Posted July 28, 2012
Mark Selig, Daily News Record
HARRISONBURG— The walls of Bob Wease’s office at his auto dealership are lined with photographs of major league baseball players past in present. All of them – some multi-time All-Stars, one a World Series MVP – were once members of the Harrisonburg Turks, the Valley Baseball League team Wease has owned and managed since 1990.
Obviously, the Turks have had plenty of talent. As the 2012 VBL playoffs begin, here’s our 25-man roster of the best all-time Turks, based on career success.
1. Juan Pierre, LF: A Turk in 1997 in between years at Galveston Junior College and Southern Alabama, Pierre might have been the best Wease has ever had, the manager said. “Every time he got on, he stole,” Wease said.
Pierre continued to be a threat on the base paths when he reached the MLB, leading the National League in stolen bases twice. He also won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003. Pierre was the only player to play every inning of his team’s games in 2004 – part of a five-year stretch in which he appeared in 162 games per season.
2. David Eckstein, 2B: Eckstein, a walk-on at Florida, was a Turk in 1995 but broke his wrist after a few games. He returned to Harrisonburg in 1996. Ten years later, he became the MVP of the 2006 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals, after batting .364 against the Tigers. On that team, Eckstein was a shortstop, but on the Turks, he played second base. “Little scrappy guy that just got after it,” Wease said of the 5-foot-6, 170-pounder. “Worked hard all the time. All the time. … Played second base. Had trouble throwing the ball across the diamond.”
3. Mo Vaughn, 1B: While Eckstein is the Turk with the most notable MLB accomplishment, Vaughn, a Seton Hall standout who played in Harrisonburg in 1986, was probably the most prolific pro. Nicknamed the “Hit Dog,” Vaughn was the AL MVP in 1995, when he hit .300 with 39 home runs, 11 stolen bases and a league-leading 126 RBIs for the Red Sox. Of every former Turk, Vaughn pocketed the most money, earning just over $100 million in his 12-year career, according to baseball-reference.com
4. Steve Finley, RF: Finley, a Southern Illinois product who was with the Turks in 1986, is another World Series winner, capturing the crown at age 36 with the 2001 Diamondbacks. He was integral in that year’s playoffs, batting .365. Finley popped 304 home runs in 19 seasons for eight teams.
5. Chris Hoiles, DH: Hoiles, from Eastern Michigan, never made an all-star team but was one of the better offensive catchers of his generation. His best year came in 1993, when he batted .310 and cranked 29 home runs for the Orioles – the only team he played for in his 10 years.
6. Darren Lewis, CF: Known for his defense and base-stealing, the speedy Lewis won the 1994 NL Gold Glove and finished in the top 10 in the league in stolen bases three straight seasons while playing for the Giants. The former California Golden Bear went to the playoffs in 1998 and 1999 with the Red Sox and batted leadoff for the ’98 team.
7. Frank Menechino, 3B: A utility player for the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s, Menechino started 139 games for the 2001 team, which won 102 games – the most ever for a wild-card team. But the Alabama product, who was with the Turks in 1992, sticks out to Wease for another reason. “I get to the park one day and hear this ‘WLABBLE, WLAB WLAB WLAB,’” Wease said, flailing his arms and making a garbled sound. “And I look around, then I look down in the batting cage, and those boys stole two turkeys off a farm and they painted them red, white and blue. And Menechino kept them the whole summer. He took them home with him. They were living in the basement of my house.”
8. Kirt Manwaring, C: A defense-first catcher from Coastal Carolina, Manwaring won a Gold Glove in 1993 with San Francisco. That was also his best complete offensive season: he batted .275 with career highs in home runs (5) and RBIs (49) for a Giants team that won 103 games but missed the playoffs in the final year before the wild card was introduced.
9. Cliff Pennington, SS: A first-round pick in 2005 after playing for the Turks in 2003, the Texas A&M product has been an everyday starter at shortstop the past three seasons for the A’s (he’s currently on the disabled list with left elbow tendonitis).
Steve Swisher, C: Maybe best known as current Yankee Nick Swisher’s father, Steve was an all-star with the Cubs in 1976 but did not play in the game.
Ryan Shealy, 1B: A Turk in 1999, the former Florida Gator hit .330 as a rookie backing up Todd Helton, but since debuting in 2005 with Colorado, he has played in just 169 MLB games.
Greg Pryor, IF: Pryor, from Florida Southern, was a reserve for the 1985 Royals, who won the World Series over the Cardinals.
Doug Strange, IF: The former N.C. State player was a solid utility bat for the Rangers, Mariners and Expos.
Billy Sample, OF: The 5-foot-9 former James Madison outfielder had some pop in his bat, hitting .272 for his career with 46 home runs in parts of nine seasons, mostly in the 1980s.
Scott Cousins, OF: The current Marlin had a moment of fame last year when he collided with Giants catcher Buster Posey, causing Posey to break his leg and miss most of the season.
Jon Rauch, SP: The Turks haven’t had enough major league starters to fill a five-man rotation, but when asked who Wease would start, the manager said Rauch. Mostly a reliever in the bigs, Rauch, who was nicknamed “Lurch” on the Turks in 1998, has had a solid career since leaving Morehead State. The tallest player in MLB history, at 6-foot-11, he notched a career-high 21 saves for the Twins in 2010 after closer Joe Nathan suffered an injury before the season. Rauch led the majors with 88 relief appearances for the Nationals in 2007. He’s currently playing for the Mets. Why would Wease start him? Because with the Turks, Rauch went 8-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 85 innings. He was selected as league MVP and Pitcher of the Year.
Jamie Moyer, SP: At age 49, Moyer this year became the oldest pitcher to win a game in MLB history. He’s currently a free agent after winning 269 games in 25 seasons. Moyer, who went to college at St. Joseph’s, was an All-Star in 2003 with the Mariners and a World Series champ in 2008 with the Phillies.
Jessie Foppert, SP: Foppert, from the University of San Francisco, was a Turk in 2000 and the best pitching prospect in baseball in 2003. But after the 6-foot-6 pitcher went 8-9 with a 5.03 ERA in ’03 with the Giants, he needed Tommy John Surgery that September and was never the same.
Travis Harper, SP: The former star at now-consolidated Circleville High School in Pendleton County, W.Va., Harper played at JMU and then seven years with the Devil Rays after a stint with the Turks in 1997. He threw a two-hit shutout against Toronto as a rookie in 2000, but carved out a role as a reliever later in his career.
Jeff Tam, RP: A Turk in 1992, the former Florida State Seminole was an iron man reliever for Oakland, making 142 combined appearances in 2000 and 2001.
Roy Corcoran, RP: From Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Corcoran played in 1998 with the Turks, and has bounced between the MLB and minors since debuting with the Expos in 2003.
Logan Kensing, RP: The former Texas A&M Aggie was a Turk in 2002, drafted by the Marlins in 2003 and up in the Show by 2004. He threw 161 innings in six years, most recently with the Nationals in 2009.
Rich Croushore, RP: Another JMU guy, Croushore pitched in relief in 111 games over three seasons with St. Louis, Colorado and Boston.
Craig Kimbrel, CP: Maybe not the biggest prospect during his time with the Turks, Kimbrel is currently one of the MLB’s best young closers. He was drafted in the 33rd round in 2007 but attended Wallace State Community College (in Alabama) to improve his draft stock. The move worked, as he went in the third round in the 2008 draft. He saved a league-high and rookie record 46 games last season and was an All-Star in 2011 and 2012.