I’m not sure who died and made me team captain, but I’m up for the job.
Diamonds in Central Texas have sparkled majestically for decades on end, and not those at the jewelry stores. This area has produced a long list of terrific baseball players, including two members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Over the years we’ve seen pitchers whose heaters left smoke signals and hitters who could leave the yard quicker than summer precipitation.
So given that abundance of talent, picking an All-Time Super Centex Baseball Team was no easy chore. Nevertheless, that was the task I set out to perform, and having too many great players at my disposal was a nice problem to have. (Joe Girardi can empathize).
Before I introduce the players, some further explanation is necessary. This is truly an all-time team, meaning ballplayers who laced up their spikes before the Super Centex team made its debut were eligible. That’s why you’ll see some representatives from the early 20th century.
Also, it’s a team for players with legitimate Central Texas ties, meaning they needed to play their high school ball here. Baylor and McLennan Community College greats who came to Waco from other parts of the state weren’t considered, nor were the likes of Lance Berkman or Schoolboy Rowe, Waco natives who moved away as young kids.
Let it also be known that the ballplayer’s entire body of work was considered, including his college and professional exploits. But special provisions were included for players who never made it to the bigs, yet still dominated the prep ranks.
Naturally, some harsh cuts had to be made. There are quite a few really good major leaguers who weren’t picked. You might make some strong arguments for many of the leftovers. I can respect that.
That said, I think this bunch might win a few games.
Scott Podsednik, OF, West: Scotty Pods is the picture of perseverance. After being drafted out of West in 1994, he toiled for seven years in the minor league ranks before making his big-league debut. But he hit the ground running for sure, as the speedy ex-Trojan stole 43 bases his rookie year and a major league-leading 70 his second.
And Podsednik will never have to pay for a drink in Chicago, considering his World Series heroics for the White Sox in 2005. (As an Astros fan, I’m still internally weeping over that one).
Tris Speaker, OF, Hubbard: The best hitter Central Texas has ever seen, bar none, and one of the best in baseball history. Nicknamed the “Grey Eagle,” Speaker banged out 3,514 hits over an amazing 22-year big league career and finished with a lifetime .345 average, the sixth-best ever. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1937, in the museum’s second induction class.
Born and raised in Hubbard, the town’s most famous resident is also buried there.
Donald Harris, OF, Jefferson Moore: How gifted of an athlete was Harris? He not only excelled in a variety of sports in high school, but he also played both football and baseball at Texas Tech. And while he never made it as big as, say, Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders, Harris was a signee of both the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys.
In fact, the Rangers made Harris the No. 5 pick in the 1989 draft — two spots ahead of Frank Thomas.
Donnie Sadler, IF, Valley Mills: A faded sign off State Highway 6 still reminds motorists that Valley Mills is the “Home of Donnie Sadler,” and with good reason. Perpetually versatile and sure-handed, Sadler played six different positions in his eight-year major league career, and finished with a career fielding percentage of .974.
Sadler is one of two players in this group who also made the Tribune-Herald’s All-Time Super Centex Football Team in 2004, the other being Midway’s Andy Hawkins.
Todd Haney, IF, Richfield: Long before he gave back to the game of baseball as an instructor, Haney was a darn fine player in his own right. After starring at Richfield, he moved on to great success at Panola College and for the Texas Longhorns, reaching the College World Series. The rugged Haney endured a long stint in the minors, but eventually scratched and clawed his way to the majors, where he spent five years. Of course, a lot of kids in Central Texas know him as Coach Haney, for his efforts with the Waco Storm select team.
In Haney’s case, those who can, teach.
Jake Weghorst, IF, Lorena: Weghorst never played pro ball. But when you’re a two-time Super Centex Player of the Year who just happened to be the stud shortstop (and starting pitcher) for an undefeated state champion, you absolutely deserve a spot in this lineup.
Seasons can’t possibly be more perfect than that 2003 year was for the spotless Leopards of Lorena. And Weghorst was right in the middle of it all, hitting .467 with 41 RBIs while also striking out 136 batters in 77 1/3 innings on the bump. He later played at Baylor before entering the coaching ranks.
