The 9 best Bears in Major League Baseball history
It’s been 150 years since the Cincinnati Red Stockings became America’s first professional baseball team, setting the stage for this year’s sesquicentennial Major League Baseball season, which opens this week.
It didn’t take long for Baylor to make its mark on the game.
In 1902, Baylor fielded a baseball team, its second varsity sport, and it only took nine years for an alum to reach the big leagues. Denney Wilie played in 103 games for the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians between 1911-15, becoming the first of 43 Baylor Bears to play in the majors.
Who were the best of those 43? And who decides? Well, there’s nothing wrong with a little debate among friends. With that, we present our choices for the 9 best Bears in Major League Baseball history (listed with their position and years at Baylor). Counting down:
9. Ted Uhleander (outfielder, 1959-61): Uhleander enjoyed eight years in the majors and finished his playing career in the World Series with the 1972 Cincinnati Reds. Years after his career ended, he returned to the game as a major league coach and scout.
8. Shawn Tolleson (pitcher, 2008-10): He was the Texas Rangers’ Pitcher of the Year in 2015, when he served as the team’s closer and saved 35 games. He retired this past January after five seasons split between Los Angeles and Texas.
7. Kip Wells (pitcher, 1996-98): With 12 big league seasons to his credit between 1999-2012, his career was longer than any Bear other than Ted Lyons. After being drafted 16th overall by the Chicago White Sox, his best years came over five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
6. Kelly Shoppach (catcher, 1999-2001): Shoppach spent nine seasons (2005-13) in the bigs, with his best seasons coming on playoff teams in Cleveland and Tampa Bay. He hit 21 homers in 2008 for the Indians.
5. Dave Danforth (pitcher, 1911): If you turned back the clock 100 years, you’d find that “Dauntless Dave” was a well-known name for the Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Browns. He finished with a 71-66 record over 10 seasons (between 1911-25) and retired to become a dentist.
4. Max Muncy (infielder, 2010-12): Where do you rank a young player who hasn’t spent an inordinate amount of time in the majors, but who just delivered the best pro season in Baylor baseball history? When that season includes an out-of-nowhere ride to starting with the Los Angeles Dodgers, stardom, the World Series, 35 home runs and 79 RBI, it ranks Muncy pretty high. Oh, and he hit a walk-off home run to win the longest game in World Series history and gives back to his alma mater. Safe to say, his stock is pointing up.
3. Jason Jennings (pitcher, 1997-99): The highlight of his nine big league seasons (2001-09) came in 2002, when he became the only player in program history to be named National League Rookie of the Year. The highly-decorated player both pitched and hit at Baylor, was twice named an all-American at Baylor, earned consensus National Collegiate Player of the Year honors, and was a first-round pick by the Colorado Rockies.
2. David Murphy (outfielder, 2001-03): Murphy spent 10 season in the majors (2006-15) and finished with 104 home runs — the most of any Baylor alum. He is most fondly remembered by Texas Rangers fans for his key contributions over a seven-season span that included back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-11.
1. Ted Lyons (pitcher, 1920-23): The top spot on this list is surprisingly easy, as Lyons is the only baseball Hall of Famer in Southwest Conference history. His 260 wins between 1923-46 are the most in White Sox history, even after giving up three seasons to serve in the U.S. Marines during World War II. After his retirement, he managed the White Sox for three seasons –the only Baylor Bear to serve as a major league manager.
Agree or disagree? Whatever the case, we’re proud Baylor fans have been able to cheer for major league Bears for 110 years.
Sic ’em, Big League Bears!