "notable players" as my basis for this comparison. It's a fairly subjective measure, I know, but the choice is clear enough for it not to matter too much.

From 1980 through 1999, the best College World Series field is clearly from the 1983 CWS. That year, the CWS featured players like Dave Magadan, Calvin Schiraldi, Chris Sabo, Mike Aldrete and Pete Incaviglia. All were decent major league players, but they weren't the big draw of the year. Alongside them, there were three future Hall of Famers playing: Barry Larkin, from the University of Michigan; Barry Bonds, from Arizona State University; and Roger Clemens, from the University of Texas. Not a bad group of guys.

In that 1983 College World Series, Roger Clemens' Longhorns won the title, beating out Dave Magadan's Univeristy of Alabama. In the semifinals, Barry Bonds' Sun Devils lost to Alabama while Barry Larkin's Wolverines were taken out by Texas. With those kind of stars playing in the final pairings, it must've been a great weekend.

There have been a few other years since 1980 where the College World Series field featured strong talent (1985 featured Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro and 1997 featured Tim Hudson, Pat Burrell, Lance Berkman and Troy Glaus) but none of them can lay claim to the three Hall of Famers that we saw in 1983. It makes you wonder if there are three Hall of Famers sitting in Omaha today, just waiting for their shot (and, considering the fact that only one of the three HOFers from 1983 made the All-Tournament team, it could be seemingly anyone).

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