Photo by: LSUsports.net, LSU Athletics Publications
In Focus: '86 Tigers a Foundation for a Dynasty
Text smallerText larger
Published: March 31, 2011, 11:18 AM (CT)
by Seth Medvin, Student Assistant SID

Members of LSU's 1986 College World Series team will celebrate a 25-year reunion this weekend in Baton Rouge. The former Tigers will participate in pregame ceremonies prior to Saturday's game vs. Ole Miss in Alex Box Stadium.

The '86 Tigers were the first LSU squad to advance to the CWS. Below is a story on the team, followed by quotes from several players on their memories of the '86 season.

Before there was a dynasty, before there was a legend and before there were 10,000-plus home crowds, the doors to greatness had to be opened. Before Louisiana had a baseball team they could be consistently proud of, a successful program had to be launched.

Looking back into the history of LSU baseball, there is one team in particular that displays the roots of this juggernaut. The 1986 team was the first squad in LSU history to make the elusive College World Series, triggering an impressive streak of 15 College World Series appearances and six championships in the following 25 years.

"I believe that we helped set the foundation," catcher Rob Leary said. "We had a joke that we literally laid the foundation for LSU. We were painting the clubhouse, raking the infield dirt after practice and doing all those things that you have to do to establish a winning program. I've been in professional baseball for 26 years, and I take a lot of pride that I was there at the beginning."

Skip Bertman was in his third year of coaching at LSU after being hired from the University of Miami in 1984. He would go on to be named the National Coach of the Year for his first of six times in 1986.

"Skip was very big on family and making sure that things were done right," outfielder Jack Voigt said. "Still to this day I use a lot of Skip's teachings not just as a player professionally, but as a coach professionally."   

Following the 1986 season, Bertman had the tools to begin transitioning the program into the powerhouse it is today.

"I remember when Coach Bertman had coaching clinics for the local kids," outfielder Mike Papajohn said. "When those kids are young and see us going to the College World Series and when those kids are college-aged, they would come to LSU. When you look at our roster, we had guys from California, Alabama and all over. Now if you look at the program, most of the players are from Louisiana. He got the kids thinking about the College World Series in their dreams."

In 1985, LSU had the 14th highest total attendance in the country of 40,762. Following 1986 College World Series appearance, those numbers rose drastically. During Bertman's last six seasons as head coach for the Tigers from 1996-2001, Alex Box Stadium averaged the highest national attendance every single season. 

"I can't remember the exact numbers, but I remember having nice crowds," infielder Andy Galy said. "As we continued to win the crowds continued to swell. By my senior year, having crowds of  five or six-thousand people on the weekend was normal. From the time I was a freshman until the time I graduated in 1988, the crowds continued to get bigger and bigger."

The Tigers posted a 55-14 (22-5 SEC) record en route to an SEC regular-season and tournament championships. The 1986 team posted the highest SEC winning percentage in the Skip Bertman era. The team went on to set or tie 33 individual and team records.

Junior and senior veteran players such as co-captains Leary and Jeff Reboulet, sluggers Jeff Yurtin, Jim Bowie and Albert Belle and pitchers Stan Loewer, Mark Guthrie and Barry Manuel, led the team.

"We had tremendous players talent-wise, and we had guys that didn't have great talent but had great work ethic," Reboulet, the Tigers' shortstop, said. "When you focus in on a goal you start to work for it. We didn't have guys that were afraid to work for it. We wanted to go out, win games, achieve our goal of making the College World Series and seeing what happened when we got there."

The Tigers earned a berth in the College World Series after winning the NCAA South I Regional against a field of Tulane, Oklahoma, Louisiana Tech, Eastern Kentucky and Jackson State. The final game of the regional resulted in a 7-6 win in a game against Tulane that was delayed by rain.

"We were late in the game, and it was tied," Leary said. "It was nasty weather. I just remember we wanted so badly to finish what we started that night. Mother Nature said we couldn't do it. It was tough to go to sleep and think that we're going to come back for just an inning and a half. We had to resume the game in the next morning. Jeff Reboulet came up with the bases loaded and hit a ball down the third base line. He beat the throw to first base, and that gave us the go-ahead run. We went on to close it out in the ninth. Fortunately, everything went in our favor."      

