In 1991 Skip Bertman and his LSU Tigers club won the university's first National Championship in what would become a season of ascension for the program. Over the next decade, Bertman's Bayou Bengals would win four more championships, establishing Bertman as a legendary figure on the College Baseball landscape and elevating LSU to an elite position as a formidable program and a virtual farm from which to harvest future Major Leaguers.
Bertman began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Miami in 1976. After winning a title with the program in 1982, Bertman took over as the head coach in Baton Rouge for the 1984 season. The Tigers had some success over the next 7 years winning two SEC Championships and appearing in the College World Series four times. There was something different about the 1991 Tigers. They were deep. And they were dominant.
After winning 44 games during the regular season, the Tigers lost to Florida and failed to win the SEC tournament. That was the last time they would lose in 1991. Ripping through the regionals, LSU knew the ultimate destination was Omaha. Upon arrival in Nebraska, LSU continued their winning ways in unprecedented fashion. They mowed through Florida, Fresno State, Florida again, and then Wichita State, outscoring their opponents 48-15. They averaged a record 12 runs per game, slugged a record .603, and hit a record tying nine Home Runs. Defensively, the Tigers committed one error in the series. The last team, before 1991, to sweep eight games in the regionals and series was the '82 Miami team with Skip Bertman on the coaching staff.
So what made them Tigers seaux grand? Obviously Bertman was a fantastic skipper, but it was his stable of talent that put them head and shoulders above everybody. The 1991 amateur draft saw third baseman Chris Moock, Catcher and CWS Most Outstanding Player Gary Hymel, lefty Mark LaRosa, outfielder Lyle Mouton, and RHPs Chad Ogea and Paul Byrd drafted. Pitcher Matt Chamberlain, IF Andy Sheets and P Rick Greene followed in 1992, and P Mike Neal, P Mike Sirotka and OF Harry Berrios in 1993. Pitcher Adrian Antonini was the last Tiger holdout, going in the '94 draft and OF Armando Rios was not drafted, but he eventually made it to the bigs from the ranks of the undrafted free-agents. All in all, the members of the 1991 LSU Tigers combined for 28.6 WAR over the course of 46 MLB seasons.
Andy Sheets did not have a career of any significance, although he did manage over 1000 PAs over 7 seasons. He was ALMOST league average in 1998 for the Padres. He played 5 seasons in Japan, and he is a cousin of Ben Sheets.
Armando Rios put together a six-year career as a reserve OF. His best season coming in 2001 for the San Francisco Giants when he posted a 109 OPS+ and 1.3 WAR in 316 at-bats before being shipped to the Pirates along with Ryan Vogelsong in the Jason Schmidt trade. Perhaps more infamously, Rios was also outed by leaked testimony for using PED's provided by BALCO.
Lyle Mouton managed to play professional ball for parts of 13 seasons and may be the ultimate definition of a AAAA player. He was never awesome, never terrible. He was a win above average in each of his first couple years in the majors but had his best years in AAA including 1999 when he hit 23 homers and stole 22 bags hitting .310/.367/.563/.930. As a major leaguer in the steroid era, Mouton's 162 game averages were a BA of .280, OBP of .339, and OPS+ of 98.
Chad Ogea had a promising start to his career when at age 24 he appeared in 20 games for the Indians going 8-3 with career bests: a 3.05 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 154 ERA+, and a WAR of 3.0. It was all downhill from there and Ogea would wash out in 1999, Ogea should be best remembered for helping the Indians to within a game of winning the 1997 World Series against the Florida Marlins. Ogea out-dueled Kevin Brown in Games 2 and 6 giving up 2 runs in 11.2 IP in his two starts. On top of his 5 IP, 1R performance on the mound in game 6, he knocked in the tying and go-ahead runs off Brown in his first at-bat and hit a double later. Ogea's career was brief, but he made his mark.
Mike Sirotka had just begun to hit his stride as a big-league starter before his shoulder blew up in 2000. From 1998 through 2000, Sirotka averaged over 200 IP per year, a total WAR of 8.0, and put up ERA+ lines of 90, 123, and 133. Sirotka's similarity scores compare to Clayton Richard, Matt Harrison, and Jason Vargas, although based on WAR and OPS+, he was better than all three.
Paul Byrd showed the most longevity, finishing his 14 year career in 2009. He had a career WAR of 11.6 and had an ERA+ better than 100 in 9 of those seasons. Byrd was definitely not a strikeout artist, but he was a very effective control pitcher. He finished in the top 10 in BB/9 5 years and was even better at preventing home runs. Byrd's best year was in 2002 with the Royals. That season he won 17 games, threw 7 complete games and 2 shutouts, had a 1.14 WHIP in 228 IP, and contributed 5.3 WAR. He was able to pitch in 4 post-seasons, knocking the Yankees out in two of those, but never made it to a World Series. Byrd's comps include Jake Westbrook, Mark Portugal, and Bob Tewksbury. Byrd also admitted to using HGH from the end of 2002 to 2005 and was named in the Mitchell Report. Hopefully he will be best known for bringing back the old-fashioned, arm-swing windup.
An argument can be made that this is the best college team ever. They had a Hall of Fame skipper, set offensive and defensive records, went undefeated in the regional tournament and CWS, and graduated 14 players, of 32 on the roster, to professional baseball.
So where do YOU think the Tigers rank among the best College teams of all time?
Next week: the 1985 Mississippi State Bulldogs