Collegebaseball360.com contributor Chris Webb runs the blog Buckeyestatebaseball.com. He lives in Columbus, OH, and provides his thoughts on Bob Todd’s recent retirement as well as the current state of the Ohio State baseball program.
By Chris Webb
The spring of 2010 has been a bit of a struggle for me. While I could go on at great length at how much it sucks that my car was totaled while I was not driving it, life happens. The upper resporitory turned viral eye infection has not been overly pleasant, but again those things happen. What has caused me the most disdain and provided the most discomfort is what has transpired on the baseball diamond.
Ken Griffey Jr. isn’t Ken Griffey Jr.
Junior is reason number one as to why I am a baseball fan, writer, ex-player, junkie, nut, whatever. As a kid in the early 90s none captured my imagination like the Kid. So much is the fact I thought he name was King Griffey Jr. and he automatically was the best baseball player by being the King. As I now watch Baseball Tonight or SportsCenter I cringe whenever I see a Mariners highlight knowing Junior is a shell of the greatness he once possessed.
The same can be said of Ohio State baseball.
When the calendar changed to 2010 for Buckeye baseball faithful the resounding thought was “our year”. The players would say they practiced and prepped harder than before in hopes that the season would take Ohio State baseball to a place they last saw 42 seasons ago. Instead of taking a step towards Omaha the members of the Ohio State baseball team are walking through the Oval as conference tournaments are underway across the country.
It is easy to say the season was a bust. It was, there is no way around it. It is one thing for Michigan to go from first to seventh from 2008 to 2009, they lost a handful of extremely talented underclassmen to the MLB Draft and returned little from their championship team. Ohio State? This was a team that lost three players to graduation, returned eight starters in the field, the entire weekend rotation. Instead of being the toast of Columbus the Bucks are the butt of jokes around college baseball.
Which is unfortunate because the student-athletes and program deserve better, and this fall from grace was a longtime coming.
As Bob Todd retires as head coach of the baseball team at Ohio State there is no denying that the program is better for his time. With 901 wins, seven Big Ten titles, another eight tournament crowns, and never a losing season, Coach Todd has done more than any coach in Ohio State baseball history.
Yet his resume is void of one major accomplishment, a trip to Omaha, and he leaves a program that needs rebuilding.
I am fully aware of the context and the difficulty of such a task. A trip to Omaha is a major achievement for any program and many fail to come close to the final field of eight. However it is hard to bleed Scarlet & Gray while having baseball in your blood and not have a bitter taste for Coach Todd’s tenure.
While Ohio State was dominating the Big Ten in the early 90s, they were hardly more than a blip on the radar screen. In racking up five-consecutive 40 win seasons from 1991-1995 Ohio State twice went 0-2 in NCAA Regional play, advancing just once to a Regional final in 1993. The string of great seasons was capped with a 49-9 mark in 1995 which was the best record in the nation, yet the Bucks were blown out 20-6 by Kansas in game one of the Regional before falling 6-5 to Jacksonville to end the season.
Regardless of national shortcomings, Ohio State was the premier program in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes dominated the diamonds across the Big Ten just as football powered through the gridiron. Coach Todd had made Ohio State a conference powerhouse after being a cellar-dweller in the season leading to his arrival.
Riding the wave of momentum, construction was set forth for a new baseball stadium, one that became Bill Davis Stadium. The stadium which will host the Big Ten Tournament this week ironically, now in its 14th season cost $4.7 million to construct. While Ohio State was showing an interest in upgrading facilities throughout its Department of Athletics, soon after the Schottenstein Center and Jesse Owens Stadium were constructed as well as renovations to Ohio Stadium, Coach Todd provided Ohio State a program to pour money into.
With a decade of conference and regional success and a state-of-the-art facility in his back pocket, Coach Todd was primed to take Ohio State to the next level.
Initially it appeared the Buckeyes were there.
