Mississippi State left fielder Rowdey Jordan hits a single during the Bulldogs’ 5-2 loss to Oregon State Saturday in the semifinal round of the College World Series. The loss eliminated Mississippi State from tournament. Photo by: Kelly Donoho/Mississippi State Athletics
June 23, 2018 11:45:38 PM
Quick. Name the best team in Mississippi State baseball history.
We can agree the Bulldog teams that made it to the College World Series are the Top 10. But among those 10, there are some which stand apart.
We pose this question after Oregon State eliminated the Bulldogs by a 5-2 margin, a day after the Beavers pounded State 12-2.
In the wake of these losses, to suggest that this MSU club is worthy of best-ever status is, well -- what's the word I'm looking for? Oh, yeah.
The best team in Bulldog history? There are a couple of obvious candidates and one less so.
The 1985 Bulldogs, featuring the "Thunder and Lightning" of Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro and the pitching tandem of starter Jeff Brantley and closer Bobby Thigpen ranks as the most talented team, perhaps the best team never to have won a CWS title. Those four players went on to play a combined 58 Major League Baseball seasons and claim 12 All-Star appearances. You don't often see that collection of talent on a single team.
Yet even that '85 team, which -- like he 2018 team -- finished third in the CWS, takes a back seat to the 2013 team anchored by Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier that led MSU to a national runner-up finish, the best showing of any Bulldog team in 10 trips to Omaha.
If I were to tell you the best team in Mississippi State baseball history was the team that got clobbered by a Beavers team (which, by the way, had a third of its lineup picked in the first round of this year's MLB draft), you would certainly say I'm, well, bananas.
But is it, really?
It is only as bananas as the humiliation of a team whose coach was forced to resign just three games into the season as a result of, in his own words, "some poor decisions" in his personal life.
Only as bananas as a College World Series team starting the conference season with two wins in nine games.
Only as bananas as losing to such baseball paper-weights as Utah Valley (15-38 record), McNeese State (25-33) and Nichols State (28-32).
Only as bananas as needing a win over Florida just to make the SEC Tournament, then sweeping the No. 1 Gators, who hadn't lost a series all season, let alone lose all three games.
Only as bananas as sweeping Arkansas -- which has already secured a spot in the CWS championship series -- at a time when the Bulldogs were three games under .500.
Only as bananas as losing its opening game in the NCAA Regionals by a touchdown and a field goal, then staving off elimination a day later by walking off Florida State on its home field with a two-out, two-strike, three-run homer by Elijah McNamee for a 3-2 win.
Only as bananas as walking off Vanderbilt with another McNamee homer in Game 1 of the best of three, then winning it in Game 3 after blowing a 3-run, ninth-inning lead on the road.
Only as bananas as an MSU pitching staff with a plus-5 earned run average giving up just one earned run in its first two CWS games to move tantalizing close to claiming a spot in the championship series against Arkansas.
Bananas, you say?
Much depends on how you define the term.
If by best, you mean "most talented," this 2018 team will fall well short in that criteria. This was a team picked to finish fifth in the SEC West.
If by best, you mean "most successful," the 2018 Bulldog club fell a step short of that 2013 team's best finish in school history.
But if by best, you mean the team that most lived up to its potential, that exceeded the lowest of expectations, that overcome the most improbable obstacles, that squeezed out the last vapor of its talent, that provided, one after another, absurdly improbable thrills in a span of a few weeks in June, the 2018 Bulldogs is best in a most satisfying way.
They were a "team" in the best since of the word.
Bananas as that may seem.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]