Can the Georgia Bulldogs Duplicate the L.S.U. Tigers' Success in Baseball?

Recently, while I regrettably was busy not partying with Mike Leach, I argued for increased spending on the Diamond Dogs, which caused vineyarddawg to pose a reasonable question:

What’s LSU’s secret?

They’ve managed to be a perennial football and baseball powerhouse, while still managing to field a respectable basketball team. Perhaps greater study of their model is warranted. (I don’t know what "their model" is, but one does not stumble into sustained success in the SEC on the gridiron or the baseball diamond.)

That seemed like a fair point to me, so I decided to look into the subject a little. The most obvious component of the answer, of course, is the fact that Skip Bertman served as L.S.U.’s athletic director after a successful stint as the Bayou Bengals’ head baseball coach. The man rose through the ranks of the athletic administration in Baton Rouge from the baseball program, so, naturally, he took care of what previously had been his bailiwick:

When Bertman retired from coaching, he turned his attention to building a new baseball stadium that would stand as a testament to the program's prowess.

The new $38 million Alex Box stadium, with about 9,200 seats and 18 luxury suites, spacious locker rooms and batting cages housed in a handsome building of stucco walls and a red tile roof, opened this season. Paid attendance was 403,056 for 42 games, an average of 9,596 per game, marking the 14th straight season LSU led the nation in college baseball attendance.

That, though, begs the question of how Coach Bertman elevated L.S.U. to that level in the first place. One reason for the Fighting Tigers’ present success is that they generate $2,000,000 in ticket sales annually and host about 7,000 fans per game, but, there again, something happened in the past that made L.S.U. baseball such a draw.

I’m willing to buy the "what-else-is-there-to-do-there?" excuse when explaining, say, the attention paid to Mississippi State baseball. Sure, it’s easier to get folks to a college baseball game in Starkville than it is to get them to Foley Field when Turner Field is an hour’s drive away. I have far too much faith in the Bayou Bengal boosters I have known to think they couldn’t find other ways to entertain themselves, though. They’re picking baseball by choice, rather than necessity, I guar-awn-tee.

Coach Bertman compiled a resume in Baton Rouge that borders on the preposterous: seven S.E.C. championships, eleven College World Series appearances, five national championships, six national coach of the year awards, and an 89-29 record in the N.C.A.A. tournament. He’s in every meaningful hall of fame for which he’s eligible. So how did he do it?

Part of it was the simple fact that fans will turn out to support a winner. Coach Bertman coached at L.S.U. for 18 years and Alex Box Stadium led the N.C.A.A. in attendance in each of his last six seasons on the job. What got the Tigers to that point, though? According to his official biography, it was "his astute knowledge of the game . . . combined with his steadfast determination and irrepressible enthusiasm [that] transformed LSU Baseball into the nation's premier program." Oh, good . . . ‘cause I was afraid it was going to be something vague.

Left with no other recourse, I went straight to the horse’s mouth and asked And the Valley Shook’s Richard Pittman, from whom the news was not good. Wrote Richard:

The short answer is that I think LSU's method of getting to the top of the baseball heap is probably not reproducible. It has a little to do with geography and a lot to do with timing. Youth baseball is particularly big in Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas. I don't know what it's like around Athens.

Also, consider the confluence of events that led to LSU's rise:

1. The emergence of a great coach...
2. In a sport that, at the time, had very little popular attention...
3. But thanks to ESPN getting started up in the late '70s and early '80s and needing to fill time..
4. Was getting a lot more attention...
5. But was dominated by a handful of regional powers who weren't always considered big dollar athletic departments (Oklahoma State, Arizona State...
6. And a football and basketball program that were about to go through EXTREMELY dark times (football in much of the '90s and basketball in the back half of the '90s) that...
7. Made LSU fans hungry for having success in anything...
8. And then therefore made LSU baseball a very high profile program once it started really having success...
9. And the emergence of a local phenom (Todd Walker) who probably could have been a high draft pick but wanted to play for the local team...

And the rest is history. With baseball being a bigger sport with more powers and better competition, I really don't think the sport is prone to having anyone else emerge as a consistent power. This is not to say it's impossible, but baseball in the '80s was PRIMED to have another couple of powers emerge and LSU was primed to join. That's not true anymore.

Well, dang.

What do you think, Bulldog Nation? Can the Diamond Dogs build on the success David Perno already has brought them? What would Georgia have to do to take its baseball program to the next level and become a permanent fixture both in Omaha and in the hearts and minds of the Red and Black faithful?

Go ‘Dawgs!

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