In just year three of Bill Davis, the stadium would be home to a NCAA Regional and Super Regional. At 50-14, 25-3 in the Big Ten, the 1999 season provided Coach Todd with his shining moment. Sweeping through the Regional field, Ohio State hosted Cal-State Fullerton with a shot to advance to Omaha. For a team that rattled off winning streaks of 14 and 21 games during the course of the season, winning two would seem to be not a problem.
Unfortunately Ohio State would again be exposed on the national level. A 23-3 loss at Miami early in the season, coupled with Ohio State being outscored 24-7 by the Titans after taking game one of the Super Regional, left many wondering if Ohio State could truly compete on a national level. While the future would answer that question, the first 11 years of Todd’s tenure provided optimism for Buckeye baseball in the new millenium.
The optimism would turn into misery.
Ohio State would again host a Regional, doing so in 2001, but in doing so Ohio State would begin to be exposed to a changing collegiate baseball environment.
Perhaps victims of their own success, Ohio State began to see programs across the Big Ten show a renewed interest in a once-proud sport. Interest and, more importantly, money began to stream into the baseball programs across the Midwest. Where Ohio State had done so five years prior, discussion to increase facilities were soon heard around the Big Ten.
Though easily the top dog in the Big Ten still, was Ohio State starting to lose grip on an Ohio stranglehold? The rising program at Kent State would reach a program high as the Flashes were the team to knock off Ohio State in the Columbus Regional, ending the 2001 season with yet another 0-and-2 Regional showing.
Either unknowing of the changing environment or steadfast in set ways, little changed for Coach Todd in the early 2000s compared to the 1990s. While the Bucks continued their conference supremacy, failing to finish out of the top two in the Big Ten from 2001-2004, the program already had four 20-loss seasons in the decade’s first five years, a number that topped the three such seasons in the 1990s.
Beyond the diamond, college baseball itself was undergoing changes.
A sport that once received little notice was finding a home and voice on the internet. With the likes of Eric Sorenson and Mark Etheridge those who loved the game started to fill the college baseball void. Though small in product, with the internet an infinite audience could be reached as attention was slowly turning towards the college game. Online blogs and sites began to creep up providing analysis and opinions on the game that once were falling on deaf ears were being heard.
This would be a wave Ohio State failed to jump on. Relying on the raw number of wins, Coach Todd neglected building a RPI-favorable schedule for his teams. With the idea of reaching 40 wins to secure a Regional at-large berth, pushovers would line the schedule. Instead of facing stiffer competition to prep for an improving Big Ten or Regional field, the fascination with obtaining as many wins as possible was there.
Not only did Ohio State lose touch of what an elite program needed to do, the grip on the Big Ten continued to lessen. Four of the decade’s first five seasons yielded 12 or more conference losses, just twice in the 1990s did this happen. Yet by winning the Big Ten Tournament Ohio State would still advance to Regional play in 2002 and 2003, with the 2003 season joining the 2001 campaign as a season Ohio State hosted a Super Regional. Yet again the Bucks fell short as Southwest Missouri State swept the Super Regional.
The last half of the decade would prove that the game had indeed passed Coach Todd and a once dominate Ohio State program quickly became middle-of-the-pack.
The run of 12 or more conference losses would extend through the 2000s, ending at eight seasons with an 18-6 mark in 2009. Equally as long was the drought Ohio State suffered in winning a Big Ten championship, compared to how Ohio State won five-consecutive titles from 91-95. The run in the mid-90s ended with a 6th place 15-13 Big Ten mark. In 2007 and 2008 Ohio State fell to a .500 conference program going 15-15 each season finishing sixth and fifth, respectively.
Getting hot at the right time was needed in 2005 and 2007 as Ohio State won the conference’s automatic bid, even though they finished the conference season tied for fourth and sixth respectively, while having seasons the RPI rated to be well beyond those of the contending at-large teams.
Along with the ongoing issues on the field, resentment off of the field began to invade the Buckeye clubhouse. While his players of the 1990s speak fondly of Coach Todd, a different sentiment is struck with those of the latter half of his career. While notable alumni of various Big Ten and Midwest schools openly give back and speak of their time at such and such U in favor, Ohio State’s biggest star, Nick Swisher is silent and nowhere to be found.