Dutch Meyer, IF, Waco High: No, not the famous TCU football coach. This was his nephew, who was known as “Little Dutch.” Meyer made all-state for the Waco Tigers, then went on to great acclaim in both baseball and football for the Horned Frogs. (Little Dutch scored all of TCU’s points in a 16-6 Cotton Bowl win over Marquette).
Though Meyer’s pro career was partially interrupted by World War II, he still played six years in the majors for the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.
Tim Spehr, C, Richfield: One of three Richfield products to make this list, Spehr signed with baseball power Arizona State out of high school. He fared just fine, leading the Sun Devils in hitting with a .328 average in 1987 and making first-team all-conference.
Known as a savvy handler of pitchers, Spehr could also produce the occasional big base knock. In his first game for the Atlanta Braves in 1997, Spehr clubbed a grand slam home run.
Todd Glaesmann, DH, Midway: The youngest player to find his way onto our super squad, the 22-year-old Glaesmann was a two-time Super Centex Player of the Year at Midway at outfielder. Yet I’m putting Glaesmann at DH and dubbing him the “Gardener,” because he could always flat-out rake. In his final two seasons at Midway, he smashed 20 home runs and 93 RBIs.
He’s still hitting plenty, and in 2012 was named the Tampa Bay Rays’ minor-league player of the year. Trust me, he’ll be in the big leagues soon enough.
Andy Cooper, P, Moore High: Along with Tris Speaker, Cooper is the other local product appropriately enshrined in Cooperstown. One of the greatest left-handed pitchers in Negro Leagues history, Cooper first made his name at Waco’s Moore High School and then Paul Quinn College. He exhibited pinpoint control as a hurler, and amassed a 116-57 record in a pro career that spanned from 1920-41.
Upon Cooper’s death in ’41, the Tribune-Herald’s Jinx Tucker wrote that he would be “impossible to replace.” Cooper is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, off Highway 84 in Waco.
Pat Zachry, P, Richfield: Here’s a guy who knew how to make a first impression. In his big league debut season of 1976, Zachry fashioned a 14-7 record with a 2.74 ERA and won the National League’s Rookie of the Year award for the Cincinnati Reds. The proud Panther alumnus went on to a solid 10-year career that included an all-star appearance in 1978.
Moreover, he makes this team despite the ignominy of having yielded a hit to none other than yours truly. (Full disclosure: It was slow-pitch softball).
Andy Hawkins, P, Midway: Hawkins was a fantastic all-around athlete at Midway. In addition to his pitching talents, he was a prodigious punter for the football team.
When Hawkins was on, he could be unhittable. In fact, he tossed a no-hitter for the New York Yankees in 1990, but lost the game 4-0 due to some tough-luck errors in the eighth. Hawkins, who pitched 10 years in the bigs and won 84 games, remains the only San Diego Padre to ever win a World Series game.
He’s now the bullpen coach for the Rangers.
Casey Fossum, P, Midway: Fossum’s starts at Midway were must-see events. He could really fling it, and was a consecutive winner of the Super Centex Player of the Year honor in 1996 and ’97.
From there, Fossum matriculated to Texas A&M, where he was equally impressive, helping the Aggies reach the College World Series in ’99. And while his nine seasons in the majors didn’t translate the same kind of success, he did throw a no-hitter in Class A ball.
Arthur Rhodes, P, La Vega: Rhodes was the Super Centex Player of the Year for the Pirates as a senior in 1988, and he never really slowed down. He aged like Benjamin Buttons, getting better and better as the years passed. In 2010, his 19th season in the majors, the well-traveled southpaw made his first all-star game.
Perhaps even sweeter, he won a World Series ring with the Cardinals a year later, beating the team that released him. (Sorry, Rangers fans).
Honorable mention: Sarge Connally, McGregor; Zach Duke, Midway; “Little” Al Jackson, Moore; Jack Little, Mart; Ray Sadler, Clifton; Buzz Dozier, Waco High; Kevin Belcher, Waco High; Chad Hollingsworth, Robinson