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Katherine Wright | | November 18, 2022

The 55 MLB MVP winners who played college baseball

Barry Bonds ties CWS record with 8th straight hit in 1984

The landscape of baseball has changed astronomically since the first MVP honor was awarded in 1911. But the talent that has journeyed via the college path into the major leagues hasn't dwindled.

First awarded in 1931, the BBWAA MVP title is given to the most outstanding player from the American and National Leagues. Prior to the contemporary award, the most outstanding athletes from each league were awarded the Chalmers Award (1911-14) and the League Awards (1922-29).

We've compiled a list of 53 MVP Award winners who once played college baseball for current NCAA institutions (including repeat winners). We also picked a standout from each decade to be featured in a brief summary of their college careers.

As of 2020, the last former college baseball player who won an MVP was Kris Bryant in 2016.

CY YOUNG: The 57 Cy Young Award winners who played college baseball

George Sisler | Michigan | '22 MVP Award winner

Before freshmen were allowed to play college baseball, first-year intramural baseball leagues existed. As a member of Michigan's first-year engineering school team, George Sisler caught the eye of varsity coach Branch Rickey with his MVP performance in the 1912 championship game over the juniors of the law school. 

Rickey started Sisler immediately in 1913, leading Michigan to its first 20-win season. For his production on the mound, the southpaw earned All-America honors, as well as in the outfield. But by the end of his career, his bat is what stood out. As a junior in 1914, he battled constant arm pain, and his performance at the plate made up for it, accumulating a near .500 batting average.

After earning All-America honors as a senior and finishing his college career with a near .445 batting average, Sisler's relationship with Rickey came full-circle. His former Wolverine coach signed him to a free agent professional contract with the St. Louis Browns. A few months later, he made his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox.

Lou Gehrig | Columbia | 2x MVP Award winner ('27, '36)

"The Iron Horse" was one of the greatest New York Yankees in history. But before his Bronx heroics, Lou Gehrig manned first base and the fullback and defensive tackle positions at Columbia University. He was recruited to the Ivy League school after graduate manager of athletics Robert Watt saw him hit a ninth-inning grand slam in a high school game at Wrigley Field. 

The transition to college wasn't too difficult for Gehrig. Two home runs stand out in his college career because the destinations of both were absurd. An opposite-field shot broke the second-floor window of the Journalism school, and the other landed in Columbia's College Walk and made its way onto a city street. 

Yankee scout Paul Krichell skipped out on the opening of Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923, to watch Gehrig at Columbia. The home run launcher struck out 17 Williams' batters โ€” a Columbia record that remains today โ€” but it was the bat that impressed the scout.

After one year of college ball and hitting .444, "Columbia Lou" signed with the Yankees for a $1,500 bonus.

IN COOPERSTOWN: Where National Baseball Hall of Famers played college baseball

Jackie Robinson | UCLA | '49 MVP Award winner

Back when Jackie Robinson transferred from Pasadena Junior College to UCLA, the plan was to be involved in everything. Indeed, he did. The four-star athlete excelled in baseball, football, basketball and track and field.

The most success Robinson saw in college baseball was at Pasadena. He batted .417 in 24 games. His performance on the gridiron, however, brought national attention. He led the nation in punt return average in 1939 and 1949.

For an in-depth look at his college career, check out our article on the first ballot Hall of Famer.

Jackie Jensen | Cal | '58 MVP Award winner

The College World Series history begins with Jackie Jensen standing tall against a Yale-led George Bush Sr. squad. The pair are just two famous names that took part in the first College World Series. Cal swept the Bulldogs with an MVP performance from ace Jensen. 

With Yale up 4-2 in the seventh inning of Game 1, the Bulldogs walked the eighth-hole hitter to get to Jensen, the Bear's starter. It did not end well for the Ive League school.

"He hit one that's still rolling out there in Kalamazoo," the 43rd president of the United States told The New York Times in 2007.

On the football field, Jensen was a consensus All-American after rushing more than 1,000 yards in Cal's 1949 undefeated season.

Sandy Koufax | Cincinnati | '63 MVP Award winner

The Dodger star of yesteryear set a precedent in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Three Cy Young awards in four years perfectly depicts his dominant 12-year career in Major League Baseball. It all began when he walked on to the Cincinnati basketball team. The next spring in 1954, he joined the baseball team for one season and left with a signing bonus from the Dodgers. 

His lone season as a Bearcat included a 3-1 record and 2.81 ERA. Read more on his college career here.

Reggie Jackson | Arizona State | '73 MVP Award winner

In Dayn Perry's book Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball's Mr. October, he details Jackson's desire to play college baseball over football and the success on the diamond that followed thereafter. He was granted practice time with the Arizona State baseball team โ€” in addition to the football practice mandated by his scholarship. He left football entirely his sophomore year in 1966 to focus on baseball and to become the Sun Devils' starting center fielder. 

Jackson then broke the single-season home run record en route to a first team All-American year.

Mike Schmidt | Ohio | 3x MVP Award winner ('80, '81, '86)

Before Mike Schmidt became the face of the Philadelphia Phillies, he steered Ohio University to its first and only College World Series appearance in 1970. He lettered all four years, received first team All-MAC honors for the 1969-1971 season and was named an All-American for the 1970 and 1971 season. Shortly after his senior year, the Phillies selected him in the second round with the 30th overall pick. 

Barry Bonds | Arizona State | 7x MVP Award winner ('90, '92, '93, '01, '02, '03, '04)

With 45 home runs, 175 RBIs and a career .347 batting average, Bonds helped carry the Sun Devils to two College World Series appearances in 1983 and 1984. He tied the NCAA record for consecutive hits in a CWS (7) and was named to the All-Time College World Series Team in 1996.

