By John Manuel
Skip Bertman likes to tell the story of the state of baseball at Louisiana State when he took over in 1984. It seems the baseball IQ of Tigers fans was a little lacking.
"Hey Bertram, were one point down!"
Bertman would reply, "Sir, theyre runs, and were trying to get one."
"Ref, you suck!"
Bertmans response: "Theyre umps, sir, and they do suck."
In the numerous College World Series press gatherings where Bertman had a chance to tell the story, two things became clear: The mans got a sense of humor, and he can coach baseball.
Five CWS championships and 11 trips to Omaha should be evidence enough of that. His ascent to LSUs athletic director after the 2001 season shows how prominent he made baseball at the Southeastern Conference school.
An assistant to Ron Fraser at Miami, Bertman brought many of Frasers principles to the SEC. By the time he retired as coach, he had shown he could win with any style, with any players, and with flair. He made Louisiana State a power in every sense: a five-time national champion, the annual national attendance leader and a trendsetter in the sport.
The Tigers had not reached the NCAA tournament since 1975 before Bertmans second team in 85 earned a regional bid. He came to LSU preaching pitching and defense and never really stopped. But he adapted his offense to the high-octane bats of the mid-1990s. His teams bludgeoned their way to back-to-back championships in 1996-97 with power and more power, a style of play Bertman called gorilla ball. "If you dont get on the power train, youre going to be left behind," he said.
Some thought the Tigers had been left behind in 1999, with new bat regulations and LSU falling short of Omaha. But the Tigers came back in 2000 with a complete team and another title.
Bertman also was a master of motivation, using video presentations to inspire his players. LSU never believed it was out of a game, and it never was, as shown by two walkoff wins that earned championships in 1996 and 2000.
The 96 title was more dramatic, as Warren Morris two-run home run against Miami turned an 8-7 deficit into a 9-8 win. Four years later, after they tied the game in the eighth, the Tigers rallied to win the championship in the ninth on Brad Cresses run-scoring single.
"Baseball isnt all about motivation, but he has them so focused that theyre going to win the big game at tournament time; the crowds dont bother them," said Ron Polk, the Mississippi State coach and longtime friend of Bertman. "He shows them video of kids having success. Skips unique in that regard. Theres never been another like him."
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