(From LSU Sports Information)
Skip Bertman received more compliments that he can remember during his remarkable career as LSU’s baseball coach from 1984-2001. There is one, however, that Bertman recalls with ease.
“I wasn’t concerned with hearing, ‘Coach, you guys can really hit,’ or ‘You run a great pick-off play,'” he said. “The greatest compliment I received, the one that meant the most to me was, ‘Coach, when your players take the field, they look like they know they’re going to win.’ That type of recognition was the most important to me. Our players believed in what we were doing, and they demonstrated that on the field.”
Inspired by Bertman’s myriad methods of motivation, the Tigers became the kings of college baseball.
Bertman built LSU into a powerhouse, winning five national championships (1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000) with 11 College World Series appearances, 16 NCAA Tournament appearances and seven SEC titles. He took over an LSU baseball program that had enjoyed modest success and little local interest and transformed it into a perennial national contender and the annual attendance leader, as huge crowds flocked to venerable Alex Box Stadium.
On Friday night, Bertman, who also served as LSU’s athletic director from 2001-08, was inducted in to the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame, recognizing the exemplary achievements of one of the most influential men in the school’s history.
“I am humbled to be in such great company,” Bertman said. “The LSU Athletic Hall of Fame is composed of so many wonderful people with amazing accomplishments.”
Prior to Bertman’s first season in Baton Rouge, the Tigers averaged 454 fans per game. Today, due to Bertman’s vision, LSU plays in a new, state-of-the-art Alex Box Stadium with a seating capacity over 10,000.
“I do have a lot of pride in that; I feel real good about that,” Bertman said. “I think it was brought along very nicely, very slowly from tickets that were $30 for a family of four at the old Alex Box, to the price of 22-inch padded seats that we have now in the new stadium with cup holders and other amenities. It’s an amazing reach that couldn’t have been seen early on.
“We never had a big crowd until we played UNO that first season (in 1984) and I brought the San Diego Chicken in,” Bertman said. “The people here didn’t really know much about the San Diego Chicken. We had 3,018 fans at the game, and I remember asking the players if they thought 3,000 was a big crowd, and they were like, ‘Oh yeah!'”
The catalyst for a baseball boom in Baton Rouge, Bertman credits the LSU fans and players for much of the program’s unprecedented success.
“I did have a vision, and I did think it could be done,” he said. “Fortunately, I had support from our administration, and I was able to move forward. The fans and the student-athletes did the rest, and they were magnificent.”
Bertman’s system focused to an extent on the fundamentals of baseball, but his primary emphasis was on the development of teenagers into men prepared for life after they hung up their spikes.
“I’ll always remember the little things,” second baseman Warren Morris, the hero of LSU’s 1996 win in the CWS championship game, said. “I think people that don’t know baseball sometimes think it all comes down to who gets the big hit in the ninth inning. A lot of times, the game is won or lost in the second, third or fourth inning. Coach Bertman taught us that everything counts and about winning the game early.
“It’s amazing how many life lessons that I can remember from the stories he’s told. He’s just a great teacher. A lot of the person I am today has to do with Skip Bertman and the things I learned from him.”
“His honesty is the one thing I remember most,” said Chad Ogea, the winning pitcher in the 1991 national championship game. “He’d let you know where you stand, whether it hurt your feelings or not. It was about trust with Skip Bertman.”
Bertman was named National Coach of the Year six times as he led his team to nine 50-win seasons and during his tenure more than 100 players were drafted into professional baseball while 41 reached the major leagues. In 1996 he was head coach of the United States Olympic Team in Atlanta that won the bronze medal. After retirement from baseball after the 2001 season, he became the athletic director at LSU and served in that position until 2008.
Not surprisingly, his tenure as athletic director was marked by bold, significant strides. His implementation of the Tradition Fund, where football season-ticket holders paid seat-license fees in addition to the price of their tickets, was a controversial, but necessary step in LSU’s march to greater prominence in athletics.
“As the athletic director, I was very, very proud of our fan base,” Bertman said. “They understood the need for seat licenses in order to compete in the SEC football race.”
As he did as a coach, Bertman also had an eye for talent as an athletic director. He hired football coach Les Miles and baseball coach Paul Mainieri, both of whom have directed the Tigers to national titles.
Bertman was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and the inaugural class of the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. A 1960 graduate of the University of Miami, he still resides in Baton Rouge, where he actively promotes youth baseball.
Because of Bertman’s influence and the growth of the LSU program over the past quarter-century, baseball has flourished in south Louisiana among all age groups.
“I’m proud of the fact that there are so many Louisiana youth league teams, and I’m proud that so many kids from Louisiana are playing in college,” Bertman said. “That part is great; we have tremendous athletes in Louisiana, and they’re great people. I’m very fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful community.”
(LSU Sports Information)
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