Let's take a look at Michigan baseball's all-time starting nine in this edition of the NCAA.com 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.
There is plenty of history with the Michigan baseball program. Just think about this: Branch Rickey managed George Sisler and neither made this team. Don’t get us wrong, Sisler is deserving as an All-American first baseman and oft-injured pitcher —especially with a .445 career batting average — but times were different. Sabermetrics and bWAR suggest Sisler could keep hitting even in today's game, but we went with the all-time stats that filled the record books instead.
And now there is a new history. Tommy Henry, Karl Kauffmann, and Jimmy Kerr are just some of the notable names on "Team 153", the Michigan team that has gone from the last four teams into the 2019 NCAA baseball tournament, to the College World Series finals. We may just have to update this lineup if this team can bring home the championship.
Let’s take a look at who we chose for the all-time lineup, for now.
Chris Getz, second base (2004-05)
Second base was a hard position to field. With all the award-winners and All-Americans the Wolverines have produced, not many are up the middle. It was tough to ignore Bobby Scales' big 1999 season, but we went with Getz.
Getz played just two seasons in Ann Arbor, but he made them count. We chose him to lead off the lineup thanks to a career .891 OPS and his ability to get on base and cause a little havoc. He led the team in hits both years, and his 88 in 2005 and 87 in 2004 are still top 10 marks. Getz also stole 29 bases in 2005, showing a little extra value for a leadoff guy. He was a First-Team All-Big Ten player in both seasons while earning All-American honors in 2005 securing his spot on the team.
Barry Larkin, shortstop (1983-85)
Perhaps the best-known name to leave Michigan, Larkin was the Big Ten player of the year in both 1984 and 1985 before embarking on his Major League Baseball hall of fame career. He played in quite the infield, joining Hal Morris and Chris Sabo both of whom went on to play in the big leagues (and reunited in the Cincinnati Reds infield in 1990) and could also be on this list. Larkin was a three-time All-American and his name is still all over the record books. He finished his career with a .361 average, 26 home runs, 172 runs scored, 136 RBI and 44 stolen bases, all of which are still top-15 marks today.
Casey Close, outfield (1983-86)
Close took home plenty of accolades during his time in Ann Arbor, but his 1986 season was one to remember. He was both the Big Ten player of the year and Baseball America national player of the year in that season. Close finished his career with the most home runs (46) and runs scored (190) in program history and was in the top-3 in average (.373) and RBI (185). There’s no question he’s in the heart of this lineup.
Ken Hayward, first base (1982-85)
Again, tough to ignore Sisler here, but Hayward is one of the top run producers in program history. He did it with the highest batting average in Michigan lore, finishing his career with a .376 average and highlighted by a ridiculous .432 average in 1985. His 207 RBI are second to none and he scored 176 runs to finish third all-time. Hayward could slug them as well, with 33 career round trips. Oh, and he was a solid arm out of the bullpen, going 12-2 with seven career saves. The three-time All-Big Ten slugger is as good a fit as any in the cleanup spot.
Jim Paciorek, outfield (1979-1982)
Paciorek was the first Big Ten player of the year for the Wolverines, taking home the honors in his farewell 1982 season. He racked up numerous All-Big Ten and All-American honors while finishing his career amongst the best stat wise with a .375 average, 254 hits, 32 home runs, 162 runs scored and 183 RBI. A member of three straight College World Series team, Paciorek fits in well with these all-time hitters.
Nate Recknagel, catcher/ first base (2006-08)
Recknagel played all over at catcher, first and designated hitter, but he fit in best here behind the plate. We simply couldn’t ignore the career numbers, or more specifically, that shiny 2008 Big Ten player of the year award. He hit .368 that season, with a program-record 23 home runs to go along with 68 RBI.
Mike Cervenak, third base (1996-99)
This was no easy task. Don Eaddy was First-Team All-Big Ten in all four years he was with Michigan, part of the first national championship team, and an All-American in 1955 when he batted .355. You could go with Eaddy and not be wrong. Sabo is a fit here as well. What it came down to for us was the numbers, and Cervenak is one of Michigan’s all-time best.
Cervenak is the all-time hits leader for Michigan, his 293 still tops today. He also had tremendous pop, hitting 43 home run and driving in 182 runs, both second-best in Wolverines’ history.
Mike Watters, outfield (1983-85)
The last spot in the lineup was a difficult one. There were plenty of different ways to go. Patrick Bondi and his 103 stolen bases (most in program history would be a nice addition. The same could be said for Michael O’Neill, a Freshman All-American, a First-Team All-Big Ten player, and an All-American in his three years in Ann Arbor.
But Watters gets the final spot thanks to his 1985 All-American season in particular. Watters hit .417 with 91 hits, 17 home runs, 10 triples, 81 runs scored while registering 172 total bases. The triples, runs, and total bases are still the single-season marks to beat today while the rest of those numbers are still top 10 in single-season history.
Jim Abbot, starting pitcher (1986-88)
This was not fun. Picking the Friday night starter is easily the hardest task in these endeavors, and with Michigan, it was no different.
You couldn't take the ball out of Steve Howe’s hands. He recorded the second-most wins in program history with 31 career complete games to go along with a 1.80 ERA (second-best). Let’s go ahead and pencil him in as the Saturday starter. On Sunday’s we’ll go with the program’s all-time leader in wins, Mike Ignasiak, who piled up 33 in his career to go along with 286 strikeouts, the second-most in Michigan lore. We’ll keep Chris Fetter as well who left Michigan in the top five of the important pitching stats.
But the weekend lead belongs to Abbott. Michigan won two Big Ten titles with Abbott on the bump and he was the 1988 Big Ten Player and Athlete of the Year. His biggest accomplishment in Ann Arbor was becoming the school’s first and only Golden Spikes Winner in 1987, all with the use of just one hand. Abbott finished his career amongst the top 10 in every starting pitching category.
Ray Fisher, head coach (1921-58)
Don Lund certainly gets a mention, winning one of the school's two national championships in baseball. Ultimately, it goes to Fisher. It seems like the guy who gets this spot usually has the home field named in his honor, so there’s no reason to stray from tradition now. Fisher amassed 636 wins as skipper of the Wolverines and won the school’s first national title in baseball.