The best Major League Baseball seasons by Baylor alums
At last, Major League Baseball returns this weekend. And while COVID-19 has forced a 60-game baseball season unlike any we’ve seen in the past, the advent of real competition will be a welcome distraction for fans and a welcome opportunity for players like Max Muncy, the former Baylor baseball standout whose Los Angeles Dodgers boast legitimate World Series aspirations.
Enduring several months without live sports have left sports fans with plenty of time to relive historic moments and revisit longstanding debates. That got us thinking: Which of the 43 all-time big-league Bears have delivered the best individual MLB seasons? Here’s our take on the top five, covering the century-plus since a Baylor alum first cracked a major league roster way back in 1911:
5. Shawn Tolleson, 2015 Texas Rangers — The Rangers won the American League Western Division title in 2015, and a big part of the reason was the emergence of Tolleson (BSED ’18) in a pivotal role. When Neftali Feliz proved unreliable as the team’s closer, they called on Tolleson, who stepped in and saved 35 games with a 2.99 ERA. Despite not taking over the closer role until May, he still finished in the top 10 in that year’s Cy Young Award voting.
4. Max Muncy, 2018 Los Angeles Dodgers — Barely a year after being cut by the Oakland A’s and wondering if his career was over, Muncy delivered one of the feel-good stories in all of baseball in 2018 as he became a key player on a World Series team. Seemingly out of nowhere, Muncy hit 35 homers and drove in 79 runs — and ended the longest game in World Series history with a walk-off home run.
3. Jason Jennings, 2002 Colorado Rockies — Jennings, a two-time All-American and the 1999 National Collegiate Player of the Year at Baylor, picked up his major league career where he left off in college. Colorado is a notoriously difficult place to pitch, with the mountain air serving as a boost to fly ball hitters, but Jennings nonetheless won 16 games and the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He’s the only Bear (and the only Colorado Rockies player) to win the award so far.
2. Muncy, 2019 Dodgers — When a player has a meteoric rise like Muncy did in 2018, he enters the following year with a major question hanging over his head: Can he do it again? Not only did Muncy do it again, he performed at an even higher level in 2019, matching his 35 home run total, driving in 98 runs, and earning a spot as a National League All-Star. More than that, he established himself as a bona fide big league power hitter and a key cog on a playoff team. In the postseason, he hit three home runs in five games and earned a contract extension that will keep him in L.A. for the foreseeable future.
1. Ted Lyons, 1927 Chicago White Sox — Lyons (BA ’23) is the only Baseball Hall of Famer in Southwest Conference history, noted for his consistent excellence on a lot of White Sox teams that were not especially good. His best season came in 1927, when he finished with a career-high 22 wins and a sterling 2.84 ERA. While it was a different time — complete games were more common then — his major-league leading 30 complete games in 34 starts still boggles the mind. Lyons finished third in MVP voting that year, ahead of any other pitcher, and likely would have won the Cy Young Award if such a thing had existed. (The 1927 AL MVP? Someone named Lou Gehrig.)
You could argue Muncy’s accomplishments in 2019 trump Lyons’ numbers from a century ago, as the game has changed so much with time. Comparing pitcher vs. position player value, especially across eras, is notoriously difficult. One could also make a case that several other of Lyons’ seasons should be included here; he earned MVP votes nine times in his 21 seasons, and twice led the league in wins. But that’s the fun of such debates — the discussion is the point!
Sic ’em, big league Bears!
You might also like:
* With Hall of Fame election, Mulkey joins long list of legendary Bears (April 2020)
* The 9 best Bears in Major League Baseball history (March 2019)
* #NextLevelBU: Meet the Bears in the NBA (plus the ones knocking at the door) (Jan. 2019)