Let’s take a look at St. John’s 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.
St. John’s is the first Big East team we’ve explored in the series. Though St. John’s has yet to win a College World Series, head coach Ed Blankmeyer has made the Johnnies a consistent threat to the conference title on an annual basis. Let’s take a look at some of the big names that have come out of Queens, New York.
Tony Bonura, second base (1983-86)
Bonura enjoyed a lot of success during his time at St. John’s including two trips to the All-Big East team and a third team All-American nod in 1986. He gets the honors of our leadoff man with his name still in the St. John’s top 10 in runs (152) and stolen bases (69) for his career.
Joe Panik, shortstop (2009-11)
This isn’t as easy a pick as it may seem. The 1990 Big East freshman of the year Rich Aurilla certainly was considered as was Matt Wessinger who finished his career first in program history in hits (278) and second in runs (194) and RBI (178). Panik’s name is all over the St. John’s record books. He finished his career with a .370 average (tied for second), 237 hits (ninth), 25 home runs (fifth), 164 runs (seventh), and 157 RBI (fifth), if that’s not the definition of a program’s all-time great, we’re not sure what is. Panik had an All-American 2011 season that also saw him pick up First Team All-Big East honors.
Mike Dzurilla, third base (1997-99)
Dzurilla is another name you’ll find everywhere in the St. John’s record books. The two-time All-American had two seasons in a row in which he hit .400, hitting .427 in 1998 and .410 in 1999. He’s the program’s all-time leading hitter with a .395 career average and finished fourth in home runs (29), eighth in hits (239) and ninth in both runs scored (154) and RBI (146).
Jeremy Baltz, outfield (2010-12)
Baltz exploded onto the scene, taking home the 2010 Big East and national freshman of the year honors. He finished his career as one of the program’s all-time greatest run producers with his 197 RBI still tops today. His 38 career home runs and the 24 he blasted in 2010 are still both program records as well. Baltz finished his time with St. John’s a three-time All-Big East teamer, securing his spot in the history books and the heart of this lineup.
Robert Lambraia, outfield (1986-89)
Lambraia was another colossal power bat of St. John’s lore. He was the program’s home run leader (35) and RBI leader (178) until Baltz came along and is still second in the Johnnies’ history books. He was an on-base machine, drawing 118 walks in his career (eighth all-time) and finishing with 368 total bases, still seventh in program history. Lambraia has the accolades as well, earning Freshman All-American honors in 1986 and back-to-back First Team Big East selections in 1988 and 1989.
Michael Donadio, outfield (2014-17)
Do you know what 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 have in common? All four years saw Donadio earn First-Team All-Big East honors. He was the 2014 Big East freshman of the year and a two-time All-American, earning First Team honors in his senior campaign. Donadio made a lasting impact on the St. John’s record books finishing as the all-time leader in runs (195), third in RBI (173), and second in hits (268).
Tim Morris, first base (2008-09)
This was a two-horse race between Morris and Mike Bellagamba. Both ended their careers (and remain) tied for second in St. John’s history with a .370 batting average. What gave Morris the slight edge was his Third-Team All-American campaign in 2009. That final season with St. John’s was one of the best all-around seasons in program history. He hit .415 (third in St. John’s history), scoring 69 runs (first), with 90 hits (tied for fifth), and 12 home runs (tied for seventh) and 62 RBI (tied for fourth).
Joe Burke, catcher (2004-05)
In all of St. John’s lore, nary a catcher has earned All-American honors. That said, Burke walked away with plenty of accolades when his time in Queens was finished. The catcher was a two-time All-Big East winner and made First-Team All-Northeast Region honors in the NCAA tournament in 2005. Burke didn’t have the power numbers often associated with the backstop position, but he finished his career with a .343 batting average and was sound behind the plate.
Frank Viola, starting pitcher (1979-81)
As always, starting pitching presented the toughest choices of them all. Rich Napolitano and his program-best 1.10 ERA and 326 strikeouts are certainly deserving of Friday night lights. C.J. Nitkowski is also a consideration with back-to-back First-Team All-Big East campaigns in 1993 and 1994. And though his career isn’t even done yet, Sean Mooney — the 2017 freshman pitcher of the year — is making as big a case as anyone to lead the all-time rotation.
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But Sweet Music (OK, he didn’t earn the moniker until his time with the Minnesota Twins, but it is just too awesome to ignore) Viola gets the Friday night honors. He was the program’s first All-American and did so in First-Team fashion in 1981. His 26-2 career record is tops in St. John’s history and his 1.67 ERA is fourth. Viola would later be reunited with fellow Johnnie John Franco with the New York Mets in the big leagues where Viola enjoyed a memorable career that saw him win a Cy Young and World Series MVP Award.
Ed Blankmeyer, head coach (1996-present)
This was a tough one. Joseph Russo’s run from 1974 to 1981 producing eight-straight trips to the NCAA tournament certainly deserves as much recognition as anyone. Blankmeyer gets the nod because he’s the winningest coach in program history and doing it at a .625 lick is pretty impressive. He also has more wins than any coach in Big East history with 338. Add on five Big East Tournament titles and 11 trips to the NCAA tournament and Blankmeyer is well deserving of the honor.