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Intelligence report: Baseball's whiz kids stand out, to a degree
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A newspaper once called Craig Breslow the "smartest man in baseball." The Athletics reliever has a degree from Yale in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.
By Rob Grabowski, US Presswire
A newspaper once called Craig Breslow the "smartest man in baseball." The Athletics reliever has a degree from Yale in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.

There's no way to determine baseball's most intelligent player, but Moe Berg, a catcher for five teams (1923-39), gets strong consideration. A magna cum laude graduate of Princeton who also received a law degree from Columbia and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, Berg studied seven foreign languages and worked as a U.S. spy during World War II.

Other notables:

--It really was rocket science for Jason Szuminski, who became the first and only graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the majors when he pitched for the San Diego Padres in 2004. He got a degree in aerospace engineering with a 3.60 grade-point average. He's now working on an MBA at Stanford.

--Dave Baldwin, a pitcher for the Washington Senators, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox (1966-73), got a master's in systems engineering and a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Arizona. He has had poetry published.

--Ron Taylor had an engineering degree from the University of Toronto, then went to medical school after his 11-year pitching career ended in 1972. He has been the Blue Jays team physician since 1979.

--Bobby Brown, a New York Yankees third baseman (1946-54), became a cardiologist after his playing days and was American League president (1984-94).

By Paul White, USA TODAY 


The all-time all baseball-academic team, based on university, college attended:
Pitchers - Christy Mathewson, Bucknell; Mike Mussina, Stanford; Jack McDowell, Stanford; Ron Darling, Yale; Chris Young, Princeton
Catcher - Mickey Cochrane, Boston University
First base - Lou Gehrig, Columbia
Second base - Eddie Collins, Columbia
Third base - Red Rolfe, Dartmouth College
Shortstop - Dick Groat, Duke
Outfield - Carlos Quentin, Stanford; Lance Berkman, Rice; Doug Glanville, University of Pennsylvania

Current players in the majors who attended a well-known academic school:
C Brad Ausmus, Dartmouth, Dodgers
P Craig Breslow, Yale, Athletics
2B Mark DeRosa, Univ. of Penn., Cardinals
P Chris Young, Princeton, Padres
P Ross Ohlendorf, Princeton, Pirates
OF Fernando Perez, Columbia, Rays
OF Jody Gerut, Stanford, Brewers
IF Eric Bruntlett, Stanford, Phillies
1B Ryan Garko, Stanford, Giants
P Jeremy Guthrie, Stanford, Orioles
P Mike Gosling, Stanford, Twins (sent to minors)
OF Sam Fuld, Stanford, Cubs
OF Carlos Quentin, Stanford, White Sox
P Scott Schoeneweis, Duke, Diamondbacks
3B Mark Loretta, Northwestern, Dodgers
OF Lance Berkman, Rice, Astros


When former Boston Red Sox teammates Josh Beckett and Doug Mirabelli debated how many times a baseball rotates between the pitcher's hand and home plate, they knew where to turn: "Call Breslow. He'll figure it out."

That's Craig Breslow, the Oakland Athletics relief pitcher and former Red Sox who has a degree from Yale in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, plus the unofficial and potentially burdensome title of "smartest man in baseball."

"Whatever the subject, if I have an opinion, it's the word," Breslow says. "It doesn't matter if it's a subject I know anything about."

(For the record, "I think we came up with 12" for the rotation question, Breslow says.)

Such can be the plight of baseball's academic upper crust — the Ivy Leaguers, the guys with the Stanford economics degrees, the players who stick out in a clubhouse as different.

"You mean weird?" says Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Jeff Karstens, longtime teammate and roommate of right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, who majored in operations research and financial engineering at Princeton.

Major League Baseball may be evolving into a world of statistical algorithms and Ivy League general managers, but on the field and in the clubhouse, the game still hasn't abandoned Crash Davis' advice in Bull Durham: "Don't think; it can only hurt the ballclub."

"Baseball has a whole host of stereotypes," says Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and Stanford grad Jody Gerut, sitting at his locker next to his roller bag with a copy of the Financial Times stuck in the side.

"Being intelligent implies a soft guy. It implies a overly critical guy. It implies an overly analytical guy. And, sometimes, deservedly so."

Baseball's brainiest make no apologies for their intelligence, but they also know what comes with the territory.

"The minute I walk into a clubhouse, I try to denounce the whole stereotype," Breslow says.

The 29-year-old has a 3.04 ERA in 141 appearances for five major league teams in five years. Breslow was drafted by the Brewers in the 26th round in 2002 and pitched in the minor leagues for parts of four seasons.

In 2004, he was released and facing a decision: Go to medical school or continue to chase his baseball dream.

"There's definitely a stigma attached," says Breslow, who finally made it to the majors in 2005 with the San Diego Padres and got the "smartest man" tag from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and later in a Wall Street Journal article.

