Jim Engster: Time to salute Mainieri’s greatness

Former LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri was inducted Friday into the Louisiana Baseball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame. PHOTO BY Jonathan Mailhes

Paul Demi Mainieri could be described as the Rodney Dangerfield of LSU coaches. Like the famed comic, who lamented that he never got any respect, the Tigers’ underappreciated coach has been unfairly compared to a famous predecessor who reigns as the greatest collegiate baseball legend of the dugout.

Skip Bertman’s 5-1 advantage over Mainieri in CWS championships is comparable to Tom Brady’s Super Bowl victory total over Drew Brees.

Mainieri opened spring preseason camp Friday as he starts his 15th season at LSU in a league that is vastly more competitive now than it was in the latter part of the 20th century. Scholarship limitations also make it more daunting for dynasties to develop. Bertman is the gold standard for coaching with five titles in 18 years, but Mainieri will also retire as one of the best coaches ever. Like Brees, he is a Hall of Famer even if he leaves the diamond with a single national championship.

The man from Miami, who is small in stature but big of heart, coached for free for a few years after he arrived at LSU in 2007. Previous employer Notre Dame would not forgive his buyout clause. Mainieri has noted that his dilemma lifted tithing to a new level. He swallowed hard and paid the Roman Catholic Church several hundred thousand dollars for the privilege to leave the shadow of the Golden Dome for LSU.

Within three years, LSU won a national crown with PM at the helm. LSU’s demanding fan base has become unhappy that a dozen seasons have passed since the 2009 victory parade in Omaha. Mainieri has been doing his thing for 39 seasons and starts the 2021 campaign with 1,467 wins, more than any active coach.

He also runs a money-making factory with more spectators each year than any other program in America. Yet, he is compensated at a rate lower than LSU’s newly hired defensive coordinator for Ed Orgeron.

At age 63, the LSU baseball boss ranks 12th in career victories and could move to No. 9 overall with 50 wins this season. If he stays in the dugout until he’s 75, Mainieri has a crack at Mike Martin’s all-time record of 2,029 victories in 40 seasons at Florida State. His LSU tenure includes four regular season and six post-season league titles.

The amiable coach has been revered at three previous stops. He piloted St. Thomas for six years, Air Force for six and Notre Dame for 12. He has been in charge of college teams since he was 25 years old.

Not bad for a guy who enrolled at LSU in 1975 and left after one season for Miami-Dade Community College when he learned head coach Jim Smith’s main duty was serving as equipment manager for the football team.

Mainieri completed his student voyage as an infielder at UNO in 1979 as Ron Maestri directed the Privateers to the NCAA Tournament with a 49-14 record. Forty-two years later, Mainieri shows few signs of letting go even though he is the same age Bertman was at retirement.

If not for Bertman’s spectacular tour of duty at Alex Box Stadium, Mainieri would be considered a legend himself. Four LSU football coaches are treasured forever for capturing one national title. The Bertman bar is much higher.

Since Bertman has a campus street named in his honor, how about at least an alley for PM? The field at St. Thomas University carries his name even though he has not coached there since Ronald Reagan was president.

The aforementioned Dangerfield’s tombstone at Westwood Memorial Cemetery in Los Angeles reads: “There Goes the Neighborhood.”

 When Mainieri is dead and gone, his epitaph will be much kinder than the words on the grave of the larger than life comedian who achieved fame with self-deprecating quips.

“He Won with Class” sounds like an apropos send-off for PM.

LSU Seeking first MLB Hall of Famer

Bill James brought analysis of baseball to a new level when he published “The Baseball Abstract” four decades ago.

Before James examined the game’s fascinating array of statistics with more context, hitters were judged almost exclusively on the basis of homers, RBIs and batting average while pitchers were rated for their records and earned run averages.

The game has evolved into sophisticated Sabermetrics when judging the merits of players because of the work of James in the 1970s and ‘80s. A way for measuring the greatness or futility of players is a category of Wins Above Replacement. WAR sums up a player’s total contribution to his team with numbers accumulated each season and through the duration of careers.

WAR values have been retroactively calculated for every player in the history of the game. The top five MLB players according to WAR totals are as follows:

1. Babe Ruth 182.5 1914-1935

2. Walter Johnson 164.5 1907-1927

3. Cy Young 163.8 1890-1911

4. Barry Bonds 162.8 1986-2007

5. Willie Mays 156.2 1951-1973

The first college graduate on the list is Mike Schmidt, who ranks No. 25 all-time with a career WAR of 106.9. Schmidt once led Ohio University to a College World Series, won ten gold gloves with the most assists per game for a third baseman in history and paced the National League in home runs a record eight times in his tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1972-89.

The first SEC player on the MLB WAR listing is Auburn slugger Frank Thomas, who is ranked No. 84 at 73.8. Thomas is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

LSU lacks having a MLB Hall of Famer, and WAR numbers are not favorable for this happening unless current standouts DJ LeMahieu, Alex Bregman and Aaron Nola star for another decade.

Here are the LSU leaders for MLB Wins Above Replacement:

1. Alvin Dark 43.8 1946-1960

2. Albert Belle 40.1 1989-2000

3. Joe Adcock 33.6 1950-1966

4. Bill Lee 31.2 1934-1947

5. DJ LeMahieu 24.8 2011-2020

6. Aaron Hill 24.4 2005-2017

7. Alex Bregman 23.4 2016-2020

8. Aaron Nola 21.7 2015-2020

9. Ben McDonald 20.8 1989-1997

10. Connie Ryan 17.5 1942-1954

There is hope for LeMahieu, Bregman and Nola when compared with a pair of Hall of Famers from state schools.

Among Louisiana colleges, only Lou Brock of Southern and Lee Smith of Northwestern State are enshrined in Cooperstown despite relatively low WAR numbers. Brock’s score is 45.4 in a 19-year career. Smith’s score is 28.9 in 18 years as a reliever.

Another relief pitcher, Bruce Sutter, has the lowest WAR total of a Hall of Famer at 24.5.

author avatar
Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

1 Comment

  1. Rodney Dangerfield’s “no respect” schtick is the greatest comical conjuring of all time. Hands down.
    To liken Mainieri’s coaching record to that of the talent, accomplishment and longevity of the legendary Dangerfield, is quite the compliment.
    I will allow.

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