It has been nearly two years since Vanderbilt dogpiled on the TD Ameritrade Park infield to celebrate winning the 73rd edition of the College World Series, as the 2020 Road to Omaha was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, with the 2021 CWS underway, we’d like to ask you a question that was on our minds all throughout last summer when we were stuck in the house with no games to watch. Of those 73 championship-winning teams, who is the ultimate champ? Who should actually earn the honor of being the greatest College World Series champion of all time?
We picked the eight greatest championship teams, and now we want you to vote for the greatest ever.
1973 USC Trojans
I can already hear the fine folks of Troy squirming in their seats as they think about the 1978 team that had 11(!) players drafted, or the 1948 team that won the first of legendary head coach Rod Dedeaux’s 11(!!) national titles. The team that won the ninth of those championships not only produced eight future big leaguers, including All-Stars Roy Smalley and Fred Lynn, it posted a record of 51-11, including a victory in perhaps the greatest College World Series game ever played. In the ’73 semifinals against Minnesota, pitcher and CWS Most Outstanding Player Dave Winfield struck out 15 Trojans through eight innings and his Gophers held a 7-0 lead. But USC rallied in the ninth to win 8-7 and went on to defeat Arizona State to win its third straight College World Series championship, a streak that ultimately extended to a record five consecutive titles.
I asked Fred Lynn via Twitter if he would pick his team or the ’78 squad as USC’s best ever. He politely said that he didn’t know how to answer that question, conceding that the ’78 pitching staff was amazing, but also adding, “Our ’73 team could beat any team.”
2019 Vanderbilt Commodores
No, we don’t have the hindsight of history to measure this team like we do with the other candidates, but while we can agree it might be too soon to judge the most recent CWS champ as its best ever, we can also agree that the 2019 Vandy Boys deserve to be in the conversation. They won an SEC title in a 12-team conference that had a whopping eight ranked teams and 10 NCAA tourney participants, yet still lost only seven SEC games all season. They swept the SEC tournament, swept their regional, and after losing the super regional opener to Duke, answered with a 19-strikeout no-hitter from Kumar Rocker — just the eighth no-no in NCAA tournament history — and took Game 3 to advance. Rocker went 5-0 in the postseason as the Commodores spent their time in Omaha knocking off No. 4 Louisville (twice) and No. 3 Mississippi State, and coming back from down 1-0 to Michigan to win the championship series. Slugger J.J. Bleday was the fourth overall pick of the 2019 MLB draft, shortstop Austin Martin was the fifth pick of the 2020 draft, and on July 11, Rocker should join them as a single-digit pick. Recency bias? Maybe. But great is great, whether those clips come in HD or 8mm film.
1977 Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils rank fourth all time in CWS appearances (22) and titles (five), but their best team was the ’77 squad that bulldozed through the season with a 57-12 record, thanks to a starting lineup that included five future big leaguers and a whopping seven players drafted that year alone, including MLB All-Star Hubie Brooks and current Blue Jays bench coach Dave Hudgens. Their leader wasn’t drafted until the following year — sophomore second baseman and ball masher Bob Horner won the CWS Most Outstanding Player award in ’77 and made the All-CWS team in ’78 before he was taken with the No. 1 pick, skipping the minors entirely and reporting directly to the Atlanta Braves infield. The Devils also won the CWS title despite outside forces seemingly conspiring against them. Hudgens had his face broken by a pregame warm-up toss he didn’t see coming. Catcher Dave Eiler wasn’t available in Omaha because while celebrating the team’s Tempe regional title over Washington State, he was shot by a mugger at a Jack in the Box.
“There was nothing about this team that should have made anyone think it would be my best team,” head coach Jim Brock said before his death in 1994, having coached ASU for 23 years and saying the ’76 CWS runner-up squad was probably more talented. “But the ’77 team, this was my best performing team.”
2001 Miami Hurricanes
No team has ever stormed through Omaha like these Hurricanes: a roster that had 11 players drafted played like pros all season long, racking up a record of 53-12 and ending the year on a 17-game winning streak. They played baseball like their football brethren, who also won a national title that year. In the NCAA postseason, Jim Morris’ team ran up a mark of 9-0, winning their games by an average score of 12-5 and scoring double-digit runs seven times. At Rosenblatt Stadium, the Hurricanes scored 40 runs in four games, beginning with a 21-13 football-score win over Tennessee and ending with an 11-1 destruction of Stanford in the CWS championship game.
