Batter up! Ranking area’s best hardballers of all time

Fred Brikell played for Pittsburg and later the Boeing Bombers.
Nate Robertson pitched for Detroit.
Danny Thompson played for Minnesota.

By Bob Rives

This is a year with little real baseball news. There will be no debut of the Wichita Wind Surge. The majors will play just 60 games. A much-reduced version of the National Baseball Congress tournament was still scheduled for August (as of late July), although organizers admitted it could also fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.

So let us think a little bit about past players who’ve come from the area covered by The Active Age: Sedgwick, Butler and Harvey counties. 

Of thousands and thousands of local players who picked up a ball and bat, only about 80 made it to the major leagues. Picking the best of them ¬– The Active Age All-Stars – is necessarily a judgment call open to disagreement, but that’s part of the fun an exercise like this.

The list does not include those who came here to play for a college, minor league or semipro team. That would add dozens more. Here we’re talking super local. Yet this team is still impressive.

Pitchers

Carl Mays, Mulvane.  Best season: 1921 when he was 27-9 with the Yankees. Unfortunately, he threw the only fatal pitch in major league history, killing Cleveland’s Ray Chapman. But his 207 career victories put him in impressive company.

Jess Barnes, El Dorado. Best season, 1914. He was 25-9 with the New York Giants and won 152 games over 13 years.

Zeke Barnes, Wichita, Jess’ brother. He won 16 games in 1924 for the Giants.  

Ed Siever, Goddard. Best season: 1901 when he was 18-14 for Detroit. In seven years he won 83 games.

Tom Sturdivant, Gordon. In 1957 with the Yankees he won 16 games for the second season in a row. His .721 winning percentage was best in the American League.

Larry McWilliams, Wichita. Best year: 1983, winning 15 games for Pittsburgh.  

Nate Robertson, Wichita and WSU. Best year: In 2006 he won 13 games for the Tigers.

Mike Pelfrey, Wichita and WSU. Best year: 2006. He won 13 games for the New York Mets.

Darren Dreifort, also WSU and Wichita. Top year: 2000. He won 12 games for the Dodgers.

Blake Treinen, Wichita. Best year, 2018, when he probably was the best reliever in baseball.  An All-Star for Oakland, he was 9-2 with 38 saves and an incredible Earned Run Average of just 0.78.

Kyle Farnsworth, Wichita. Best year: 2011, when he was 5-1 with 25 saves for Tampa Bay.

Designated Hitter

Bob Boyd, Wichita. Best year: 1957 at Baltimore where he hit .318.   

Infielders

Frank Isbell, Wichita. Best year: 2006. He hit .296 for the White Sox and set a still-standing record with four doubles in a World Series game. For nearly 30 years he was involved in baseball here.  

Danny Thompson, Wichita. Best year: 1972 with the Twins. His career tragically was limited to seven years because of his death from cancer.  

Daryl Spencer, Wichita. Best year: 1959. He hit .265 for San Francisco.

Tony Clark, Newton, Best year: 2005, when he hit 304 for Arizona. He now is called “the most powerful man in baseball” as president of the  Major League Baseball Players Association.

Outfielders

Beals Becker, El Dorado, Best year: 1914, hitting .325 for Philadelphia.  In 1913 he became only the second player ever to hit two inside the park home runs in one game.

Fred Brickell, Wichita. Best year: 1928, hitting .322 for Pittsburgh. His son, Fritz, also became a big-league player.

Woody Jensen, Wichita. Best year: 1935, Pittsburgh. He hit .324 and later became the owner of the Rose Bowls East and West in Wichita.

Catchers

Derek Norris, Goddard. Best year: 2014, Oakland. An American League All-Star, he hit .270 with 10 home runs.  

T. J.  Young, Wichita. Best year: 1929, hitting .361 for the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1933 he was a Negro league All-Star.

Koyie Hill, Derby and WSU. Best season: hitting .250 at Arizona. While with Chicago, he injured his right hand with a table saw. It took months of therapy but he returned to catching.   

The Bench

Bob Thurman, Wichita. Best year: 1956 when he hit .256 for Cincinnati. He became the first player to homer on his 40th birthday.

Lou Clinton, Wichita. Best year: 1962 when he batted .249 with 18 home runs. He became Ted Williams’ successor in right field for the Red Sox and played for four other teams.

Don Lock, Wichita. Best year: 1963 when he hit .252 for Washington and had 27 home runs.  Another former Shocker baseball—and basketball—star, he also led outfielders in assists.  

The Manager

Eric Wedge returned to Wichita to coach Wichita State just in time to be named manager of The Active Age All-Stars. The former Shocker had been American League Manager of the Year in 2007 at Cleveland.

The Coaches

Owen Friend, Gaylen Pitts, Brad Holman and Rusty Kuntz all have been big league coaches.

The Front Office

Two of baseball’s finest general managers were born and raised in Wichita: Dayton Moore of the Royals and John Holland of the Cubs, who died in 1979.

 Agree with Bob or think he’s crazy? Either way you can contact him at bprives@gmail.com.

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