"They think if things aren't working out, you're going to go be a lawyer or a doctor. … I'm probably an example of where this perception is skewed. I got drafted and I had the same dream as any other player."

Clubhouse targets

College graduates are a rarity in baseball, since many players turn pro after high school; among those who attend college, the best prospects get drafted following their junior year. A Wall Street Journal survey of major league teams' 2009 media guides found 26 current players and managers listed as having four-year degrees.

So they are easy targets for clubhouse attention.

When the Tampa Bay Rays added outfielder and Columbia grad Fernando Perez to their roster during last year's playoffs, manager Joe Maddon said, "Our SAT average went up dramatically."

Philadelphia Phillies infielder Eric Bruntlett, who has a Stanford economics degree, was chided as a Houston Astro for his 1440 SAT score.

He remembers how teammate and Dartmouth grad Brad Ausmus handled the ribbing.

"They'll ask Ausmus something and he won't blink an eye and answer them," Bruntlett says, "even if he has no idea of what he's talking about."

Karstens, who has roomed with Ohlendorf since 2007 when they were in the Yankees minor league system, admits, "Yeah, I'll ask him what 67 squared is when he's in the weight room. He'll say, 'Give me a sec.' "

"It's endless," Gerut says. "The funny part is I don't consider myself some sort of brainiac.

"I think it's more along the lines of the school I went to. I've interacted with plenty of players over the years, and a lot of them are way, way, way smarter than me. They're certainly smarter than me when it comes to baseball."

Book smarts and baseball intelligence aren't always an easy mix.

The Pirates' Rich Donnelly, a baseball lifer in his 28th year as a major league coach, says jokingly, "We love the day (Ohlendorf) is pitching because it minimizes the 92 questions you normally get from him."

But even intellectually curious players admit that too much thinking can be an issue. "It's something I've struggled with," says Ohlendorf, 11-9 this season. "A lot of times, it comes down to trying to make the perfect pitch."

That approach creates a problem for managers.

"Having the aptitude is never a bad thing," Pirates manager John Russell says of Ohlendorf. "You don't want to be taking away from one of his assets. But he's always trying to figure it out, overanalyzing.

"He remembers previous swings from every hitter. It starts to affect his tempo."

Leave it to a smart guy to validate the less-thinking-is-better theory.

"What if I tell you a study has shown that the average superstar has less than 10,000 thoughts a day and the average person has more than 50,000?" Gerut says. "It's true, you know."

'Guys are always asking you things'

But focus is an area in which intelligent players have had to prove themselves.

"I remember reading in Baseball America that I spent more time philosophizing than playing," says former major league outfielder Doug Glanville, who believes the baseball-academic relationship has improved, especially in the minor leagues, since he was a first-round draft pick from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991.

Glanville also found himself as a mentor and sounding board for young players, including Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd when they first joined the Phillies.

Teams, Glanville says, "felt it was an image that was positive for the fans to see. In Texas, we had the Good Grades Club. Kids would send me report cards. I saved some of those letters.

"It becomes a beautiful thing," Glanville says. "You get a wonderful level of respect. Guys are always asking you things. I helped players get insurance for their kids. You become the locker room problem-solver. It becomes who you are, just like Randy Myers was the guy with live grenades in his locker."

These days, Glanville writes op-ed pieces for The New York Times, is working on a book he describes as "life in baseball through the soul of a player," and is involved with Fri-Chiks, a restaurant franchising venture in Pakistan. Glanville describes the franchise as "Chuck E. Cheese meets KFC."

None of that was part of a grand plan during his 14 years in pro baseball. "That's a one-foot-out-the-door approach," Glanville says.

Breslow nearly followed Glanville into the real world when released by the Brewers from Class A in 2004. He finished the season with the New Jersey Jackals of the Northeast League but also applied and was accepted to medical school at New York University.

"That was a contingency plan," says Breslow, who signed with the San Diego Padres the next year. "Hopefully, it will be 10 or 12 years before I need it."

He plans to specialize in pediatric cancer, a focus since he learned as a sixth-grader that older sister Lesley had thyroid cancer. She's fine now, and Breslow has set up the Strike 3 Foundation for childhood cancer research.

That perspective, plus knowing he is likely to find gainful employment after baseball, means "every pitch I throw isn't life or death," Breslow says.

Ohlendorf agrees. He wrote his senior thesis on the investment in and rate of return of baseball draft picks and will spend part of this offseason as an intern at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, doing research on Longhorn cattle.

"In some ways, it can take a little pressure off," he says of having an alternative career path. "It doesn't mean you have less desire. But I think it helps you relax."

Ohlendorf and Breslow have met once but sought each other out.

"Being an Ivy Leaguer equates to coming from the same school for other guys," Breslow says. "It's kind of a fraternity within a fraternity."

They even share an Aug. 8 birthday. What are the odds of that?

Their teammates know whom to ask.

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