1983 Texas Longhorns
In the rearview mirror, it is easy to assume this 66-14 team was largely powered by Roger Clemens, the future seven-time Cy Young winner. But the Rocket was only one piece of a four-man rotation of MLB hurlers, including team ace and future Red Sox teammate (and ’86 World Series goat) Calvin Schiraldi. Diminutive second baseman Billy Bates is still an all-time Longhorns legend, no small accomplishment in a program that has won six CWS titles with another six runner-up efforts and a record 36 CWS appearances. The ’83 Horns never lost at Rosenblatt, going 5-0 despite facing the most talent-laden CWS field there ever was. Texas beat Pete Incaviglia’s Oklahoma State Cowboys, a Michigan team that featured Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo, and an Alabama team that included Dave Magadan and Craig Shipley in the title game (they never played Arizona State and Barry Bonds). What’s more, right smack in the middle of their title run, the Horns had a Texas-sized haul of eight players taken in the MLB draft.
1997 LSU Tigers
Picking the best LSU team during the monstrous Skip Bertman era is no easy task. While other squads might have had more future MLB All-Star talent in the dugout, there was no better true “Hold the rope” team than the ’97 roster that won the Tigers’ second consecutive CWS title and the fourth of Bertman’s five championships. In ’96, LSU earned the most famous of all men’s baseball titles via the heroics of Warren Morris and his homer that squeaked over the Rosenblatt Stadium fence to stun Miami. The ’97 team rarely found its backs up against such outfield walls. The Tigers finished the season 57-13, winning the SEC title in a league packed with six top-20 teams. They set an NCAA record with 110 homers, slugging at least one in each of their 70 games. After being upset by second-ranked Alabama in the SEC title game, LSU went 9-1 in the NCAA tourney, including a 4-0 record in Omaha that was iced by a revenge victory over Bama in the championship game. Shortstop Brandon Larson was CWS MOP after a season in which he produced 40 homers and 110 RBIs, and first baseman Eddy Furniss was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.
1987 Stanford Cardinal
In 1987-88, the headliners of the College World Series were the stars who sparked college baseball’s juiced-bat Gorilla Ball era, from the sluggers of LSU, Texas and Oklahoma State to the rapid runners of Wichita State and Miami. But the champions at the end of both those seasons were the Mark Marquess-coached dink-and-dunk fundamental small-ball West Coasters of Stanford. In ’87, future Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell joined a whopping 13 future MLB players to go 53-17 on the season. The roster included two-time World Series champion Ed Sprague, current Stanford head coach Dave Esquer and longtime big leaguer (and star of “The Goldbergs”) Ruben Amaro Jr. But even with all of that veteran talent, the CWS MOP went to freshman outfielder Paul Carey, who hit a 10th-inning opposite-field homer to beat LSU in the semifinals and went 3-for-5 while accounting for four of Stanford’s nine runs against Oklahoma State in the championship game.
1995 Cal State Fullerton Titans
They definitely remember these Titans in both Fullerton and Omaha, a high-powered squad that blitzed its way to a 57-9 record. The No. 1 team in the nation swept the Big West tournament but still had to travel to Baton Rouge for the regionals, where they went 4-0 on LSU’s home turf. Then they won the ’95 CWS with another perfect 4-0 mark, sweeping its games against Stanford (featuring Kyle Peterson), Tennessee (Todd Helton) and USC (Geoff Jenkins), scoring 11 runs in each of their last three games. Mark Kotsay had what is still considered by many to be the greatest one-man offensive showcase in CWS history, hitting .563 with a slugging percentage of 1.250, capping a season in which he won the Big West Player of the Year, the Golden Spikes Award and the CWS Most Outstanding Player. Catcher (and Olympian) Brian Lloyd and Jeremy Giambi joined forces with Kotsay to generate “The Greatest Show on Dirt” while pitcher Ted Silva went 18-1, all guided by the hand of Augie Garrido, the greatest coach in the history of the game.