Wetherholt is among the greatest pure hitters in mountaineering history

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – One of the greatest pure hitters in West Virginia University baseball history likely played his last game at Kendrick Family Ballpark on Sunday.

He is JJ Wetherholt, of course, who has recovered nicely from a hamstring injury that kept him out for the entire month of March. Wetherholt hit a three-run home run and drove in four runs in West Virginia’s 12-5 win over Kansas State yesterday, raising the Mountaineers’ overall record to 31-19.

“From the moment we recruited him, he was just a little kid from Pittsburgh with some skill, and when you see what he’s developed into, he’s a once-in-a-lifetime player,” he said. the retired West Virginia coach. Randy Mazey said Sunday. “It’s just an honor to say that he and I shared our last year here together.”

The 6-foot-4, 190-pound junior is coming alive at the right time of year with 10 hits in his last 18 at-bats, including three home runs and eight RBIs, raising his season average to .384. The Mars, Pennsylvania native is now posting a .382 batting average in 135 career games with 27 home runs, 79 extra base hits and 125 runs batted in.

That compares favorably to some of the best hitters in school history.

The great Ira “Errett” Rodgers, a football All-American and a three-sport star, hit .360 in 73 career games while playing shortstop for the Mountaineers in 1916, 1917, 1918 and 1919. Rodgers’ best season came in 1917 when he hit .431 in 16 games with 10 extra base hits.

Philadelphia Athletics owner Connie Mack coveted Rodgers as a baseball player, but Rodgers turned down Mack’s offer to stay at WVU to become a professor and coach.

Two decades later, Mack managed to sign Mountaineer first baseman Herbert “Babe” Barna to a contract after his senior season in 1937, and Barna was immediately promoted to the majors.

Barna hit .407 in 58 career games for the Mountaineers, including a career-best .467 in 1935. The Anmoore native hit seven home runs, drove in 55 and had 27 extra base hits in those 58 appearances. Later, playing for the Nashville Vols of the Southern Association in 1949, Barna led the minors with 42 home runs and 125 RBIs while hitting .341 in 148 games.

He was also a standout football player who once caught a school-record three touchdown passes in a game against Cincinnati, while also excelling on the hardwood as a center. Philadelphia Eagles owner Bert Bell pursued Barna as a target, but Barna declined Bell’s contract offer because he did not want to risk injury and damage his baseball fortunes.

He played parts of five Major League seasons with the Athletics and Giants.

In 1960, Flemington’s Paul Popovich was WVU’s only “bonus baby” during the pre-draft era, with the second baseman signing a $42,000 contract with the Chicago Cubs after his lone season playing for the Mountaineers.

Popovich turned down a $12,000 offer from the Cleveland Indians after his senior season at Flemington High to sign a scholarship to play for Fred Schaus’ nationally ranked Mountaineer basketball team.

Popovich played freshman basketball and then was a starting infielder for Steve Harrick’s Mountaineer baseball team in the spring of 1960, when he hit a Southern Conference-best .426 with four home runs, 25 RBIs and 13 extra base hits in 26 games.

Like Wetherholt, Popovich had impressive strength for someone of a light build, standing just 6 feet tall and weighing 170 pounds. His four home runs were more than the three the entire Mountaineer team hit in 1959 at the cavernous Hawley Field, then located on Monongahela Boulevard.

Popovich was considered the Cubs’ No. 2 national prospect the year he signed, and he was immediately assigned to Double-A San Antonio. Taking Popovich’s place on the Little Pirates, a well-known summer baseball team in Pittsburgh, Glenn Beckert later replaced Popovich in the Cubs organization and became Chicago’s starting second baseman after the sudden death of Ken Hubbs in 1964.

The next elite WVU hitter to come along was Front Royal, Va., native Darrell Whitmore, a Mountaineer football player whose interest eventually turned to the baseball diamond when professional scouts took an interest in his hitting.

Whitmore hit .407 in 26 games during his sophomore season in 1989, then hit .386 with 10 home runs and 54 RBIs in a full season in 1990. Whitmore hit .392 in 71 career games with 11 home runs, 72 RBIs and 32 extra base hits.

Late Mountaineer coach Dale Ramsburg recalled watching with amazement one of Whitmore’s early at-bats, when he went from being completely fooled on the first pitch, to making an error on the second, and line-driving over the head of the pitcher drilled on the third pitch. Ramsburg indicated that Whitmore’s ability to adapt within one at-bat was among the fastest he had ever seen.

Whitmore played parts of three seasons with the Florida Marlins in 1993, 1994 and 1995.

Charleston’s Mark Landers was a great hitter in college, especially his final two seasons in 1993 and 1994, when he hit 29 home runs over those two campaigns and hit .416 with 81 RBIs as a senior, but his kryptonite was mostly left-handed.

The first baseman earned All-America honors in 1994.

Morgantown’s Jedd Gyorko, who spent three seasons at West Virginia in 2008, 2009 and 2010, punished Big East pitching with a .404 batting average in 168 career games.

Gyorko hit a career-best .421 as a sophomore in 2009, then doubled his home run total from eight as a sophomore to 19 as a junior when he hit .381 with 57 RBIs and 48 extra base hits. Gyorko made the Baseball America’s All-America third team and was the winner of the Brooks Wallace Award as college baseball’s top shortstop in 2010.

Protecting Gyorko in the lineup for two of those seasons was Coatesville, Pennsylvania, native Vince Belnome, who hit .377 as a sophomore in 2008 and .418 as a junior in 2009. Belnome’s career numbers include a .388 average with 174 RBIs and 70 extra base hits, making Gyorko and Belnome perhaps the best one-two hitting combination in school history.

Gyorko was a sandwich pick of the San Diego Padres in the second round of the Major League Draft and spent eight seasons in the majors with the San Diego Padres, St, Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers. His best season in the bigs came in 2016 when he hit 30 home runs and batted .243.

Other great Mountaineer hitters over the years include Wheeling’s Herb Stewart, whose career school record .474 averaged 171 plate appearances during the 1933, 1934 and 1935 seasons, Triadelphia’s Eddie Vacherese, who played for three years in 1927, 1928. 408 and 1929, and Ashland, Kentucky, third baseman Steve Rolen, a .380 hitter in 145 career games from 1986-89.

As for ranking the best of the best, it’s certainly a matter of personal preference.

My pick would be Wetherholt, based on the level of competition he has faced in his three seasons in the Big 12. His raw speed also sets him apart from some others, including Gyorko and Popovich, who were not considered diamond burners. according to professional scouts.

Later this summer, Wetherholt could become the first WVU position player taken in the first round of the Major League Draft. Wetherholt entered the season ranked among the top positional prospects, with a recent draft projection seeing him pick 12e overall to the Boston Red Sox.

Currently Whitmore (46e total) and Gyorko (59e overall) are the two highest WVU players ever taken in the June regular draft.