Hokie baseball history has been a proud one. The team was consistently competitive under long-time coach Chuck Hartman, played at Tech Park, and then beautiful English Field, and won a good deal more than it lost. And though College World Series berths were elusive, the team attracted pro talent, and many 35-40 win seasons were enjoyed.
Quite logically, a school can't be designated as a baseball factory unless it churns out it's share of major-leaguers; and when you examine the Hokies page on baseball-reference.com (something you MUST bookmark if you haven't done so years ago) you see that one name in particular stands out.
No, by all definition Blacksburg has been no major league baseball factory, though the scouts continue to draft plenty of prospects. The Hokies have essentially turned out five major-leaguers of note: Joe Saunders (still pitches for the Rangers); Brad Clontz (World Series Winner/Atlanta Braves; Mike Williams (closer, bad Philly teams), Johnny Oates (former C and Orioles manager, RIP).....and then looming above all of the rest of them, former MLB 1B/OF Franklin Stubbs.
Mr. Stubbs played for the Hokies from 1980-1982, and in his sophomore and junior years the Hokies finished 48-9 and 50-9 while playing in the Metro Conference. Unbelievably, shaky pitching did them in during both conference tournaments and the team never advanced to the NCAA tournament. Shocking for a team that put up 10 runs or more 26 teams apiece during both of those campaigns.
In 1981, he was the first VT player to earn All-America honors with a .417 average, 29 home runs, 84 RBIs, and 34 stolen bases. He set nine school records and led the nation in slugging % and home runs. It's pretty safe to say that the Hokies haven't had many players dominate their respective sports in such a fashion. After being bounced out of the Metro Conference tournament in 1981, the team improved by two wins, winning 50 games, a near impossibility. Once again, they tripped up in the Metro tournament. And by that point, Mr. Stubbs was projected as a bonafide first round selection.
The Los Angeles Dodgers did not disappoint, selecting Mr Stubbs with their 19th selection in the 1983 draft. At the time Stubbs projected as an OFer or 1B, because the DH he had anchored at times at VT was not an option in the National League.
Mr. Stubbs was pretty much major-league ready, and even saw major league action for half of 1984. But when 1985 came, he found himself back on the farm before finally heading West with the big club for good in 1986. As a Dodger, Stubbs was party to the Kirk Gibson World Series homer off of Dennis Eckersley in 1988, and the World Series celebration in a town like LA that followed. He recognized individual success in Houston, where he still holds the most homers by a left-handed hitter in the Astrodome. He had some trials in Milwaukee after trying to adjust to the AL, a brief sojourn in the Mexican League, and finally an end-of-career resurgence in Detroit before hanging up his glove in 1995.
But this only tells half of the Franklin Stubbs story. His passion for the game led him to search for opportunities in coaching and he landed in the vaunted Atlanta Braves organization from 1997-2008, until he returned to the Dodgers fold, where he is beginning his sixth season in that organization, as the Hitting Instructor for the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Dodgers AAA affiliate.
And this is where I caught up with him one Saturday afternoon, relaxed and ready for that evening's game. The 'Topes were scuffling at present, but Mr Stubbs was in an optimistic mood. And thus we begin the transcription of the interview:
What was it like growing up in Hamlet, North Carolina? Did you come from a big family?
Very rural town. Kind of a rail-road switching town. About 5,000 people. Very quiet, nice. Kind of grew up on the farm.
Did you play other sports growing up?
Football, basketball, ran a little track. Really loved basketball, but realized I wasn't going to be tall enough (he's 6'2 btw) so I stuck with baseball.
What made you choose Virginia Tech over all the other schools who were looking into you?
My high school coach had a connection, and after they realized I wasn't signing a contract. I took a visit, really loved the school, the guys seemed like really good guys to be around, and they seemed like they could be an up and coming team.
How is it a player of your caliber went undrafted out of High School?
My coach and I put a bounty on my head and they didn't match it so that's pretty much how it went.
What did you study while you were at Tech?
What was Chuck Hartman like to play for? I had always heard he was a player's coach.
He was a very good coach, very easy-going. Kinda laid-back, didn't holler too much. Which was great for me (not that I'd have minded), but we had a very good team, he didn't have too much to holler about.
This brings me to a tough question: As you mentioned you guys had a very good team. In 1981 and 1982 with records of 48-9 and 50-9, and a team batting average of .350, how does a team like that not make the NCAA tournament? How much did that sting?
I think that was the million dollar question. It stung a lot. I was surprised we didn't make it. We had made it to #3 in the country. I was disappointed we didn't make it to the regional and earn the opportunity to make it to the College World Series. It still stings even to this day, because I knew that team was very good, not as much depth in pitching, but offensively we had a very good ball club.
Did you play in any high-visibility summer leagues between seasons i.e. The Cape Cod Wood Bat League?
I was gonna go play in the Alaskan Summer League, but I got chose to play on the USA All-Star team in 1981, so I chose go play on that All-Star team instead.
Any big/recognizable names on that team with you?
John Elway, Oddibe McDowell...
---It was after this that I researched that this 1981 Intercontinental cup team Mr Stubbs played on was an upset victor over a grown-man laden Cuban team that typically dominated the other countries' amateurs. The Cubans had not lost a major tournament since the 1960s---
What led to the big power dip between your Sophomore and Junior years?
Wasn't getting the same pitches to hit. Not as many opportunities. I'd try to go out of the zone and do a little too much at times.
What was your fondest on-field memory with Virginia Tech?
Was probably the day we played UVA my sophomore year, the field was at capacity and the standing room only in right field was packed. It was an awesome site. And of course we won the game. (11-1)
What about Blacksburg, what was your favorite memory about the town?
I think just the people. The students were awesome, and the people outside the University were kind to you. The weather was nice, especially spring, winter was a littttle cold haha, but i really enjoyed it there.
This concludes our first segment of the interview. Tomorrow we'll move onto Mr. Stubbs' professional career. Please check back tomorrow for the next segment, it only gets better from here!