As a full disclaimer, I’ve enjoyed Cal baseball for about 20 years. I’ve always loved their competition, their home field (Evans Diamond), and the way they play the game. I enjoyed watching Tonis, Hill, X, and J-Willy do their thing. In many years, Cal has had 1-4 primo players on their roster but they frequently disappoint year in and year out. The frustrating thing is, Cal should be able to be a perennial Top 25 baseball team and continually be in the postseason. Herein, I will try and show that other California teams can do this and that the state is ripe with high school/juco baseball talent.
Continued after the yump.
Legendary Coach Bob Milano (’78-’99; average of 31 wins a year) was recently inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association’s HoF. During Milano’s reign Cal made 3 College World Series (CWS) appearances. During the same time span USC and Stanfurd have won the Series twice (out of 5 and 9 CWS appearances respectfully), Arizona won the Series twice (out of 4 CWS appearances) and Cal St. Fullerton won the Series three times (out of 9 CWS appearances). Even Pepperdine won it all in 1992.
X Nady was highly decorated while at Cal:
Perhaps this is not too surprising considering California, Florida, and Texas are packed with primo amateur baseball talent. On the West Coast, the perennial powerhouses include USC, Stanfurd, Cal St. Fullerton, Arizona, ASU, and Long Beach St.
However, the next step down is most surprising: Oregon St. won the Series in ’06 and ’07 and Fresno St won the Series in ’08. UCLA and UC Irvine (!) have even made CWS appearances in the last 12 years. San Diego St. was the school of can’t miss prospect Steven Strasburg (drafted first overall).
Why has Oregon St. been so good and how has Oregon just recently joined the Pac10 in baseball? Part of the answer is they’re recruiting in Cal’s backyard with 16 players combined from the Golden State. We’ve either been passed or will be passed by both Oregon schools very soon.
At least 8 first round draft picks came from the state of California in the 2009 MLB draft. Out of 187 draft picks from the state of California, 68 were at the high school/juco level. These numbers are significantly higher than any other state including Texas and Florida. This state is packed with amateur talent throughout northern and southern California.
As you cans see these West Coast teams that surround Cal play highly competitive and successful baseball yet the Bears haven’t even been close to these teams in some time. Milano may have overstayed, in my opinion, and ‘furd grad David Esquer has only 2 Regional appearances in 10 years. For non-seamheads, the NCAA Regionals might sound impressive yet 64 teams make the Regionals, 16 teams advance to the Super (Duper!) Regionals, and 8 teams make the College World Series. In 2009, despite 3 draft picks in the first two rounds and 5 draft picks total, Cal finished with an RPI of 123 and a sub-500 record. For those scoring at home, that’s behind Bethune-Cookman and ahead of North Florida. Since Esquer was hired, the following teams have gone to the CWS: ASU (3), Arizona (1), Fullerton (7, winning it in 2004), Fresno St (1, winning it all in ’08), UC Irvine (1), Oregon St (3, winning it twice), San Jose St (1), USC (2), and Stanfurd (5). We're the bank-owned house on the block that currently has transients using it as a urinal.
I’m not necessarily calling for the removal of Coach Esquer, but it’s time for Cal to join the winners circle. With 5 picks in the first two rounds of the last two drafts, Cal is recruiting and developing elite players. Finding role players, aka the run-producing # 6 hitter, the lights out reliever, the # 3 starter, and the second lead off man # 9 hitter appear to be the problem. Those are the hardest to find and require getting coaches all over the West in search of guys who play balls out baseball. They can be found, but you don’t find these guys searching the Internet. They are found the old fashioned way: scouting.
One could argue that Esquer was modestly qualified to start with; he had no D1 head coaching experience and his previous gig was an assistant coaching job at Pepperdine (’96-99). He took the Pepperdine job after being an assistant at Stanfurd. To me, that sounds like he made a lateral move to an inferior team. I think it would take $350k/yr to pry Pat Casey from Oregon St (Notre Dame offered $300k). Oregon hired former Fullerton Coach George Horton to restart their varsity baseball program in 2007 for $150k/yr and another $250k in endorsements! Perhaps Fullerton’s Dave Serrano or his top assistant might be interested if the money is right.
Cal deserves to have their baseball team dominate the best spring sport. It would round out Cal’s other athletic programs and is entirely achievable given the amateur talent in the area. Grabbing a sandwich from AG Ferari’s Deli (it was better when it was Ultra Lucca’s Delicatessen) on College Ave and enjoying a game at Evans Diamond is an excellent way to spend a weekend afternoon. Cal baseball, with the A’s possibly moving to San Jose, could become the highest caliber of baseball in the East Bay. With a highly competitive program, a lot more interest will be generated.