For those who would travel to Bill Davis Stadium in the late-2000s, you would think the stadium was little more than an extension of Union Cemetary found up the street on Olentangy River Road. The exuberance and passion that separates the collegiate game from the professional world could be found everywhere but Columbus. Winning cures all, yet the bottom-feeders of the Big Ten would show more fire and joy of donning their uniform than those who wore the Scarlet & Gray. Not only was Ohio State not winning, the Buckeyes at times seemed to want to be anywhere but on the diamond.
The little pomp on the field was matched by declining fanfare in the stands.
A program that boasted attendance figures that once rivaled elite programs in the nation saw a steady decline in those who entered the Bill Davis gates. In 2005 Ohio State was 23rd in the nation in average attendance with an average crowd of 2,570 per game. The number would fall to 2,260 in 2006 a mark that finished 26th. The slide continued in 2007 with 27th best average attendance of 2,073. In 2008 Ohio State fell out of the top 30, down to 32 at 1,863. Then in 2009 the number would shrink to 1,768, 35th best.
A prolonged drought in championship seasons, disdain in the clubhouse, and now a shrinking fanbase or more importantly, a decline in support and money into the program. The were ills abound with Ohio State baseball as Coach Todd entered the final season of his contract. The program was appearing to be in shambles.
All of that seemed to change after 2009.
A year after the championship drought was ended, 40-wins put down in the record books, and a trip to a Regional, Ohio State baseball was supposed to be back. Yeah it was back, back to be a middle of the road team again.
2010 saw Ohio State fail to win 30 games for the first time under Coach Todd. Another first was the Buckeyes finished below .500 in the Big Ten at 11-13. Yet another first was Ohio State closing the season dropping their last five conference series. Before 2010 Ohio State never lost more than two series in a row.
From a conference powerhouse, to conference elite, to middle of the road, to out of the picture, the bottom had fallen out of Ohio State baseball. For the first time ever, Ohio State’s expected operating budget for the baseball program topped the $1 million mark. A million dollar program was now being passed by Northwestern, a school which does not fulfill the allotted 11.7 scholarships. Providing the program’s biggest black eye were back-to-back losses to Webber International, and Rollins. Institutions that are respectively NAIA and DII, with enrollments smaller than one freshman dorm at Ohio State.
Ironically Coach Todd’s lowest of moments might save the future of Ohio State baseball.
After dropping a pair of midweek games to nationally ranked Louisville, a team in-region which has risen to national prominence including a trip to Omaha in the last five seasons, Coach Todd announced he was retiring at season’s end. Citing the lack of desire and passion for the game Coach Todd stated he wanted to get out before it was too late, the thought of retiring and spending more time with his family had come to him during the spring trip.
In missing the Big Ten Tournament for just the second time in 20 years, while finishing with a conference losing record for the first time since 1987, a season that started with no current Buckeye yet born. Energy, time, and passion is needed to return Ohio State to where it once was, while then taking the final step that eluded Coach Todd.
While myself, and hopefully every Buckeye alum, fan, parent, and player is thankful for what Coach Todd has done for Ohio State in his 23 years. Instead of forcing Ohio State to not renew his contract, Coach Todd knew he no longer had it in him to be the coach at Ohio State. While the memories of the 1990s are great, like Junior, Ohio State is a shell of what it once was.
Coach Bob Todd by the numbers
- 1,052-559-2 overall
- 413-236 in the Big Ten
- Seven Big Ten Championships (1991-95, 99, 2001, 09)
- Eight Big Ten Tournament Championships (1991, 94, 95, 97, 2002, 03, 05, 07)
- 13 NCAA Regional Appearances (1991-95, 97, 99, 2001-2003, 05, 07, 09)
- 2 Super Regional Appearance (2001, 2003)
- 22 years of 30 or more victories (1987-2009)
- Never a losing season
- 72 professional signed players
- 19 All-Americans
- Eight Academic All-Americans