The Tigers' run in the College World Series was a nail-biting affair that saw the team finish 1-2, with both losses by only one run. Their first game was a loss to Loyola Marymount 4-3. LSU proceeded to eliminate Maine in its second game, 8-4. The third and final game was a 4-3 loss to Miami.

"I was the first batter in the first game of the College World Series," Papajohn said. "I remember looking at all of the ESPN signs and thinking about all of my friends and family who were able to watch me back home. What a big stage it was. I thought a lot about my high school coaches, my little league and the people who helped me along the road."

Despite the Tigers' on-the-field prowess, what made the 1986 team special was its personal relationships off the field.

"I think the difference was back then we were not the blue-chip type players that LSU gets today," Guthrie, a pitcher,  said. "There were some wonderful guys and we were like a fraternity. It was a unique situation where it all clicked. Great personalities meshed together that created things that can never be repeated. We enjoyed our college years to the fullest."

The players today are lifelong friends, still associated with LSU or the greater Baton Rouge area and some are even business partners. The group includes players who played professionally, coached professionally and even a Hollywood actor (Papajohn). They all agree on one thing: Skip Bertman had a profound effect on their lives.

"By the time we left we could see the foundation being set in place," Guthrie said. "Everyone when they left would agree that there wasn't a better coach in the country than Coach Bertman. I remember when I was leaving I thought to myself that if Skip ever became athletic director then LSU would never lose a game. That is the confidence that we had in him."

Memories from the 1986 College World Series Team:

Jack Voigt- Outfield

On the closeness of the team...
"I think we all got along so well and everybody respected everyone else's belief. There were some guys that lived off campus and some guys lived on campus in dorms like Broussard. When we all got together everyone kind of gravitated towards each other and we had a real family feel. There were little things that we did to bond and things that took place in the locker rooms that was funny to us. People from the outside looking in would think these guys are nuts. We had a strong commitment to get to Omaha."

On being the first LSU team to get to the College World Series...
"That is a big credit to Skip Bertman and his coaching staff. It was a full effort. Knowing that we were representing LSU there, even though there had been some great LSU teams in the past and a lot of those members had been on the Coaches Committee Board, was an honor. We knew that we had a sort of legacy to finish the job. To this day, I think we had one of the better teams in Omaha even though we didn't get past the Semis. In 1987, even though the brackets were different, we lost four games and each game all by one run. We were so close for two straight years."

On launching the foundation for the program...
"At the time we were just thinking that the coaches were putting together a pretty solid program that had a lot of respect not just in the SEC, Louisiana or Baton Rouge, but nationwide. After our team, we were able to bring in teams from the West Coast, Northeast and Florida. At the same time, Skip always seemed to stay true to the people he committed to. What I mean by that are the players that started at LSU with him. For example, guys that were seniors in 1986 like Stan Loewer, Mark Guthrie and a lot of other guys before they brought in myself, Rob Leary, Albert Belle and a bunch of other guys. Skip was very big on family and making sure that things were done right. Still to this day I use a lot of Skip's teaches not just as a player professionally, but as a coach professionally."

On the on-the-field personality...
"Everyone might have thought that our strength was in our offense, but I think it was our pitching and our defense. Our pitching was very strong, our defense was very solid up the middle with Jeff Reboulet and Burke Broussard and it allowed our hitters to relax a bit more. I played all over the field from first to the outfield. Everything was mixed, but it was mostly pitching. After we would shut them down in the top of the first, it was like 'here we go.'"

On the SEC record...
"We won our championships that year, and it 1987 we got our butts kicked by Georgia in the SEC Championship game. We played very well in 1986 and it was great to be able to do well as a team. The group was everybody. Not just the 25- man travel team, but the other players that we had that played during the week that allowed guys to get their rest or keep us on our toes. Skip wasn't afraid to make changes. If you weren't doing your job, he would change the 25-man roster."

