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Wayne Cavadi | | August 18, 2020

Michigan State baseball: We picked a starting lineup of all-time Spartan greats

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Let's take a look at Michigan State baseball's all-time starting nine in this edition of the series of the best possible starting lineups for some of college baseball’s most successful programs.

Here is how we picked the team: We dug deep in the record books, only considering the players' college career and accolades. Their achievements in professional baseball did not come into play. There was also consideration given to their positional fits and how well they fit into a batting order we made based on historical stats that could provide a combination of high batting averages, speed, and power.

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Michigan State is an interesting program. Several of its greatest athletes were just that: all-around, solid athletes. There are several multi-sport superstars in Spartans' lore who earned honors on the gridiron, hardwood, and diamond. Let's take a look at some of the best.

Brandon Eckerle, outfield (2008-2011)

There is an overabundance of outfielders to choose from on the Spartans, but remember, we're looking for guys that would make for a good lineup fit. Eckerle is a modern-day fit for the top of the lineup, ending his Spartans' career first all-time in hits (261) and second all-time in runs scored (158). His 2011 was as big as it gets in Michigan State history, earning unanimous First-Team All-Big Ten honors hitting a Big Ten-best .379 with a program-record 96 hits. When you throw in back-to-back 22 steal seasons and defensive player of the year-caliber play in the field, Eckerle fits in as the leadoff hitter.

Ryan Jones, second base (2010-12)

Jones stepped on the field at Michigan State winning awards and that's how he left it. The 2010 Big Ten freshman of the year is the only second baseman in program history to earn All-Big Ten honors in three seasons. Jones' name is all over the record book with his 240 hits ranking third all time, his 147 runs sixth, and his 46 doubles fourth. His 33-game hitting streak tied for longest in the nation in 2011 and is still the longest in program history. He finished his career with an impressive .358 batting average playing up the middle for the Spartans as a member of their most recent NCAA tournament team in 2012.

ALL-TIME NINES, ACC: Miami | Florida State | Georgia Tech | Clemson | North Carolina

Steve Garvey, third base (1966-68)

Garvey is one of the two-sport superstars to make the lineup. The future MLB All-Star earned a letter as a defensive back in 1967 before erupting on the baseball field in 1968, earning All-American and All-Big Ten honors. Garvey's first hit in a Spartan uniform was a grand slam that not only left the field but the park, landing in the Red Cedar River. The third baseman hit .376 in 1968 and led the Spartans in RBI that same season.

Kirk Gibson, outfield (1978)

Michigan State Athletics Kirk Gibson is a Michigan State icon.

Gibson was arguably more successful on the football field than the baseball diamond, entering the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017 as one of the Spartans all-time great receivers. The outfielder was an All-American in both sports and his huge 1978 season on the baseball field made him a first-round MLB Draft pick that same year. He hit .390 with 16 home runs (still the second-most in a single season in program history) and 52 RBI. Oh, he also chipped in 21 stolen bases, still a top 10 single-season mark in the Spartan record books.

ALL-TIME NINES, SEC: LSU | South Carolina | Vanderbilt | Mississippi State | Florida

Bob Malek, outfield (2000-02)

We like to recognize "firsts" in these lineups and Malek was one. He earned a share of the first Big Ten Player of the Year award in program history in 2002 and was one of a handful of two-time First-Team All-Big Ten team winners. Malek hit .394 in that campaign, leading the Big Ten with 19 doubles. He's the Spartans all-time leader in RBI, while finishing his career second in hits (245) and fourth in home runs (29) and runs (152).

Jeff Holm, first base (2008-11)

This was no easy decision. Jerry Sutton was as reliable as it gets, leading the team in hitting in 1962 (.397) and 1964 (.383). Matt Riggins is second all-time in home runs (34) and RBI (156). We ultimately chose Holm because of his huge 2011 campaign that earned him the Big Ten player of the year award, only the second Spartan to do so. He led the Big Ten with 61 RBI while hitting .376 with nine home runs. He is still among the program leaders in hits (232), doubles (43), runs (154), and RBI (150).

ALL-TIME NINES, WILD WEST: Arizona StateCal State Fullerton | Long Beach State | ArizonaStanford | USC | UCLA

Tom Yewcic, catcher (1953-1954)

Michigan State Athletics Tom Yewcic was a football and baseball great at Michigan State.

Just how decorated is Yewcic's career? He was the starting quarterback for the Spartans 1952 undefeated national championship team. In 1954, he helped the football team win the Rose Bowl in the fall and then led Michigan State to its first and only College World Series in the spring, taking home Most Outstanding Player honors once in Omaha. He's Michigan State's first baseball All-American and led both the Spartans' football and baseball teams to their first Big Ten titles.

Rodger Bastien, shortstop (1978-79)

You won't find many shortstops in the Michigan State record books, so this was a difficult choice. Bastien, however, was not only a part of the 1979 NCAA Tournament team, but he also hit a memorable three-run home run off future MLB hurler Steve Howe of Michigan to clinch the Big Ten title. Bastien, who led the team in hitting with a .357 average that 1979 season, earned back-to-back District All-American honors in the 1978 and 79 seasons.

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Mark Mulder, starting pitcher (1996-98)

This was such a tough pick. Dick Radatz had one of the best single-seasons in program history, going 10-1 with a then program-record 106 strikeouts and 1.12 ERA, garnering him the first ABCA All-American honors for a pitcher in program history. Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Roberts is certainly part of the weekend rotation. Roberts was in East Lansing on a basketball scholarship and didn't play baseball until his junior season, so he just went 9-6 in his Spartan career. That said, his six shutouts in 1946 are still No. 1 and his 86-strikeout season was tops in Spartan lore when he left the school, leading him to become the first baseball player to have his number retired by the Spartans. 

We went with Mulder to lead the Spartans as the Friday night starter. Mulder had a big sophomore campaign, finishing second in the Big Ten with a 2.26 ERA and getting it done as a starter and reliever with seven wins and four saves. His junior All-American campaign saw him set the single-season mark with 113 strikeouts. He also led the team in hitting with a .355 average while chipping in 11 doubles, five home runs, and 30 RBI. 

John Kobs, head coach (1925-63)

This could go to Danny Litwhiler or Kobs, to be honest. Litwhiler led the Spartans to Big Ten titles in 1971 and 1979 and three NCAA tournament appearances. But Kobs, whose namesake is on the Michigan State ball field, gets the nod. His 576 wins are more than any other, and 34 of his seasons at the helm were above .500. He was the skipper for the lone CWS appearance, which pushes Kobs over the edge.

(All stats from the Michigan State record book)

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