In this latest installment of this series, where we choose an all-time Team Virginia, we round out the starting infield with our Shortstop.
And the clear choice here is Pirates SS, and Richmond-native Gene Alley.
Alley played for the Pirates from 1963-1973, a career that was cut short due to injuries. In his time, he was never a great hitter, but made his mark with his glove. He won 2 Gold Gloves in his career (1966-1967) turning double plays with Pirates HOF great Bill Mazerowski, one of only 8 middle-infield duos to win Gold Gloves together in the same year. In 1966, Alley worked with his double play counterpart to turn 161 DPs, a record that still stands today. Alley was a 2-time all-star (1967-1968) and won a World Series with the Pirates in 1971.
Alley was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
In this installment of this special series where we pick an all-time roster of players who came from Virginia, we turn to second base.
The clear choice to man 2B on Team Virginia is…..Tony Womack.
Womack, a Danville native, played in the major leagues from 1993-2006. He played his career with several different teams, but had his greatest success with Pittsburgh and Arizona.
Womack played in the steel city from 1993-1998, and became a regular second baseman in 1997. That was the year he led the league in Stolen Bases and made his only all-star team. 1997 would also be the first of 3 consecutive years he would lead the NL in stolen bases-a feat no one has accomplished since.
Womack was traded to the Diamondbacks in 1999 and set a franchise single-season SB record with 72, also leading the NL. He would spend five seasons playing in the desert, and amass 182 Stolen Bases while playing there. That remains a franchise record.
Womack was a key part of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks run to the title. His walk-off single won the National League Division Series against the Cardinals. The Dimaondbacks got all the way to the World Series and had to take on the 3-time defending champion New York Yankees. In the clinching game, Womack’s game-tying hit against the venerable Mariano Rivera would set the stage for Luis Gonzales’s bloop single to make the Diamondbacks the first team to win a title in only their 4th year of existence.
Womack left the Diamondbacks after the 2003 season and would go on to play for 5 more franchises over the next three years before retiring. He finished his career with a .273 batting average and 363 career stolen bases.
Continuing this series spotlighting ballplayers inducted in the Commonwealth’s Hall of Fame, we turn to 1B Sean Casey.
Casey was born in New Jersey and grew up in Pittsburgh, but when it came time to go to college, he chose to come to Virginia, playing for the Richmond Spiders. In 1995, he batted .461 to lead all Division I batters, and was subsequently drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Indians, but was traded to the Reds 3 seasons later. He would go on to a 12-year career in the bigs with 5 teams, but had his greatest success with the Reds. He made 3 NL all-star teams with the Reds (1999, 2001. 2004), and batted over .300 in 5 of his 8 years in Cincinnati. Casey did help the 2006 Tigers get to the World Series, and did his part, batting .529 with 5 RBIs, albeit in a losing effort. He also spent time with Pittsburgh and Boston before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. He batted .302 in 1405 career games, and was in the Top 10 in the league in batting 3 times as a Reds player. In 2012 he was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame.
Sean Casey was a member of the Class of 2014 for the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. He is now a commentator on the MLB Network.
Since joining the Pirates lineup at the tailend of the 2009 season and for good in 2010, 2B Neil Walker (Lynchburg, 2005-2006) has been a mainstay. Known more for his defense then anything, Walker occasionally had flashes with the bat. In each of his first two full seasons, he hit 12 HRs and then improved to 14 and 16.
In 2014, he broke through in a big way, hitting a career high 23 HR and driving in 76. he hit .271 with a career high .467 Slugging percentage, all of which helped the Pirates get to the playoffs for the second straight year after no postseason baseball in the Steel City for over 20 years.
Walker’s exploits did not go unnoticed by the rest of baseball, as he took home his first Silver Slugger award.
This blog, FROM VA TO THE SHOW, was started to focus on major league ballplayers who have come from Virginia and made it to the major leagues. I have decided to expand this blog a little bit and start including occasional news and notes on all of Virginia’s minor league baseball teams. Virginia has teams in 4 levels of pro baseball-the Appalachian League, the Carolina League, the Eastern League, and the International League. The teams are: The Norfolk Tides (Baltimore), The Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco), the Potomac Nationals (Washington), the Salem Red Sox (Boston), the Lynchburg Hillcats (Atlanta), Bristol Pirates (Pittsburgh), the Danville Braves (Atlanta), Pulaski Mariners (Seattle), and the Bluefield Blue Jays (Toronto).
We continue the listing of the 10 greatest MLB players to come out of Virginia. Next up is #6.
#10 1B George McQuinn (Arlington)
#9 SS Gene Alley (Richmond)
#8 OF Michael Cuddyer (Chesapeake)
#7 OF Jim Lemon (Covington)
#6 OF Tony Womack (Danville)
Tony Womack played in the major leagues from 1993-2006 with 7 different teams, but he had his greatest success with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks. He started out with the Pirates from 1993-1998, a time in which he led the NL in Stolen Bases in 97 (60) and 98 (58), and in 1997 made his only all-str appearance.
He was traded to the Diamondbacks in 1999, and again led the league in Stolen Bases with 72, which to this day is also a Diamondbacks single-season franchise record. But he attained true hero status in the desert in 2001, as his clutch hitting helped the Diamondbacks upset the Yankees to win the World Series. In the division series, Womack’s walk off single won the deciding game against the St Louis Cardinals.
Arizona would go on to the World Series against the heavily favored Yankees, who became a rallying point for the city and the whole country, as this series was played just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. A back and forth series went to a 7th and deciding game, with the Yankees bringing in Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th to try and bring home the title. This would not happen, as Womack ripped a game tying double to set the stage for Luis Gonzalez and his bloop single to bring the Diamondbacks the title. Arizona also became the fastest expansion team to win a World Series, winning it in their 4th year of existence, besting the Marlins by one year. With 182 SB, Womack is also Arizona’s all-time leader.
Womack left Arizona after 2003 and went on to play with the Yankees, Reds, Cardinals, Cubs, and Rockies over the next 3 years, before retiring from baseball. He now resides in Charlotte, NC with his family, and in 2014 was an instructor at Arizona’s fantasy camp.
Next on the countdown of the all time greatest ballplayers to come from Virginia, we go to #9.
#10 1B George McQuinn (Arlington)
#9 SS Gene Alley (Richmond)
Alley played SS for the Pirates from 1963-1973, before sholder and knee problems ended his career. In that time, he batted .254 and fell one hit short of 1000 for his career. Never a great hitter, Alley was known more for his defense, having won Gold Gloves in 1966 and 1967. He was also an All-Star in 1967 and 1968 and helped the Pirates go to the NLCS 3 straight years, 1970-1972, winning a World Series in 1971.
Alley retired in 1973 and was elected to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.