Bonds graduated with a degree in criminology before embarking on a legendary career in the big leagues.

ALL-TIME NINE: We picked a starting lineup of all-time Arizona State greats

Dustin Pedroia | Arizona State | '08 MVP Award winner

In three seasons (2002-04) with Arizona State, Dustin Pedroia led the team in hitting twice, once in 2003 (.404) and in 2004 (.393). His sophomore season was the best. He became the the record-holder for most single-season doubles (34) and the Pac-12 co-Player of the Year.

Today in Arizona State record books, he ranks fourth in career hits (298), third in career doubles (71) and first in most hits by a freshman (82).

Justin Verlander | Old Dominion | '11 MVP Award winner

The title of "all-time strikeout king" for Old Dominion, Conference USA and the Commonwealth of Virginia belongs to Justin Verlander, the three-time Cy Young winner and former MVP. Over a three-year career (2002-04), he amassed 427 strikeouts over 335.2 innings. He fanned 17 batters against James Madison twice and 16 against Virginia Commonwealth and was a national finalist for the 2003 Roger Clemens National Pitcher of the Year award. 

As a smaller school in a less-recognized conference, Verlander helped Old Dominion beat nationally ranked Virginia, Rutgers and Virginia Commonwealth.

The right-hander left with a career 2.57 ERA, forgoing his senior season to become the second overall pick in the 2004 MLB Draft (Detroit Tigers).

The year he won the 2011 MVP Award was extraordinary. Both he and Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw won the Pitching Triple Crown for their respective league, meaning each led their league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. Both leagues having a Triple Crown Winner hadn't been done since 1924.

Here are the MLB MVPs to play college baseball:

Year Player School MLB Team
1922 George Sisler (AL) Michigan St. Louis Browns
1927 Lou Gehrig (AL) Columbia New York Yankees
1928 Mickey Cochrane (AL) Boston University Philadelphia Athletics
1931 Frankie Frisch (NL) Fordham St. Louis Cardinals
1934 Mickey Cochrane (AL) Boston University Detroit Tigers
1935 Hank Greenberg (AL) New York Detroit Tigers
1936 Lou Gehrig (AL) Columbia New York Yankees
1937 Charlie Gehringer (AL) Michigan Detroit Tigers
1940 Hank Greenberg (AL) New York Detroit Tigers
1942 Joe Gordon (AL) Oregon New York Yankees
1943 Spud Chandler (AL) Georgia New York Yankees
1944 Marty Marion (NL) Georgia Tech St. Louis Cardinals
1948 Lou Boudreau (AL) Illinois Cleveland Indians
1949 Jackie Robinson (NL) UCLA Brooklyn Dodgers
1950 Jim Konstantly (NL) Syracuse Philadelphia Phillies
1953 Al Rosen (AL) Florida Cleveland Indians
1958 Jackie Jensen (AL) Cal Boston Red Sox
1960 Dick Groat (NL) Duke Pittsburgh Pirates
1963 Sandy Koufax (NL) Cincinnati Los Angeles Dodgers
1964 Brooks Robinson (NL) Little Rock St. Louis Cardinals
1968 Bob Gibson (NL) Creighton St. Louis Cardinals
1968 Carl Yastrzemski (AL) Notre Dame Boston Red Sox
1973 Reggie Jackson (AL) Arizona State Oakland Athletics
1974 Steve Garvey (NL) Michigan State Los Angeles Dodgers
1975 Fred Lynn (AL) Southern California Boston Red Sox
1976 Thurman Munson (AL) Kent State New York Yankees
1980 Mike Schmidt (NL) Ohio Philadelphia Phillies
1981 Mike Schmidt (NL) Ohio Philadelphia Phillies
1986 Roger Clemens (AL) Texas Boston Red Sox
1986 Mike Schmidt (NL) Ohio Philadelphia Phillies
1988 Kirk Gibson (NL) Michigan State Los Angeles Dodgers
1990 Barry Bonds (NL) Arizona State Pittsburgh Pirates
1991 Terry Pendleton (NL) Fresno State Atlanta Braves
1992 Barry Bonds (NL) Arizona State San Francisco Giants
1993 Frank Thomas (AL) Auburn Chicago White Sox
1993 Barry Bonds (NL) Arizona State San Francisco Giants
1994 Frank Thomas (AL) Auburn Chicago White Sox
1994 Jeff Bagwell (NL) Hartford Houston Astros
1995 Mo Vaughn (AL) Seton Hall Boston Red Sox
1995 Barry Larkin (NL) Michigan Cincinnati Reds
1996 Ken Caminiti (NL) San Jose State San Diego Padres
2000 Jeff Kent (NL) Cal San Francisco Giants
2001 Barry Bonds (NL) Arizona State San Francisco Giants
2002 Barry Bonds (NL) Arizona State San Francisco Giants
2003 Barry Bonds (NL) Arizona State San Francisco Giants
2004 Barry Bonds (NL) Arizona State San Francisco Giants
2006 Ryan Howard (NL) Missouri State Philadelphia Phillies
2008 Dustin Pedroia (AL) Arizona State Boston Red Sox
2011 Justin Verlander (AL) Old Dominion Detroit Tigers
2011 Ryan Braun (NL) Miami (FL) Milwaukee Brewers
2012 Buster Posey (NL) Florida State San Francisco Giants
2015 Josh Donaldson (AL) Auburn Toronto Blue Jays
2016 Kris Bryant (NL) San Diego Chicago Cubs
2022 Paul Goldschmidt Texas State St. Louis Cardinals
2022 Aaron Judge Fresno State New York Yankees

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