Andy Galy - Infield

On being the first team in LSU history to make the College World Series...
"It certainly means a lot more now looking back on it after all of the championships and the success that the program has had. At that time, Coach Bertman focused on a lot of things and we were a fortunate group of guys to be winning. That was a tough thing to do at a football school. The guys from all over the place kind of gelled. Guys like Jeff Reboulet, Rob Leary and Mark Guthrie came from winning programs. We put our heads together and took on teams like Mississippi St. that had been successful through the years at that point in time and said, 'we're better than them and we're better coached, there is no reason we shouldn't be there.' Once we figured out that we should be there, which is one of Coach Bertman's insistent principles, things started to happen. Looking back, it was pretty special time. Baseball crows started growing. When we first when to Omaha, you really saw it with your own two eyes after watching it on ESPN for years. It was really a special thing. It showed everyone that we can do it, that we had the guy to coach us there and it opened up the flood gates. LSU hasn't looked back."

On the difference in preseason attitudes before the 1987 following the 1986 season...
"Coming back in 1987 we lost a lot of guys. There was still that taste of Omaha in our mouths. Everyone on the team got crew cuts and had Omaha headbands. It was a constant reminder that we were not going to be a one and done program. We wound up winning six teams in the New Orleans Regional and Cal St. Fullerton to go back to Omaha. The experience was key to us going back."

On changes on campus following the 1986 season...
"I can't remember the exact numbers, but I remember having nice crowds. As we continued to win the crowds continued to swell. By my senior year, having five or six thousand people crowds on the weekend was normal. From the time I was a freshman until the time I graduated in 1988, the crowds continued to get bigger and bigger."

Burke Broussard - Second Base

On the middle of the infield...
"Jeff Reboulet was by far the best infielder I even played with. We both fit together because we both were from junior colleges and both were juniors. When we started to play together, we started to hit it off. We were roommates for a year. I just really enjoyed playing with him. He became one of my best friends."

On what made the team unique...
"At that time we had a lot of junior college transfers. The year before when we came together we started to get close. My roommates were Rob Leary and Jeff Reboulet, and since they were far from home, we struck up a good relationship. We did a lot of things together as a team off the field. We did a lot of community service type stuff, and that kind of brought the team together like we never thought. It made us closer as players."

On playing for Coach Bertman...
"Being a guy from Louisiana it was very special for me to finish out my career playing in the College World Series. LSU was always good at baseball but never really great. When he came in 1984, he got LSU back on the map. In 1985 he changed a lot of things. For the 1986 team, we kind of knew what to expect. We had a well-rounded team with good pitching, speed and power. A lot of us had been in the program for a couple of years and that really helped us. He was very knowledgeable. There were times when he would tell us a situation and then months later that situation would happen. We would laugh it off and would say that he could predict the future. But really, he had just been around the game for so long and was so experienced that a lot of the stuff he said came. He was a great motivator and always seemed to be pushing the right buttons."

Dan Kite - Pitcher

On what it meant to the team to be the first LSU team in the College World Series...
"It was actually an incredible feeling to be the first team to make it to the World Series back then, but since then it actually means much more since it was the beginning of somewhat of a dynasty in College Baseball. So to say I was part of that is great."

On what made the team special...
"I would have to say what made the team so special was the players. I made friends that year that I still today keep in touch with. We all had a very competitive attitude on the field, but when we were off the field, let the fun begin."

On what it was like pitching in the CWS and the SEC tournament...
"To pitch in the College World Series and the SEC tournament was an awesome experience by itself, but being a freshman was even more intense. I just remember how unbelievably nervous I was and the overpowering feeling of not wanting to let down the team."

On fondest memories of the team...
"The memories that stand out to me are countless. From the first day I arrived at the Baton Rouge airport as a ripe 18 year old being picked up by Cliff Dees and dropped off at Broussard Hall, to meeting Albert (Joey back then) and Terry Belle at the field practicing, to the first game, to the first road trip, first team party, etc. The thing that was really neat was how there were no super star players that had attitudes that were bigger than the team in general. Even Belle which was one of our top players, was so down to earth to talk to it was humbling."

On what was it like playing for Skip Bertman...
"I remember going on my recruiting trip and meeting him. Of course it was a small little office back then, but at the time, I didn't really know much of him or how knowledgeable he was about pitching. Looking back, I would say there were times that I was intimidated by him, and frustrated with him too. The one thing that I can say without a doubt is that he taught me more about pitching than anyone ever could have. With Tom Brown as the pitching coach (who was also an incredible mentor for this young freshman to learn from) and Skip's philosophy's on pitching, I was in the best college baseball atmosphere for learning in the country!"

