Baseball holds a special place in the hearts of many Ozarkers. We have a deep tradition with America’s favorite past time and some of the best players in the major leagues have come from right here in Southwest Missouri. We’ve been thinking a lot about all the greats that got their start around Springfield and we came up with ten of our favorite players. If we missed one, please let us know in the comments! We’d love to reminisce with you!
The conversation about best baseball players to ever come from Springfield has to start with Ryan Howard. In his 12-year MLB career, he achieved more than any other player has to date. Originally from Wildwood, MO, Howard spent his college years at Missouri State University. He started his career in the majors strong, finishing his first year as the top rookie with 22 homers and a .288 batting average. He went on to finish in the top 10 in MVP voting six times and won it in 2006. That season, Howard was on another level. He put up video game numbers, finishing the year with a league leading 58 home runs and topped all players with 149 runs batted in. Again in 2008, he led the majors in both power categories and helped the Phillies win a world championship. Howard hit 382 homers in his career and made three all star teams. He is widely considered one of the best power hitters of the 2000s.
If we were only talking about pitchers, Rogers would easily top the list. A product of Glendale High School, Rogers went on to play college ball for the University of Tulsa. He was selected 4th overall in the 1971 MLB Amateur Draft by the Montreal Expos. He made them look geniuses too, finishing second in the rookie of the year race in 1973. Rogers was a stalwart for the Expos, winning 158 games in his career. He finished in the top five for the Cy Young three times and had the lowest ERA in the majors in 1982. Perhaps his most impressive numbers are in complete games and shutouts. In his career he started and finished a whopping 129 games, 37 of which were shutouts. Amazing.
When your number is retired by the St. Louis Cardinals, you must be pretty good. Boyer was an 11-time all star, won an MVP, a World Series and had an RBI crown during his illustrious career. He did his best work as a Cardinal, totaling more than 1,000 RBIs, more than 250 homers and all five of his Gold Gloves while on the team. He’s also a member of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and managed the team from 1978-1980.
A Missouri boy through and through, Mueller is from Maryland Heights, Missouri and attended Missouri State University. After his playing career ended, he came back home for a coaching position with the St. Louis Cardinals. Mueller earned the reputation of a ball player. He was never known as the fastest, he never for a ton of power, but he sure could grind. He was one of the toughest outs in the majors during his career, never striking out more than 83 times in a season. His best season was in 2003 with the Red Sox, where he won a batting title (.326 avg), the Silver Slugger for thirdbasemen and got on base a few ticks shy of 40% of his at bats. Even though his Red Sox beat the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, we still congratulate him on that remarkable achievement.
One of the most prolific relievers in baseball over the past decade, Ziegler has had no trouble finding work at one of baseball’s most tumultuous positions. His reliable performance and funky side arm delivery have made him a fan favorite at every stop in his 10-year major league career. For a long time, he was used in the middle innings, forcing hitters to ground out at a very impressive rate. It wasn’t until later in his career that he locked down a closer role. In 2015, Ziegler was untouchable as Arizona’s stopper. He finished the year with 30 saves and a minuscule 1.85 ERA.
Born in Cassville, Boyer was one of seven boys in his family, all of whom player professional baseball. Known for his stellar defense, Boyer carved out a spot on some of the best baseball teams in history. He was a starter on the 1961 Yankees when both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were chasing the home run record. Boyer and the Yanks won the World Series that year and the following season, earning him both of his rings. Boyer was an often underlooked player, only winning one Gold Glove, losing out many times to Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, despite posting better overall numbers in some cases. Boyer’s career was like a trip though baseball history. He played alongside all time greats like Mantle, Maris, Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra and played against Sandy Koufax, Willie McCovey and many more.
One of the most iconic baseball figures in Southwest Missouri’s history, Mickey Owen’s legacy looms over every field in the area in one way or another. Owen was born in Nixa, Missouri in 1916. His days in the majors started back in 1937 at the age of 21. He quickly made a name for himself as a scrappy catcher. Owen really hit his stride in 1941 which started a stretch of four straight years as an all star. Owen set the game aside to serve his country at the end of World War II. During his career, he amassed more than 9000 innings at catcher and registered only 96 fielding errors. When his playing days were over, he returned to the Ozarks to found the Mickey Owen baseball school, a place where thousands of young ballplayers from the area learned the finer points of the game.
He may not have spent a ton of time in the Ozarks, but Clendenon was born in Neosho. His family moved to Atlanta when he was young and he quickly became a sports legend. He lettered in 9 sports and accepted a scholarship at Morehouse College in 1952. Morehouse was one of the most prominent schools in the country for young African American men. New students were assigned “big brothers” to help them adjust to life at the school. Clendenon was assigned to an older student named Martin Luther King Jr. During his baseball career, he thrived for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but perhaps his most notable contribution to the game came in 1969 with the Amazin’ Mets. He hit three home runs in the World Series against Baltimore, earning him the MVP honor.
Marcum pitched more than 1,000 innings for the Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets. He was a rock solid starter from 2008-2012, registering an ERA under 4.00 each of those seasons. Marcum surprisingly never made an all star team, despite his impressive outings. His Springfield connection comes from his time at Missouri State where he helped the Bears win the Columbus Super Regional in 2003.
Luke Voit is quickly becoming a Springfield baseball legend. The burly first baseman was a catcher when he starred for Bears in college. Voit and the squad made their first post season appearance since the 2003 College World Series team. He was taken in 22nd round by the home state Cardinals the following year. Voit crushed the minors, quickly rising through the ranks and eventually getting the call to the big club in 2017. After a successful run in st. Louis, Voit was traded to the Yankees, where he is currently hitting third in the lineup and playing first base.
Scott Bailes exemplifies Springfield baseball and much more about our city. He started his playing days at Springfield’s Parkview High School and went on to have a 16-year career in professional baseball. When his playing days were done, Bailes returned to Springfield and served on the city council. He now does broadcasting and marketing for the Springfield Cardinals. A true Springfield Baseball man.