Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016 — Left Fielders

This is the sixth post in The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team, 1981-2016. Today, we look at left fielders.

To recap how this team was selected, current players and players who finished their eligibility prior to 1981 were not eligible. Players who began their college career before 1981 but finished in 1981, ’82 or ’83 were eligible, with their pre-1981 achievements more or less grandfathered into this. This affected several players from the 1981 and ’82 teams.

At the end of the day, both objective analysis and subjective opinion played a role in determining who made this team. I’ve taken painstaking care in going over this to make sure I’ve included everyone who is worthy. If, however, I left off a deserving name, it was wholly inadvertent. And if your favorite player did not make this team, it was not intended in any way to diminish that player. NC State has had more than its share of great players. I couldn’t list everyone.

Coming Thursday: Center fielders.

• Left Field — Brian Wright (1999-2002)
During his nine years as Wolfpack head coach (1988-96), Ray Tanner had a tradition of hiding bats in left field. Defensively challenged sluggers such as Jeff Pierce, Pat Clougherty and Tony Ellison regularly patrolled left field at the Doak during Tanner’s tenure, and whatever defensive deficiencies they may have had were more than offset by their bats. Between them, Pierce, Clougherty and Ellison clubbed 117 home runs in seven combined seasons, about 17 long balls a year. That many home runs can more than atone for a few misplayed fly balls and overthrown cutoff men. In 1999, then-third-year head coach Elliott Avent revived that tradition with Brian Wright, an offense-first outfielder who went on to become one of the greatest hitters in school history. A three-time first-team All-ACC selection who was All-America as a senior in 2002, Wright’s career was as good offensively as that of anyone ever to wear the uniform. He holds the school record with 78 career doubles. He ranks second in total bases (557), and third in batting average (.373), hits (341) and RBIs (222). He’s fourth in runs scored (225), tied for fifth in home runs (42), sixth in walks (121) and tied for eighth in stolen bases (41). His career on-base percentage was .447. He slugged.610 for an eye-popping career OPS of 1.057. Along with Colt Morton, he is one of just two players in school history to hit 10 or more home runs in three consecutive seasons. Wright finished his career by playing in 205 consecutive games, the fourth longest consecutive-games streak in school history. He accomplished all that despite the misfortune of playing on three mediocre teams that did not make the NCAA Tournament. In retrospect, that certainly cost him some much-deserved recognition — seeing his career stats for the first time in 14 years was definitely an eye-opener for me — and probably cost him some protection in the lineup as well. Didn’t matter. He put up dazzling offensive numbers and when we debate the topic of greatest player later in this series, Wright’s name will be right in the middle of the discussion. His first three seasons were more than great enough to get him on this all-time team. His slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) his first three years was .358/.424/.570. As a freshman in 1999, he batted .363 with 14 doubles, six homers, 35 RBIs and 12 steals in as many attempts, despite not becoming an everyday starter until the final five weeks of the season. His 21-game hitting streak that year was, and remains, the longest ever by an NC State freshman, and was just six games short of Greg Briley’s school-record 27-game streak from 1986. No surprise to anyone, he was a consensus Freshman All-American. A year later, Wright hit .366 with 17 doubles, 12 homers, 52 RBIs and nine steals. He batted .407 over the final 40 games. His junior year was more of the same. He led the Wolfpack in batting (.347), slugging (.569), doubles (21) and RBIs (62). He hit 10 homers and stole 10 bases. His on-base percentage was .417. He batted .400 (42-for-105) with seven doubles, five homers and 31 RBIs in 24 ACC games. So after such an auspicious first three seasons and with a great legacy already assured, what could Wright possibly do for a career finale? In storybook fashion, he had one of the greatest single seasons ever by a Wolfpack player, batting .418 (3rd best in school history) with 26 doubles (3rd), 14 homers, 73 RBIs (tied for 9th), 46 walks (tied for 8th), 10 stolen bases, a .510 on-base percentage (3rd) and a .728 slugging percentage (5th). He earned second-team All-America honors from Baseball America and the NCBWA. During one stretch that year, he hit safely in 11 consecutive at-bats. Not 11 consecutive games, mind you, but 11 consecutive at-bats. At the time, Wright’s .418 batting average for 2002 was second highest in school history (Aaron Bates batted .425 three years later, bumping Wright to No. 3). The record is held by Chris Cammack, who batted .429 in 1969, but in just 28 games and 104 total plate appearances. In the interest of fairness, it should be noted that Wright batted .418 in 59 games and 287 plate appearances, a considerably longer season. (Also in the interest of fairness, it should be noted that in 1969 Cammack batted .429 using wood bats.) As for Wright’s defense, well, to be kind, he had his misadventures in the outfield, especially early in his career. To his credit, Avent promised Wright early on that he would never make him a designated hitter, that he would work with him to make him a better outfielder. Avent kept his word. With hard work, opportunity, and more than a little pride in his craft, Wright became a decent left fielder by the time he graduated. Of course, no matter how good an outfielder Wright may have become, with an offensive resume like his he could have been a Gold Glove outfielder and defense would still be the weakest part of his game. Let’s just say that by the end of his four years in Raleigh, he was still an offense-first outfielder but was no longer carrying the tradition of hiding a bat in left field. The Cleveland Indians drafted Wright in the seventh round in 2002, and after a solid start to his professional career, he came down with back problems and had to retire. He deserved better than that, just as he deserved to play on better teams in college.