On what he took away from his experience at LSU...
"The one thing about my freshman year that I didn't mention that I cannot praise enough, not even close, was the fans. I still talk about them today how unbelievably friendly they were and welcoming, especially for a northern boy that had never really been away from home. I felt like I had more aunts and uncles (the way they treated me) than anyone could of imagined. I kept telling my parents how I understand what people meant when they talked about Southern hospitality. Nothing in the country like LSU Baseball Fans."

Mark Guthrie - Pitcher

On pitching in the College World Series compared to pitching in the Majors...
"At the time it was the ultimate goal. It was probably the most nervous that I have ever been. It was the highest anxiety level that I ever had, including World Series games. It was the first time that I had ever done that. That was the same for the rest of us. For years in high school we had been watching college baseball on TV. We thought that it was going to be one of the highlights of your career, and it certainly was for me."

On playing for Coach Bertman...
"It is an experience that you will never forget. College is a very impressionable time in a player's career. Coming out of high school, we realized how much we didn't know about the game. It was the first time that we learned the X's and O'x of baseball, something you never do in high school. We would walk out of meetings and be amazed about how much we were being taught. On top of all of that, there are stories of coaching tactics. Without those years, I probably would never have had a baseball career."

On off-the-field relationships...
"I think the difference was back then we were not the blue chip type players that LSU gets today. We were the kids that no one really expected a lot of. We worked our buts off and everyone respected each other. There were some wonderful guys and were like a fraternity. It was a unique situation where it all clicked. Great personalities meshed together that created things that can never be repeated. We all came from similar yet diverse backgrounds. It was really special. We enjoyed our college years to the fullest off the field as well."

On the state of the program after 1986...
"I think you could start to see the program rising because we had come so far from our freshman year to our senior year. The metamorphosis was definitely happening. The recruits were getting stronger, the crowds were getting bigger and by the time we left we could see the foundation being set in place. Everyone when they left would agree that there wasn't a better coach in the country than Coach Bertman. I remember when I was leaving I thought to myself that if Skip ever became athletic director than LSU would never lose a game. That is the confidence that we had in him."

On the star of the team...
"We had Albert Belle who was probably the first huge star out of LSU. He was something special. He worked hard to become a great player. It really helped the program having players who are National Player of the Year kind of guys."

Rob Leary- Catcher

On his role as a senior and as a leader...
"I think that both of the years that I played at LSU, 1985 and 1986, leadership was important. In 1985, our team captain was Robbie Smith and he was a guy that everybody respected. With Coach Bertman and the coaching staff, they wanted the older players to lead by example. Every now and then they wanted us to step in and lead with authority. Jeff Reboulet and I were voted team captains for the 1986-year. I thought it was an honor because of Robbie and the seniors that we had the year before. It is not always saying something, but it is leading by example on and off the field. It is taking care of your responsibilities off the field before practice and games. We had classroom sessions with the coaching staff and it was important to pay attention to the minute details. That was one of the way that we tried to lead."

On games that he remembers...
"We went down to Florida St., and it was a Monday night ESPN game of the week. They were No.1 and we were No.2 in the standings. We ended up getting beat on a Paul Sorrento walk off home run. I can say that it is funny now, but one of the lasting impressions that I have from that game involved Barry Manuel, our closer, and Coach Bertman. Manuel had thrown a wild pitch, and Skip called me to the dugout and was screaming, 'Jett (my nickname), tell Manuel to throw the ball as hard as he can.' I went out to the mound because we didn't have another mound visit, and said, 'Barry, give it all you got and throw it as hard as you can.' Barry had a great year that year, but Sorrento turned that ball around. It wasn't 45 seconds that Skip was yelling at me that we were walking off the field."

On the makeup of the team...
"The passion that Skip had, that the team had and how much we loved to compete together against whatever team we played, was what made us special. It didn't matter who we played. We were coming to beat you. We really enjoyed being together as a team. We worked hard to obtain our goal of winning the College World Series, we fell short, but it wasn't for a lack of effort or lack of caring for each other."

