Top-10 baseball players in Gator history

Former UF catcher Mike Zunino checks in among the top-10 Florida baseball players of all time after being awarded the Dick Howser Trophy for Player of the Year and Baseball America's Player of the Year in 2012.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer/File
Published: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 4:16 p.m.

The Sun's top 100 players in Gator baseball history were selected by Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley, who saw his first Florida baseball game when he was 9 years old.

Dooley made the selections but ran them by several journalists and former players for feedback before finalizing the list. Among them were WRUF's Larry Vettel, former players Jeff Cardozo and Nick Belmonte, FightinGators.com's Cody Jones and Florida baseball sports information director John Hines.

But don't blame them if you don't like the selections. This is still Dooley's list, for better or for worse.

Here are UF's top players, ranked 10-1:

10. Haywood Sullivan: Sullivan is best known for being an owner of the Boston Red Sox, but he got his start as an All-SEC quarterback and catcher at Florida. At 6-foot-4, Sullivan may have been tall for a catcher, but he had a rocket arm that kept baserunners at bay. Sullivan was so impressive after his 1952 All-SEC season, he was signed for $75,000 by the Red Sox.

9. John Burke: Burke could be unhittable at times as Furman found out when he threw a no-hitter in the 1991 Gainesville Regional. Burke is the only Florida player to be drafted in the first round in two consecutive years and has the best strikeouts per inning pitch ratio for the Gators. He's third in career strikeouts and second in hits allowed per inning since the aluminum bat.

8. David Eckstein: The story is part of the legend, how the little kid from Sanford walked on to Joe Arnold's team and suddenly found himself starting in a 1995 regional. Eckstein went on to finish his career third all-time in runs scored, fourth in hits, second in stolen bases and first in assists.

7. Tom Moore: One of the best players in the country for his generation, Moore was All-SEC in both 1962 and '63. In both of those seasons, the speedy Moore led his team in batting average, hits and stolen bases and once stole six bases in a game against Georgia.

6. Preston Tucker: For four seasons, Tucker was a mainstay in the lineup and among the SEC leaders. He finished his career with more hits (341) than any Gator and also has the all-time record for RBIs with 258. He played in more games than any Gator and helped UF get to three straight CWS.

5. Mark Ellis: Ellis was often overshadowed by his teammates, but the four seasons he put together left an indelible mark on the program. He scored more runs than any Gator with 240, finished second in hits, doubles and total bases and finished his career with 36 home runs. And then there was the '98 postseason, when Ellis led the Gators to Omaha with 14 hits despite playing on a broken foot.

4. Marc Valdes: Valdes owned the inside of the plate, which is why he hit more batters than any other Gator. But he also was almost impossible to hit. Opponents hit only .200 against him and he won 13 games when Florida made the CWS in 1991. Valdes had two seasons that were good enough to be in the top seven in strikeouts at UF and his 31 total wins are the most for a Gator.

3. Matt LaPorta: When he came to bat, the regular fans had their chant ready. “La!” came from one side of the stadium and “Porta!” from the other. And then the SEC's Player of the Year in both 2005 and '07 would usually yank one out of the park. His 74 home runs are the most at Florida and he finished his career third in RBIs and fourth in total bases. And there is still a ball on top of Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium that he hit up there for a grand slam.

2. Mike Zunino: Zunino was the quarterback and catcher for Florida's run of three straight CWS appearances. He is Florida's only winner of the Dick Howser Trophy for Player of the Year and was also Baseball America's Player of the Year in 2012. He was the SEC Player of the Year in 2011. A two-time member of the All-SEC defensive team, Zunino ranks fourth all-time in UF history in homers and sixth in RBIs.

1. Brad Wilkerson: Wilkerson might be the pick for the top spot if you only looked at his hitting statistics. He's No. 1 in Florida history in career batting average (.381), third in homers and second in runs scored, RBIs and total bases despite passing up on his senior year to go pro. Then, you add in the pitching numbers — fourth all-time with 26 wins and fifth all-time in strikeouts. Wilkerson led Florida to a pair of College World Series appearances in 1996 and '98 and was the NCBWA Player of the year in '98. In 2012, he became the first Florida player to be inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

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