Ryan Lavarnway is back in the majors, and perhaps it took a philosophy major from Yale to figure out what’s wrong with the Red Sox.
Lavarnway didn’t do much about it, grounding out as a pinch-hitter Monday at Atlanta. Two things were rare about the game: the Red Sox won, after 10 straight losses, and judging by crowd noise, it was a rare Sox home game in the South.
Lavarnway is what might seem like the rarest of major leaguers — an Ivy Leaguer. But he makes at least five on major league rosters this year — Princeton’s Chris Young (Seattle) and Will Venable (San Diego), Yale’s Lavarnway and Craig Breslow (both Boston) and Dartmouth’s Ed Lucas (Miami) — and that’s assuming I’m smart enough to have found them all. (Edit: I’m not. Braves pitcher David Hale also went to Princeton, which makes six Ivy Leaguers in the bigs.)
That’s not including Dartmouth’s Brad Ausmus, in his first year managing the Tigers just four seasons after concluding an 18-year playing career, or Ross Ohlendorf of Princeton, a veteran of seven big-league seasons in AAA with Washington. And last year was the final of 16 seasons for former Penn quarterback Mark DeRosa, who would probably still be a better second baseman for Toronto than Ryan Goins.
Mental and physical skills aren’t mutually exclusive, as Ivies in baseball have demonstrated for years. Two players from Columbia, Eddie Collins and Lou Gehrig, were elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 (Gehrig by special election just months after forced to stop playing).
None of the current Ivy Leaguers will do that, but Breslow has a 2.93 ERA in nine seasons as a lefty reliever (despite this year’s 5.51) and pitched seven shutout innings in the ALDS and ALCS last year; Young, baseball’s tallest player at 6-10, has won 57 games, four of them this year after overcoming years of arm injuries; Venable, son of big-league outfielder Max, had a career-high 22 homers and 22 steals last year, though is struggling at .190 this year; infielder Lucas played 11 seasons in the minors before being promoted and is batting .361 vs. lefties in the 100 games he’s played; Lavarnway, whose catching prospect status has dimmed at age 26, has a career .207 average but once said, according to ESPN.com, “I think that Yale is an excellent Plan B.” (Edit: Hale has a 1.27 ERA and had yet to allow a home run in his first 49.2 innings.)
It’s nice to have alternatives.
It’s not just baseball. Nine Ivy Leaguers opened the 2013 season on NFL rosters, Jeremy Lin is doing OK for himself in the NBA, and the number is closer to 20 in the NHL even though two schools (Penn and Columbia) don’t play the sport.
It’s also not new, either. Consider:
This year’s group will probably soon have company. Eight Ivy Leaguers were drafted last year, 12 in 2012, eight in 2011. When the Cubs trade Jeff Samardzjia, 2011 eighth-rounder Kyle Hendricks of Dartmouth (3.21 ERA, 56 strikeouts in 56 AAA innings) might take his place in their rotation.
Hendricks was drafted by Texas and traded with third base prospect Christian Villanueva for Ryan Dempster — the Matt Garza trade isn’t the only bad one Jon Daniels has made with the Cubs. Before long, it may not take an Ivy League degree to determine that.