On the NCAA Regional championship game vs. Tulane ...
"I sure do remember that game. We were late in the game and it was tied. It was nasty weather. We were pulling the tarp and it was just a miserable night. It was a tight game.  I just remember we wanted to so badly to finish what we started that night. Mother nature said we couldn't do it. It was tough to go to sleep and think that we're going to come back for just an inning and a half. That was much more rough than going to sleep before a nine inning game. We knew that it could be one play, one pitch or one at bat that was going to decided whether we would move on or not. We had to resume the game in the next morning. The next game we resumed the game. Jeff Reboulet came up with the bases loaded and hit a ball down the third baseline. He beat the throw to first base and that gave us the go ahead run. We went on to close it out in the ninth. Fortunately, everything went in our favor."

On being the first team in LSU history to make the CWS...
"I believe that we helped set the foundation. We had a joke that we literally laid the foundation for LSU. We were painting, doing the ground crew and we were doing a little bit of everything. It was kind of a joke, but it was also kind of true. We were painting the clubhouse, raking the infield dirt after practice and doing all those things that you have to do to establish a winning program. I take a lot of pride that I was there at the beginning. Obviously, we all would have wanted to win the College World Series, but I take a lot of pride when LSU is doing well. I take pride that I was a part of the program. We were there at the beginning of the success. We were able to set the table for future teams and the program has really taken off. I've been in professional baseball for 26 years, and when I tell people that I played at LSU they tell me how great of a program it is. I am glad to have been part of laying that foundation with my teammates, the coaching staff and Skip Bertman."

Mike Papajohn- Outfield

On what he sees in LSU's program today...
"I remember when I was watching LSU play Texas in the College World Series in 2009, and LSU ran out and started taking batting practice, I looked at the players and they had a confident swagger to them. I looked into the program and saw how many freshman and sophomore were playing. They had that swagger that made me feel so good. It was amazing that they were so young, and they are not only able to go to the College World Series, but play and start. They walked out on the field and owned it. They looked like they were supposed to be there."

On what it meant to be the first LSU to make the College World Series...
"I remember when Coach Bertman had coaching clinics for the local kids. We would help out with the clinics with the little leaguers. He would tell the kids that it starts here. When those kids are young and see us going to the College World Series, those kids are now college aged. A lot of the kids at LSU are Louisiana guys. I feel that the coaching clinics got into the player's minds at a young age. When you look at our roster, we had guys from California, Alabama and all over. We really recruited out of state. Now if you look at the program, most of the players are from Louisiana. I think that is a tribute to Skip's coaching clinics. He got the kids thinking about the College World Series in their dreams."

On his emotions leading up to the College World Series...
"I was the first batter in the first game of the College World Series. I remember looking at all of the ESPN signs and thinking about all of my friends and family who were able to watch me back home. What a big stage it was. The pressure to perform was high. Just being on the big stage and looking around knowing that we were here. It was very exciting. I thought a lot about my high school coaches, my little league and the people who helped me along the road. I started thinking about my friends and family back home in Alabama. I knew people would see the game. Being apart of LSU and representing them was awesome."

On his most memorable game...
"We went to Florida State, and I led off that game. For some reason back then, they just decided that LSU was going to play Florida State and put the game on ESPN. They flew us to Tallahassee in a prop-plane. It was the worst storm ever and I am surprised that we even made it. I led off the game and I walked. I stole second and I didn't glance. Luis Alicea who played in the majors for a long time was playing second. He put his hands up in the air (a sign for a foul ball). He said foul ball. I kept running and didn't slide. He took the throw and tagged me out on my ankle. I got thrown out standing up, and I always slide. I remember walking back to the dugout and Skip screaming at me. I get into the dugout and Reboulet hits a double. We were like 44-1 when we scored first. Skip was so mad after Reboulet hit the double. The reason I bring up that game because two or three weeks later, I remember how many calls I got from friends who I hadn't talked to in year. They kept asking me, 'Papajohn why didn't you slide?'"

