There was no real weakness in Alabama baseball’s 1997 lineup. Four players hit 20 or more home runs, seven hit 15 or more, and eight of the nine regulars in the lineup hit 10 or more home runs while batting over .300. It included two future major leaguers, a finalist for the Golden Spikes, and five players who were named first-team All-SEC at least once during their career.
So who would you pick, if you could only take one? We asked players and coaches that question while looking back on the 1997 season. Players were not allowed to choose themselves. Full stats are listed below.
Outfielder/pitcher Roberto Vaz: “The best hitter in that lineup that year… I would pick probably Dustan Mohr. His power, he hit 25 jacks. Hit around .300. Was fast. He was really good. After that, I would take Joe Caruso. Joe was gritty, he was a really good hitter. Those are the two I would take in that order. After that I would probably take G.W. Keller and Andy Phillips in that order. Those are my top four. For the top five, you could put (David) Tidwell after that.”
Second baseman Joe Caruso: “I would say the guy that I would want up if it wasn’t me was Roberto Vaz, no question. He had the ability to hit balls out of the yard, he had the ability to go the other way with a single on a two-strike count. He was a well-rounded hitter that was severely missed in Omaha that year.”
Pitcher Michael Daniel: “Probably Joe Caruso. It would be him or Vaz, one of those two. As good as Caruso put the ball in play, it’d probably have to be him.”
Third baseman Andy Phillips: “You could probably pull a name out of the hat on that team, to be honest with you. When you look on that team, I guess it was what, four guys that hit 20-plus home runs, eight out of the nine that hit double-digit home runs. So it’s hard to say who was the best hitter. Obviously you have guys like G.W. Keller and Roberto and those guys are doing damage. Dustan Mohr and Robbie Tucker, Matt Frick. The list goes on and on. Joe Caruso. You look up and it seemed like every guy was hitting .350 to .400 with 10 to 20 home runs. I don’t think you could pick a bad one in that case.”
Assistant coach Mitch Gaspard: “(Vaz) had a year that was just incredible. You can look at his numbers … As good as that team was, Joe Caruso had a great year, obviously Andy and right down the list of all these guys. But Vaz was incredible. I mean, it was just like the best one year. He did whatever he wanted to do.”
Head coach Jim Wells: “You could go right down the lineup: Andy Phillips, G.W. Keller, David Tidwell, Dustan Mohr played in the big leagues. Andy played in the big leagues. Robbie Tucker, who hit a bunch of homers, Joe Caruso broke some kind of record at that time at the world series with hits in a series. Matt Frick was a great catcher. There just wasn’t a weakness. Nate Duncan, our shortstop, was a great defender. We were blessed to have a really, really special team.”
Right fielder Dustan Mohr: “That’s a great question. It’s a tough answer because there’s more than one. But with a game on the line, Caruso is probably the one. Caruso had a knack for giving a good battle when the stakes were at the highest. I would say Vaz but I’m going to say Caruso because I was with him longer. I was with him for three years.”
Assistant coach Todd Butler: “That’s not even a fair question. It’s not fair because there are so many that pop up. Joe Caruso broke the record for hits in the College World Series in ’97. Maybe our best hitter was Roberto Vaz, who didn’t play. But another great story was that Mark Peer, who played behind Roberto Vaz, made the All-World Series team with three home runs. Each player would step up. Caruso was money. Dustan Mohr hit 25 home runs. G.W. Keller was a fantastic player for us at DH, and he was like 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, and he hit the ball just as far as the big guys. Matt Frick was the catcher, a great leader. The pitching staff was scared to death for him. He was a great pickup for us. Each player brought something to the game.”
(right click on image to zoom in on stats)