Perhaps I shouldn’t write this.
I certainly don’t want to jinx the 24-year-old right-handed pitcher.
But let’s face it, Alek Manoah is trending toward becoming the first former WVU baseball player to become a Major League Baseball superstar.
Not only that, but he’s also trending toward seriously cashing in after working on a $706,200 one-year deal.
Yet let’s get back to the superstar talk. If you noted in the second paragraph, Manoah is only 24. But he’s a very savvy 24. He doesn’t wobble on the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s strong. And if you need proof, well, check the MLB stats. I don’t mean the American League stats. I mean, the MLB overall stats.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Manoah was third in baseball with a 1.67 earned run average – as a starting pitcher. His record is 8-1 and he’s thrown 75.2 innings. His WHIP is .91.
That’s better than Justin Verlander, who is making $25 million this season. That’s way better than Gerrit Cole, who is making $36 million. That’s better than Zack Wheeler, who is making $26 million. In fact, it’s better than every qualified pitcher except Los Angeles Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin and San Diego’s Joe Musgrove.
A fluke you suggest? He’s just on a little half-season roll? Well, no. Last season, at the age of 23, one year after being drafted No. 11 overall, he was 9-2 in 111.2 innings pitched with a 3.22 ERA.
He’s rock solid. He’s a proverbial bulldog. And he might turn into WVU’s best former player of all time.
I can hear you screaming for me to pump the brakes. I get it. But do what I did and research the topic.
According to WVU’s website, the Mountaineers have had 27 players in MLB. I looked at all and found some interesting info.
Of course, those paying close attention these days know the story of Baltimore Orioles pitcher John Means. He somewhat surprisingly emerged as the de facto ace of the O’s rotation in 2019-21 and finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. He was an opening day starter and threw a no-hitter against Seattle on May 5, 2021. This blog COULD be about him.
But during contract negotiations, Means was injured and had Tommy John surgery, shelving him until at least midway through the 2023 season. (If wondering, his two-year contract is $2.95 million for this season and $2.97 for ’23.)
So, Means also has the potential to be a superstar. He flashed the potential before his injury.
Also, Mountaineer fans are waiting to see the maturation of Wheeling Park grad Michael Grove, who has been making limited appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Grove was the fourth pitcher off WVU coach Randy Mazey’s teams to make the bigs. (The other: Harrison Musgrave.)
But again, back to my claim.
I combed through all the former Mountaineers to make The Show. And there were a lot of solid players. Dustin Nippert, David Carpenter and Steve Kline pitched for five, eight and 10 years, respectively.
When I was growing up, I followed utility man Paul Popovich, a Flemington native, who played from 1964 through 1975 with four teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates. (He also played hoops on Jerry West’s WVU teams.)
Yet there are only two former Mountaineers that are in the same orbit as Manoah and, yes, Means.
The first WVU fans have surely heard of: Jedd Gyorko, now the West Virginia Black Bears manager. A second-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres, Gyorko played second and third bases for the Padres and, in 2013, led the team in both home runs (23) and RBIs (63). He led all rookies that season in on-base percentage (.301), slugging (.444) and home runs and his home run total was the third-most ever by an MLB rookie second baseman. He broke Bret Boone’s team record for homers by a second baseman and finished sixth in NL Rookie of the Year balloting.
In 2014, Gyorko signed a five-year extension with the Padres worth $35 million after just the one year of service. But he struggled after that. He was traded to St. Louis as a backup, went to first base, spent time on the disabled list and was traded to the Dodgers, which declined his contract option following 2019.
So, he was close to superstar status.
And then there’s Charlie “Piano Legs” Hickman. Also known as “Cheerful Charlie,” Hickman is probably the man Manoa and possibly Means must surpass in relation to superstar status.
Honestly, I covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years and had never heard of ol’ “Piano Legs.” Perhaps the reason is his career started in 1897 with the Boston Beaneaters. That was a COUPLE years before my time. Anyway, he played for teams like the New York Giants, Boston Americans, Cleveland Bronchos (yes, Bronchos), Cleveland Naps, Detroit Tigers, Washington Senators and Chicago White Sox.
In the Deadball Era, he was the bomb. Or at least a bomb. In 12 years of action, Hickman hit .295 with 59 homers and 614 RBIs.
“If we had the lively ball in our day,” said scout Bill Bradley, “we would have had five Babe Ruths.” One, he said, was Hickman, who later coached WVU.
Of course, aside from lively baseballs, there weren’t televisions, social media, etc., so superstar status was probably difficult to come by.
But I’m convinced No. 6 for the Toronto Blue Jays has a shot to become WVU’s first superstar. The Mountaineers have one of the greatest NBA players of all-time in West. They have one of the most impactful NFL players of all-time in Sam Huff.
Perhaps we’re getting close to that time for WVU baseball.
It’ll be fun to watch and see.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.