Jeff Reboulet - Shortstop

On playing for Skip Bertman...
"It was outstanding for me. I came from Ohio and I went to a Junior College in Chicago. I got the fundamental in Junior College and I improved my basic skills. When I was looking for a school to go to 1985, it was a perfect situation for me to come to LSU. Skip had just come in the year before, and you could tell he was a top-level coach and that he was going to turn that program around. I walked in and saw his vision of what was going on. I knew that I was going to learn a lot from him. I had gotten all the basics, and he was a guy who knew how to win games. It was a great situation for me in that it was the next stepping stone for me to learn the game at a higher level that I had before above the basics."

On why he attended LSU...
"I was getting recruited by a lot of different schools and I kind of saw the vision of where LSU was going. I knew the team was going to be good quick. I knew Skip's recruiting abilities, the kind of people he was bringing in and I felt really good about it because there were a lot of coaches that I had spoken to that didn't see what I saw. They would say, 'How are you going to get past Mississippi State in your own conference?' There were many great players and teams in the conference. I felt we could do it. I told those coaches that I knew LSU could get past them, and we did and it didn't take long at all."

On what it meant to be the first team in LSU history to make the CWS...
"To get to the World Series was a difficult thing. I thought we had a very good team, and I thought the fact that we had never been there before hurt us because there are a whole bunch of things that go on, and if you had never been there before it hurts. Having guys with the experience of going there before you is a benefit. I guess dealing with all the distractions and knowing that teams had gone in before is a benefit to the program. We were going to first make it to a Regional for the first time ever, which we were able to do in 1985. Then our goal of making it to the College World Series was more of a goal than maybe winning it. We were ranked number one during the season and at that point we knew we were a really solid team. It was very rewarding and great to see. It is an impressive program now and it is nice to be one of the early stepping stone for it."

On his on-the-field strengths...
"I think we had a lot of different types of players. We had good hitters, good defenders and an overall solid team. We had tremendous players talent wise. We had guys that didn't have great talent, but had great work ethic. We just had a group of players that fit well together and had cohesiveness as a group. When you focus in on a goal, Coach Betrman helped define that goal for us, and when you have that goal put in front of you, you start to work for it. We didn't have guys that were afraid to work for it. That was probably the thing. We knew what we wanted to do. We didn't concern ourselves with all the draft stuff. We wanted to go out, win games, achieve our goal of making the College World Series and seeing what happened when we got there. As far as player wise, I think we had a number of guys that turned out to be pretty successful in baseball. Rob Leary was a co-captain with me and he played pro ball. He was a great catcher for us. Now he coaches for the Red Sox. Even guys that didn't make it the Major Leagues, doesn't mean they weren't great baseball guys. They knew how the game was played and played the game the right way. That is proved with guys that played or coached pro ball and that are still in the game today. Skip did a very nice job of putting this crew together."

Pete Bush - First Base

On playing under Skip Bertman...
"It was a very disciplined culture and it was very different than what we experienced in high school. When you get to college, especially under Skip, it was like everything matters. Nothing was taken for granted. At time you with that he wasn't as hard as he was, but when you look back as an adult you appreciate the discipline he instilled on you."

On the veteran players...
"I learned how to approach the game from them. Everyone comes from different high school programs, and in high school even your best high school program you get out of school at about 3 and you get a couple hours of practice in. You are mostly playing on talent alone. Back than the coaches weren't always concentrated on baseball because they coached other sports as well. Coming into college, the discipline of the guys that had been there a couple of years was impressive. We had guys that had been there for a couple of years and guys that had been junior college transfers, and the one thing I learned was how to take practice seriously. This was more than just having a good time. There were bigger goals we were shooting for."

On the closeness of the team...
"Besides the experience that a lot of college kids have where you are stuck between being and a child, you're experiencing life away from your parents. To have those guys as sort of a fraternity where we talked amongst each other about being a band of brothers. We were together so much and you're practicing all the time. We were together off the field all the time whether it was living together, going out together or just hanging out together where a lot of deep-deep relationships start. For example, by business partner is Jeff Reboulet who I met when I walked on campus in 1985. He played professional baseball until 2003, and once he finished we became friends. Does playing together make for unique friendships? I would say ya. We had dinner with Mark Guthrie and Craig Faulkner in Florida, and we just don't miss a beat. We just pick up where we left off."

 

ABC Insurance
Uploaded Ad
Flores MBA Program
The Cook Hotel and Conference Center
Visit Baton Rouge