When passing judgment on this LSU baseball season just done, a sharp distinction should be drawn between disappointment and failure.
There’s nothing wrong with the fan, the player, the coach, being disappointed by the fact the Tigers came up short, well short, of winning this year’s national championship. It is LSU’s perennial quest, to force a repaving of “The Intimdator” billboard in right field at Alex Box Stadium with the addition of a seventh national championship. LSU has been a national championship program for going on 25 years now, and there’s no going back. It would be like the Kentucky basketball program suddenly being satisfied with going to the NIT.
But lofty ambitions can reap both great rewards and sow bitter defeats. A seventh title didn’t come in 2015, but it doesn’t mean it won’t one day. Just because LSU hasn’t added a national championship to its résumé this time doesn’t mean the program is slipping. Every time LSU falls short of winning the College World Series, it doesn’t mean the program’s sky is falling.
A national championship isn’t the only way to tell the worth of a program. Arizona (in 2012) is one of the four schools that have won national titles since LSU captured its last in 2009. The Wildcats didn’t even earn an NCAA tournament bid this year. Should one deduce that Arizona has a more prosperous baseball program than LSU?
That would be preposterous.
LSU has won 204 games the past four seasons, more than any other program in the nation. LSU has been a national seed the past four seasons, something no other program has done. This Tigers team won 54 games, and the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, the toughest conference going.
The angst comes in the fact that LSU has made two College World Series appearances in those four years, and the Tigers are a combined 1-4 once they made it to Omaha, Nebraska. That’s incredibly disappointing. It’s borderline disturbing.
But baseball breeds these kinds of results. LSU has as many CWS championships as Texas. Only Southern California, with 12, has more. The Tigers’ six crowns have come in 17 trips to Omaha. The Longhorns’ six titles have come in twice as many appearances: 34 in all.
That’s an awful lot of frustrating finishes. But is Texas historically a program of failure? Hardly.
Making it to the CWS, consistently, is the overriding achievement. LSU has made it to the CWS four times in nine years under Paul Mainieri, winning one title.
But it’s not what the Tigers did during the Skip Bertman era, some say. Quite true. Under Bertman, LSU won five titles in 10 years from 1991-2000. But as an LSU football coach once said in another time on another topic, utopia is over for everyone.
Titles are tougher to win in college baseball now than they were 20 years ago. Programs like Vanderbilt, the reigning champion; Virginia, last year’s runner-up; and TCU, which beat LSU twice in Omaha this year, weren’t national contenders then.
So the pool is considerably deeper, but not impossible to swim. And now the question becomes, how quickly can LSU get back to Omaha?
The early line on 2016 says not to expect too much. It seems almost certain that all but one of LSU’s every day starters (left fielder Jake Fraley is a sophomore) will depart. All but one pitcher, Thursday’s starter Zac Person, returns, too.
But it will be a much different, much younger Tigers squad that takes the field in February. This is LSU baseball, so a losing record shouldn’t be expected. There are players you never heard of who will be hitting over .300 for the Tigers next season. But the pitching of Alex Lange, Jared Poché, a hopefully healthy Jake Latz and others will have to carry a team that’s unlikely to lead the SEC in hitting (.314) as it did this season.
All things considered, 2017 is a more reasonable goal for LSU to return to Omaha than 2016.
Meanwhile, it’s certainly bittersweet watching the current and long-familiar crop of Tigers leave the stage. Players like the golden-gloved Alex Bregman, who tweeted that his years at LSU were the three best of his life. Or Baton Rouge’s own Chris Sciambra, who hit the game-winning home run in Game 1 of the super regional against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“I gave everything I had to LSU for all four years,” Sciambra tweeted. “I hope I have honored these colors & the players & coaches in the past. No regrets.”
None needed, Chris.
This season, your four years, have been a huge success, even if they will leave The Intimidator unchanged.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.