Skip Bertman had seasons as LSU’s baseball coach when he made more good moves than bad, when he pushed the correct buttons more often than hitting the wrong ones.
Those were special years. Those were national championship years.
But even when Bertman didn’t have the best decision-making season, he still won.
Skip had better players than you did. And he was going to beat you no matter what.
“When I coached,” Bertman said, “you had a lot good athletes, and some teams didn’t.”
Nowadays, things are different. Bertman’s success at LSU — five national titles in 10 years — helped college baseball boom into its current state.
The talent is spread more evenly. Facilities are better across the board. Coaches are making big bucks in many places.
In essence, he made current coach Paul Mainieri’s job more difficult. Pushing the right buttons is imperative these days.
Push the wrong ones, and you’ll be receiving an abnormally high amount of hate mail from a fan base more knowledgeable and obsessed with the sport than most places. The amount of hate mail in Mainieri’s inbox this season should be at normal levels.
He’s pushed the right buttons, Bertman said.
“This,” Bertman said earlier this week, “is one of the best coaching jobs.”
LSU is 44-14-1, on an eight-game win streak and is a national seed (No. 8) for the fifth time in Mainieri’s eight years.
Mainieri and his coaches have done it this season after losing their two biggest bats, the right side of their infield, two of three starting pitchers and their top five relievers.
LSU had just two players —pitcher Aaron Nola and shortstop Alex Bregman — make the All-Southeastern Conference first or second team. It has just one player — Nola — among Baseball America’s top 200 draft-eligible prospects.
Florida had four players make an All-SEC team, and South Carolina has four players in BA’s top 200 list.
So Mainieri has done more with less? Eh.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This is LSU. It’s not hard to find extremely talented baseball players who want to play in Alex Box Stadium.
Still, Bertman says, Mainieri flipped the right switches with a team that’s not full of all-stars.
“Granted, Nola is terrific,” Bertman said, “but (pitching coach) Alan Dunn did some great job with pitchers throwing with speeds of 86.
“Paul moved the pitchers in and out and moved the position players in and out, up and down and it seems like every time he did it, it had wonderful results.
“He had the courage to play 25, 26, 27 players.”
Mainieri fiddled with his lineup throughout the season, settling finally on a batting order and a primary starting group over the past two weeks. Void of a solid No. 3 starter, Mainieri and Dunn mixed-and-matched relievers in Game 3s.
The button-pushing has produced a nationally seeded team which is five home wins from advancing to the College World Series.
“After Nola, LSU’s like every other team,” Bertman said. “(Mainieri) is duking it out with Arkansas, Florida and everybody else, and they’re just as good athletically.”
The button-pushing is far from over. Can Mainieri keeping selecting the right ones?