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Greg Hansen: Let's try the impossible: picking title teams' best

2012-07-06T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Let's try the impossible: picking title teams' bestGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 06, 2012 12:00 am  • 

This is college baseball's version of "Mission Impossible": Pick the best of Arizona's College World Series champions, 1976, 1980, 1986 or 2012. And, moreover, select an All-Star team from those four powerhouses.

It can't be done with any certainty (although that won't stop me from trying) because far too many intangibles came into play at Omaha.

For example, in 1980, the inestimable Jim Wing, Arizona's enduring pitching coach, stole the pitching signs from both Michi-gan and Hawaii, the latter in Arizona's 5-3 championship game victory.

I once asked Wing how effective he was in intercepting Michigan's coach-to-catcher-to-pitcher signals in Game 3, an 8-0 victory.

"All of them," he said. "Every pitch."

So no wonder that the '80 champions - "Cardiac Cats" to those who followed them - found a way to win it all. They had the lowest batting average of Arizona's four champs (.308, compared to this year's .329 and the .337 of the 1986 club), but it's likely that Jerry Kindall's 1980 team was most resourceful and, no contest, had the most baseball-savvy of the four champions.

Incredibly, 10 players from the 1980 team continue to make a living as coaches or scouts or in other pro baseball-related capacities.

Here's one man's attempt at the Arizona National Champions All-Star team:

1B - Todd Trafton, 1986. "Sluggo" hit .381 with 15 homers and 71 RBIs. As good as Wes Clements was in 1980, and he hit 14 homers, and as good as Pete Van Horne was in 1976, and he hit .319 with 68 RBIs, Trafton's numbers prevail.

2B - Tommy Hinzo, 1986. The consummate leadoff man, Hinzo hit .322 and stole 45 bases. Les Pearsey, 1976, is a close second. Pearsey drove in 63 runs, the most ever for a UA second baseman.

SS - Alex Mejia, 2012. With the exception of 1966 All-American Eddie Leon, who had a then-school record 75 RBIs, you can make a strong case that Mejia had the best season of all UA shortstops. Ever. Mejia hit .357 and was superb defensively. Runner-up: Dave Rohde, 1986, hit .336 with 53 RBIs.

3B - Chip Hale, 1986. The team captain as a junior, Hale hit .459 over the last month of the season and .340 for the year. He also scored 82 runs, second-most in college baseball (to Hinzo) that year. Behind him it's a tossup between this year's sweet-fielding Seth Mejias-Brean, who hit .355, and 1976's Bill Simpson, who hit .302 and stole 19 bases.

LF - Terry Francona, 1980. No contest. His numbers as the college baseball Player of the Year were formidable: .401 with 84 RBIs. Next: Mike Senne, Most Outstanding Player of the '86 World Series, was fabulous. He hit .352 with 11 homers, stole 32 bases and had 80 RBIs. Only Francona can top that.

CF - Dave Stegman, 1976. It's conceivable that Stegman was the best overall player in UA baseball history. He hit .425 with 26 steals and 64 RBIs in 1976. Next: Chuck Johnson, 1986, who hit 374 with 18 steals.

RF - Robert Refsnyder, 2012. In the "dead bat" era, the intense Mr. Refsnyder hit .364 with a team-high eight homers and 66 RBIs. Behind him would be Dwight "Fireball" Taylor, 1980, leadoff hitter who scored 82 runs and stole 42 bases.

C - Ron Hassey, 1976. He was a consensus All-American in '76, hitting .342 with 84 RBIs. Runner-up: Steve Strong hit .396 in 1986; a hand injury at the World Series prevented him from hitting over .400.

DH - Steve Powers, 1976. There was no better utility man than Powers in '76; he drove in 34 runs when not pitching. He was 11-4 as a starting pitcher. Runner-up: Gary Alexander, 1986. The winning pitcher (complete game) in the title game against Florida State, Alexander went 8-2 and hit .345 with 34 RBIs when playing outfield or being the DH.

Pitcher - Gil Heredia, 1986. He went 16-3. End of debate.

Pitcher - Kurt Heyer, 2012. He went 13-2 with a 2.24 ERA. No questions asked.

Pitcher - Craig Gioia, 1976. He went 15-5 with a 2.42 ERA. Period.

Closer - Greg Bargar, 1980. He was lights-out, with six saves and a 3.19 ERA during a "live bat" era in which the UA's team ERA was 4.22.

This list leaves out some remarkable performances. In 1980, Scott Stanley, mostly a DH, had the game-winning hit at the CWS against Cal and a grand slam that beat Hawaii. This year, pitcher Konner Wade did a wonderful impression of Greg Maddux in the postseason and was 11-3 overall. Neither team wins the national title without Stanley or Wade.

Best team?

The first one, 1976, won 56 games, but that was against lesser competition (the WAC) at a time when the regular season permitted 64 games, eight more than today's maximum. The '76 star power was ridiculously good: Hassey and Stegman are clearly among the top 10 players in school history.

The 1980 team had the fewest victories (45) and most losses (21) but was so good in the clutch, in close games, that it shouldn't be underestimated.

The 1986 club hit the most homers (74), stole the most bases (147) and had the highest batting average (.337). But its team ERA, 5.21, fueled by the aluminum-bat era, diminishes those numbers.

The 2012 champions went undefeated, 10-0, in the postseason, the only UA champion to do so. From top to bottom, college baseball has never been as good as it is today, and especially in Omaha, where Arizona outscored its opponents 27-8. It swept two-time defending national champion South Carolina on the biggest stage.

Only the '76 team, which had gone 0-6 in the regular season against No. 1 ASU, can match that. The '76 team was at its best, beating the Sun Devils 5-1 in the penultimate game at the World Series in what some say was the school's No. 1 victory, any sport, until Lute Olson won the 1997 Final Four.

That's good enough for me, too.

I'll take the '76 team over the '12 team, maybe on a Stegman double in the bottom of the ninth.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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