Since their first season in 1904, the Arizona Wildcats have reeled off more than 2,800 wins, captured four national championships and have seen 247 players selected in the MLB draft, 74 of which went on to careers in the bigs.
Here is Arizona’s all-time starting nine, based solely on players’ statistics and achievements in college. Players’ professional careers were not considered.
Pitcher – Don Lee and Carl Thomas (1954-56)
This may have been the hardest position to pick, which is inevitably why we ended up with two. Joe Magrane led the team in wins, ERA and strikeouts for two straight years before he went on to be an MLB ERA leader and World Series pitcher. Gil Heredia helped pitch Arizona to the 1986 championship and left his mark in just two seasons at the school. Scott Erickson turned one of the best single-seasons in Wildcat history into an MLB career, while Preston Guilmet earned 2007 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year honors. But it was Lee and Thomas who filled the record books in their three years in Tucson.
It is too hard to separate the duo, arguably the best tandem in Arizona’s pitching history. From 1954-56, the two combined for 71 wins, finishing as the top two in the Arizona history books (Lee with 36 and Thomas with 35). Lee edged Thomas for the all-time complete games mark (36 to 33) en route to the career-record for shutouts (eight). Thomas, however, is the all-time Wildcats leader in strikeouts with 422 (Lee is third with 394) and fewest-hits-allowed-per-nine-innings at 5.49 (Lee is also third with 6.01). Thomas was a three-time All-American and in 1956 both earned ABCA All-American honors with Lee landing on the First Team and Thomas grabbing a Second Team nod.
Catcher – Ron Hassey (1973-76)
Hassey was an RBI machine while at Arizona. He ended his career as a national champion as the starting catcher for Jerry Kindall’s first national championship squad. That season he drove in 84 runs, which didn’t even top his single-season record 86-RBI performance from two years prior, which earned him ABCA First Team All-American honors. When it was all said and done, Hassey left the school driving in 235 runs, a number that is still tops in Tucson today.
First baseman — Russ Gragg (1952-55)
This was another tough position to pick. Wes Clements is an Arizona Wildcat Hall of Famer with back-to-back 14 home run seasons, culminating in a 3-for-4 performance in the 1980 College World Series championship game. Todd Trafton helped slug the 1986 team to another national championship and finds himself still in the top-10 in many offensive categories.
But it is Gragg that gets the nod. He manned first base and helped Arizona reach its first College World Series in 1954 with back-to-back Second Team All-American nods in ’54 and ’55. Gragg led the team in hitting and RBIs in 1954 while leading the team in stolen bases in consecutive seasons, his career 63 swipes still in the top-10 in Arizona history
Second baseman – Charles Shoemaker (1958-61)
Shoemaker was a three-time All-American, actually earning the honors at both second base and once at shortstop. It makes sense that he got the nod three times, as Shoemaker is one of Arizona’s all-time triple threats.
In 1960, he and teammate Bill Barraclough set the program-mark for triples in a season with 12. That record stood until 2005, but Shoemaker’s 30 career triples are still No. 1 today. Shoemaker also led the Wildcats in hitting (.390) and stolen bases (22) in 1959, stolen bases (20) in 1960 and RBIs (51) in 1961. He could beat you in many different ways, whether it be in the field, with the bat or creating runs. His 182 runs scored stood as the Arizona record when he left and lasted for more than a decade.
Shortstop – Eddie Leon (1965-67)
Keoni DeRenne earned a boatload of accolades during his time with the Wildcats, but it was Leon who was steady and quick for the Wildcats, making him part of the inaugural Arizona Wildcat Hall of Fame class. In his three years at shortstop, he was a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference infielder (1965 and ’66) and earned All-Western Athletic Conference South honors in 1967. Leon’s 1966 season was perhaps his most memorable as he led the nation in triples (10) and RBIs (75), earning him the second of two-straight ABCA First Team All-American honors.
Third baseman – Chip Hale (1984-87)
Craig Sorenson was hard to overlook here. He led the Wildcats to their first-ever CWS championship game, his blend of power and speed leading to career totals of 28 home runs and 57 stolen bases, all during a time when wood bats were still used in college baseball. But Hale is simply one of the greatest to ever suit up in an Arizona uniform.
Hale was one of those grinders who may not have had the big eye-popping numbers but came to the ballpark every day ready to play.
Hale is the Wildcats’ all-time leader in games played, starting 255 consecutive games in his four-year career in Tucson. He finished his career as the all-time leader in walks, base hits and total bases. His 1987 campaign was his best, slashing .383/.457/.650 with 34 extra base hits including a career-high seven triples and 12 home runs. His accomplishments earned him a spot on the All Pac-10 South team.
Join us Saturday morning as we welcome back some past Arizona Baseball greats for our Alumni Game! Terry Francona, Chip Hale, Jack Howell and several others will be on hand.
— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) January 23, 2018
Outfield – Terry Francona (1979-80)
Francona spent his sophomore and junior seasons with the Wildcats, and what a two seasons they were. He slashed .401/.473/.626 with 26 doubles and nine home runs in that 1980 season. Arizona won the College World Series that year and Francona took home the Most Outstanding Player Award, a nice accolade to place next to his 1980 Golden Spikes Award. Francona’s career .406 batting average in Pac-12 play is still the best all-time mark at Arizona.
Outfield – Dave Stegman (1973-76)
Stegman was drafted three times over the course of his Wildcats career, yet returned to Tucson every time. He capped his time with a First Team All-American, All-CWS Tournament team performance and an Arizona national championship in 1976. Stegman went 3-for-4 in the title-clincher, driving in three runs. Stegman’s name litters the Wildcats’ record books, with his 1976 season being one of the single-best seasons in program history. He played a single-season record 73 games with 111 hits, 30 doubles and 91 runs, all of which are still all-time bests. Perhaps the best record Stegman holds is RBIs in a single game when he drove in 11 Wildcats against Texas-El Paso in a May 4, 1974 showdown.
Outfield – Shelley Duncan (1999-2001)
Trevor Crowe was a candidate for the last spot and nearly made the cut behind his 2015 All-American season. But when push comes to shove, we all love the long ball, and Duncan still holds the majority of home run records for the Wildcats after a stellar three-year career in Tucson. He exploded onto the scene as a Freshman First-Team All American in 1999, setting the Wildcats’ first-year records for home runs (20) and RBIs (68). After a junior season that saw him slash .338/.416/.702 with a remarkable 1.118 OPS and single-season record 24 home runs, Duncan left Tucson with 55 career home runs, a mark still being chased today.
The swingman — Steve Powers (1973-76)
In 1975, Powers led the Wildcats in hitting with a .404 batting average. That same season, he led the team in wins (13), ERA (1.61) and strikeouts (102). In the 1976 College World Series, Powers pitched Arizona to victory over Arizona State in the national semifinals before driving in the winning runs in the finals, claiming Most Outstanding Player honors. It was too hard to fit Powers into one position, so he earns this special spot on Arizona’s roster.
Ready to honor a legend tonight.
— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) April 21, 2018
Coach – Jerry Kindall
This is about as easy a selection that there is. Kindall is not simply Arizona’s greatest skipper of all-time, he is amongst the legends of college baseball. Kindall was the first to win a College World Series as a player in 1956 with Minnesota and a head coach, leading Arizona to three national championships. He was the first Wildcat inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame and was a three-time ABCA Coach of the Year.
(All records and stats according to Arizona Wildcats Media Guide.)