• Second Team — Chuckie Canady (1979-81)

Chuckie Canady’s last season at NC State’s was 1981, which was my first covering the baseball team. I did the play-by-play for games on WKNC-FM, the student radio station, from 1981-83, and when I wasn’t broadcasting, I was contributing occasional articles to the Wolfpacker and the Technician, and when I wasn’t doing that I was at the ballpark just watching. So while it was only one season, I still saw more than enough of Chuckie Canady to understand that he was one of NC State’s best and most overlooked players ever. He also was one of the most consistent. A career .371 hitter, Canady batted .371, .369 and .372 in his three seasons in Raleigh. He not only hit consistently, he hit the ball hard consistently: screamers, liners, blue darters, pearods, bombs, bullets, lasers, whatever you care to call them, Canady hit them, seemingly every time he swung the bat. In the ACC in 1981, the two players who were generally acknowledged to hit the ball harder than anyone else were Canady and the appropriately named Brick Smith of Wake Forest. Every time either of them came to bat, you watched because both just crushed the ball. As a freshman Canady hit seven doubles, a triple and seven home runs, scored 35 times with 21 RBIs, all in just 36 games. He also stole five bases in as many attempts. In three fewer games a year later, he hit nine doubles, two triples, seven homers, drove in 39 runs and scored 21. NC State played a then-school-record 45 games in Canady’s junior season, 1981, and he responded to the extended schedule with 10 doubles, two triples, 10 homers, 59 RBIs and eight steals in nine attempts. The Texas Rangers took Canady in the second round of the 1981 MLB draft, and he left Raleigh as NC State’s career leader in batting average (.371), home runs (24), RBIs (119), and total bases (271). He ranked second in runs scored (102), hits (163) and doubles (26). He held single-season records with 66 hits (1981) and 59 RBIs (1981), and tied for the single-season record with 10 home runs (1981). We discussed length of schedule in the entry for Tracy Woodson at first base, and it applies here as well. Canady, who did not miss a game in his college career, played just 114 games in three seasons. Why? Because the Wolfpack did not play past final exams in late April. That is just inexcusable. At a time when NCAA Tournament contenders were playing 60 or more games a year, with some schools out west playing upwards of 90, NC State didn’t think it was worth its while to play the entire final month of the regular season. The school record for games in a season is now 68, set in 1990 and ’91. Canady played just 69 games in his first two seasons combined. Even after he left, the Wolfpack stayed well behind the curve on this for years to come, not playing 40 games in a season again until 1984 and not cracking the 50-game barrier until 1986. Canady still ranks fifth in school history in career batting average, but the Wolfpack played so few games in those days that all of his other marks were overwhelmed by a tidal wave of hitters who came along in ensuing decades and who routinely played 60-plus games a year. It’s both enticing and frustrating to contemplate what Canady might have done given the same opportunity. He was a fantastic hitter and deserved better.

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