Pete Incaviglia was a three-time high school baseball player of the year in California, however the only college scholarship offer he received from any school in the state was for football. However, when he ended his three-year baseball career at Oklahoma State in 1985, people knew they had witnessed something extraordinary.
|INCAVIGLIA’S NCAA RECORDS|
|Career Home Runs||100|
|Single-Season Home Runs||48|
|Single-Season Total Bases||285|
|NOTE: All single-season records posted in 1985|
More than 25 years later, Incaviglia’s monster season in 1985 (48 home runs, 143 RBI) remains the high-water mark in college baseball. His 100 career home runs also is the all-time record and his 324 RBIs is second.
So how did every California university overlook a future member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame and Baseball America‘s collegiate player of the century?
“We were a small town, so most of the colleges just didn’t know much about me or our team,” Incaviglia said. “The only in-state offer I got was to play option quarterback for California and coach Joe Kapp.”
Oklahoma State came into the picture thanks to tip from a former OSU player who was playing minor-league ball and saw Incaviglia take a few swings in batting practice. Incaviglia also was noticed by the San Francisco Giants, who picked him in the tenth-round of the MLB draft in 1982, but he opted for college ball. “I thought school was more important at that time,” Incaviglia said.
The Cowboys already were on a roll with two consecutive College World Series appearances (on their way to an NCAA-record seven in a row) when Incaviglia joined the team as a freshman in 1983 but he quickly won a starting spot, mostly as the designated hitter.
“I just came in and did my job, worked hard in fall ball and every practice and earned the respect of my teammates,” Incaviglia said.
Incaviglia led the team in home runs and RBIs both as a freshman and sophomore, while hitting well over .300 his first two years with Oklahoma State. He also hit home runs in both the 1983 and ’84 College World Series.
No one could have predicted what Incaviglia had in store for college pitchers in 1985. In addition to setting home run and RBI records, he led the team with a .464 batting average, doubles (21), scored 98 runs and walked 80 times while striking out just 46 times. His 1.140 slugging percentage remains an all-time Division I record.
“I never thought those records still would be standing,” Incaviglia said. “But I really wish we could call them team records because it was my teammates who changed their games to make that happen. We just had a terrific offense and I was surrounded by great players who loved what was happening even more than I did.”
The top-three hitters in the OSU lineup all scored more than 90 runs in front of cleanup hitter Incaviglia.
Incaviglia credits OSU hitting coach Dave Holliday with helping him make that quantum statistical leap from 1984 to ’85.
“I was more focused as a junior and Dave started working with me in the fall to improve my timing,” Incaviglia said. “My mechanics just got better and better.”
College Hall of Famer Gary Ward was the OSU head coach at the time and is now a hitting coach for his son, Rocky, at New Mexico State.
“[Incaviglia] played the game with a rare combination of joy and fierce competitive spirit,” Ward said. “He possessed a work ethic that was remarkable. I think his season performance will remain a legendary accomplishment.”
“Coach Ward was professional, intelligent and smart,” Incaviglia said. “And I loved the way he prepared us to play. He instilled things in me that I still use today.”
Incaviglia was the eighth overall pick in the 1985 major-league draft and played for six major league teams during his 12-year professional career. He was part of the 1993 world champion Philadelphia Phillies and finished his major-league career with 206 home runs.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of Champion magazine.