On the eve of the 2015 Major League All-Star Game, it's a good time to look back at the many tremendously talented student-athletes who represented the four letters on the diamond before moving on to play professional baseball. From Jackie Robinson to Gerrit Cole, UCLA has produced dozens of outstanding major leaguers. In fact, some of those players have earned places in the midsummer classic--this year, former UCLA baseball standouts Gerrit Cole and Brandon Crawford have been selected to play in the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.
I've always loved the midsummer classic. My father is a huge baseball fan; he and I watched every MLB All-Star Game together from the time I was four until I left home for college. The day of the All-Star Game was practically a holiday in our house. It was even better when a Bruin earned a spot on the All-Star Game roster, and I remember being incredibly excited when former UCLA pitcher Jeff Conine blasted a home run in the eighth inning of the 1995 All-Star Game to lead the National League to a 3-2 win over the Gimmick League. [Note: The designated hitter rule is the root of all evil.]
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Unfortunately, I'm far removed from the national pastime these days, but I thought it would be fun for the Bruins Nation community to put together an all-star team of Bruins. When I ran the idea past my boss, he gave his approval "as long as Chris Chambliss is included on the ballot." I've complied with his request, but just barely.
Because the introduction of aluminum bats forty years ago changed collegiate baseball dramatically, it's extremely difficult to compare players from the wooden bat era with players from the metal bat era, especially if you didn't have the chance to see the players in action. In the early 1970s before the introduction of aluminum bats, the yearly ERA in NCAA Division 1 baseball fluctuated between 3.25 and 3.50. In the first year of metal bats, ERA jumped to 3.75, As the design of metal bats improved, yearly ERA soared. In 1980, the ERA in Division 1 baseball was over 4.50, and five years later, ERA was over 5.50. Although various standards for bats have been introduced since 1986, ERA generally continued to climb, peaking at an ERA over 6.00 in 1998. Clearly, the introduction of aluminum bats did far more than change the sound of bat hitting ball from a "crack" to a "ping."
The effect of bat technology on batting statistics has been remarkable. In the early 1970s, the NCAA Division 1 batting average was in the .265 range. By 1985, just 11 years after the introduction of metal bats, the NCAA Division 1 batting average was .306. Meanwhile, in that same 11 year period, home run frequency more than doubled. How then do you compare Chris Chambliss and his 1969 stats (.340 batting average with 15 home runs) to Eric Karros and his 1988 stats (.415 batting average with 17 home runs)? Without an analysis of the prevailing average statistics during the years in which each player performed, it's difficult to make a fair comparison.
In my opinion, it makes sense to keep the wooden bat and aluminum bat eras separate in selecting a UCLA baseball all-star team. Although there are many BN readers who self-identify as geezers, there probably aren't many who actually saw Jackie Robinson play shortstop or Cal Rossi swing a bat at UCLA. Therefore, with the non-geezer, non-sabermetrician crowd in mind, I've opted to limit the UCLA All-Star team to the aluminum bat era.
The ballot below is relatively straightforward. Obviously you can use whatever criteria you like in selecting players, but I encourage you to use performances as a Bruin (rather than as a professional) in making your choices. In a few instances, I've had to choose a position for a player who played multiple positions during his UCLA career; for example, I've listed Kevin Kramer as a shortstop instead of a third baseman. If you want to vote for a player who you believe should be listed at a different position, simply cast an additional vote for the player at his listed position, and cast one fewer vote at the position at which you think he should be listed.
I suspect that I may have forgotten to list a deserving player or two. If so, use the comments section to list your write-in candidate. If possible, I'll add the player to the ballot and update this article. Also, you can vote as often as you like. I'll post the final results at the end of the week.