By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine
The sting of losing a national baseball championship at the College World Series is reminiscent of another gut-wrenching turn of events in 1987 at Omaha. LSU lost a 6-5 heartbreaker in the tenth inning against Stanford as Paul Carey launched a grand slam to erase a three-run deficit and beat Ben McDonald 30 years ago in the CWS.
Stanford took the title, and LSU was playing without its best player, Joey Belle, who was suspended from the event after chasing a Mississippi State fan spewing racial epithets at him during the SEC Tournament. LSU’s most decorated Major League star never forgave Coach Skip Bertman for leaving him in Baton Rouge to watch helplessly as his mates fell short in Omaha. It appears Belle and Bertman may stubbornly wait until their next life to work out their mutual distaste. LSU’s greatest player and coach remain as apart now as they were 30 years ago.
LSU should have taken it all in ’87 just as the Tigers of 2017 appeared to be on the brink of a seventh CWS crown after whipping a seemingly invincible crew from Oregon State on the way to the championship round with Florida. The Gators spoiled the party for Paul Mainieri, who will frequently lament how close he was to capturing a second national championship as coach of the Tigers. Bertman rebounded from the frustration of 1987 to collect titles in 1991, ’93, ’96, ’97 and 2000.
Despite disappointment in Omaha, the LSU baseball program reigns as the top sport on campus. LSU annually leads the nation in attendance by a huge margin and is always a strong force in the SEC, which is as competitive on the diamond as it is on Saturday nights in the fall.
In the last decade, LSU has captured three national titles in all sports, winning the College World Series in 2009, the NCAA Golf Championship in 2015 and the Women’s Outdoor Track and Field title in 2008.
In the previous decade from 1998 to 2007, LSU won eleven NCAA championships, including football crowns in 2003 and 2007. Football determines the overall direction of the LSU athletic ship, but it helps to have other sports, principally baseball, win championships. LSU is now a two-sport school when it comes to major and minor programs on campus.
The only other sport which doesn’t lose money at TigerTown is men’s basketball. The program boasts eleven SEC titles, as many as football at LSU, but the results are several years away from being comparable to the Bengal brothers at Alex Box Stadium and Death Valley. Coach Will Wade is 34 and must scrape his way to the upper echelon of the league. It took Dale Brown seven years to win his first SEC title. Wade will need the same kind of overpowering talent that Brown assembled to reach the conference pinnacle and fill the PMAC.
Mainieri turns 60 next month and is just three years younger than Bertman was when he retired as baseball boss. The guess here is that Mainieri will coach another decade and that he hasn’t won his last title in Omaha.
The pressure is increasing for Athletic Director Joe Alleva to preside over his first football title. It took 45 years between 1958 and 2003 for the Tigers to win national honors, but only four years later the Tigers of Les Miles were back in the BCS winner’s circle. It is no longer acceptable for the rabid LSU fandom to wait ten years for football to reign supreme over the rest of the land.
Four times Nick Saban has hoisted trophies above his 5-foot-6 frame since LSU last savored glory in New Orleans in Miles’ third season. This is an unacceptable indignity for LSU patrons to absorb. If he’s fortunate, Coach Ed Orgeron might get a one-year honeymoon, but that’s as far as the good will goes for the 102,000 zealots who will congregate at Tiger Stadium in September.
In 1987, a rookie football coach at LSU, Mike Archer, responded to recent near misses of national championships in baseball and basketball (LSU lost to champion Indiana 77-76 in a regional final in 1987) by going 10-1-1 and finishing fifth in the nation. It was the first ten-win season for LSU in 26 years, and Archer was off a to an impressive start. Since then, LSU football teams have won ten games in a season ten different times. As impressive as Archer’s maiden voyage was in 1987, this is now considered an average season for LSU. The demands are extreme.
Good luck Coach O.
Kiss him goodbye
Gary DeCarlo, whose voice was heard on the song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” died June 28 in Connecticut at 75. The song, which zoomed to the top of the charts in 1969, has lived on for 48 years as a taunt at sporting events at all levels of competition.
Nearly a half-century ago, the group Steam captivated the nation with memorable opening words: “He’ll never love you the way that I love you. ‘Cause if he did, no no, he wouldn’t make you cry.” But it’s the part about kissing him goodbye that no opponent wants to hear at an opposing arena.
In its obituary of DeCarlo, the New York Times reported that LSU contacted the singer in 1970 at the height of Pete Maravich’s popularity about using the tune at games for the Fighting Tigers. Now the song is a mandatory farewell for anyone who fouls out of a basketball game anywhere in the country. It was even used in Congress this year when Democrats in the U.S. House jeered GOP members for passing a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
If not for LSU, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” might never have become part of the fabric of the nation. Once again, the Ole War Skule, to borrow a phrase from a well-known college dropout named Rush Limbaugh, is on the cutting edge of societal evolution.
Gone but not forgotten
Pete Maravich would have turned 70 on June 22 with the 30th anniversary of the Pistol’s death on January 5. Maravich died eight weeks before another LSU basketball titan, Don Redden. They are buried a few yards apart at Resthaven Gardens of Memory in Baton Rouge.
Here are the ages that some other fallen Tigers would have been had they not died much too young.