MACwood Squares is our summer reading series on the best athletes in Mid-American Conference sports history. This week features Western Michigan. Looking for your MAC school? Consult our schedule for other teams and please submit your nominees as well.
It's not where it used to be, but WMU had a historic baseball program back in the 50s. A couple sweet-swinging outfielders followed in the '80s, and that's mostly it. And looking at the entire collection of Broncos baseballers, the list is rather eclectic. We have some retro '50s players, secondary '90s players, a groundbreaking author, and an MLB general manager. Something for every flavor.
OF Matt Mieske (1987-90) — When he left Kalamazoo, Mieske owned several records: hits (224), homers (25), total bases (377) — even stolen bases (73). He still has the RBI (174) and run (168) records after 20 years. Twice he was named Third Team All-American. Later he was drafted by the Padres in the 14th round and got his break with the Brewers but after eight years career, he had a 0.0 WAR despite a couple decent seasons. Thankfully his Broncos numbers live on.
OF John Vander Wal (1985-87) — And prior to Mieske, Vander Wal held the HR record. But his stronger legacy: no other former WMU player had a longer career in the majors. Lasting 14 seasons, Vander Wal bounced around eight different teams after initially being drafted by the Montreal Expos and then to the Rockies for five seasons. He played in the World Series with the Padres in 1988 and finished with reputable .261/.351/441 split for his career. Used mostly as a bench player, Vander Wal developed a reputation for being a pinch-hitter and had 129 pinch hits in his career, seventh on the all-time list. He also holds the a single-season record thanks to 28 pinch hits in 1995. The career 6.7 WAR ain't bad either.
Charlie Maxwell (1945-47) — The only hitter ever to make an All-Star Game as a former WMU player. "Smokey" played in two ASGs for the Tigers in the late '50s and struck 148 career home runs. His career splits in 14 seasons with the Tigers/BoSox/ChiSox/Orioles is a solid .264/.360/.451 and a career 19.2 WAR.
Jim Bouton (1958-59) — In a 10-year career with the Yankees/Astros/Braves/Seattle Pilots, Bouton issued 435 career ball fours and millions of copies of books with the same name. On merit of being an All-Star and 20-game winner might be enough, but Bouton's iconic "Ball Four" changed the way we saw ballplayers' off-the-field activities, effectively humanizing sports heroes. And there's your one-sentence oversimplified book review. But before he was a pariah and a Yankee, he was a Western Michigan Bronco.
Bill Lajoie (1953-55) — He was an All-American first team outfielder in '55, along with one of the key players in their College World Series runner-up finish. He's also one of those curious "MAC Hall of Fame" inductees. This is all great. But Lajoie was also the Tigers general manager who helped build the '84 World Series champions. And yes, he traded away John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander. Live with it.
Also, Pat Misch and Adam Rosales are both active MLB players who started out as Broncos. Brian Sikorski also played briefly in the past decade. And many of Mieske's records were broken by catcher Chris Lewis.
Who are your nominees for WMU's MACwood Squares? Comment below, tweet us at @HustleBelt or submit a FanPost making your case. The final nine will be revealed Friday.
Who is WMU's best baseball player ever?
Charlie Maxwell (4 votes)
Bill Lajoie (3 votes)
Jim Bouton (4 votes)
John Vander Wal (4 votes)
Matt Mieske (0 votes)
15 total votes