1991 Finally the Year for LSU Baseball

Celebrating LSU's first two national championships
Celebrating LSU's first two national championships
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LSU Sports Interactive

by Curtis Akey
LSU Sports Information

Editor's Note: The following is a feature story on LSU’s 1991 NCAA Championship baseball team, which will be honored during Tuesday night’s “First Pitch” banquet at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. LSU’s 1993 national title team will also be honored during the event.

The first line of Skip Bertman’s autobiography, “Skip: The Man and the System,” sums up the 1991 LSU baseball season perfectly.

“I’ve always believed that anything you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon must, absolutely must, come to pass,” wrote Bertman, former LSU baseball head coach and current athletic director. Believing, imagining and desiring are all things Bertman, his coaching staff and players performed on a regular basis prior to the start of the 1991 baseball season.

LSU had some of the greatest talent collegiate baseball had ever seen. In four of the previous five seasons, Bertman led his Tigers to a College World Series berth.

However, the Tigers couldn’t quite win the big one. In four of the previous five seasons, the Tigers left Rosenblatt Stadium and Omaha, Neb. empty handed.

The 1991 season would be much different.

REGULAR SEASON

“The program was really on the rise,” said former Tiger designated hitter Pat Garrity.

“Coach Bertman demanded that his players be prepared both physically and mentally and understand the various situations that could arise in a baseball game,” added Garrity. “He demanded and expected each player to be the best player they could be.” 

With these beliefs instilled in them by Bertman, the 1991 LSU baseball team stormed through the regular season.

The Tigers started the season 16-6 against non-conference foes. They tore through SEC competition, starting conference play 11-0. The team hit a snag, losing five of their next six. They picked things up against Alabama and Vanderbilt, winning four of six. Heading into the final week of SEC play, the Tigers needed to win two games in Athens against defending national champion Georgia to clinch the regular season title. LSU demolished the Bulldogs, 10-4, in the first game. Mike Sirotka, used mostly as a reliever during the season, pitched a four-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory. LSU was the first team in nine seasons to win back-to-back SEC titles

Led by pitchers Chad Ogea, Paul Byrd, Rick Greene and Sirotka, and batters Gary Hymel, Lyle Mouton, Andy Sheets and Garrity, the Tigers finished the regular season with a 44-16 record. Their record of 19-7 in SEC play was good enough for the conference title. Hymel led the conference with 25 home runs and 79 RBI, and Mouton led the league in runs with 78. Ogea and Sirotka finished first and third in SEC play with 14 and 11 wins, respectively. Ogea also led the league in strikeouts with 140. Greene, the Tiger’s top relief pitcher, led the SEC with 14 saves. Second baseman Tookie Johnson took home All-SEC first team honors, while Hymel, Mouton and outfielder Rich Cordani were named to the second team. To top it all off, Bertman was named coach of the year.

SEC TOURNAMENT AND NCAA REGIONALS

All of the aforementioned accolades were great, but winning postseason games was what the Tigers were all about. Despite the honors and recognition the team received during the regular season, the Tigers hit a bump in the road on their way to a fifth Omaha trip. In the ‘91 SEC Tournament, held at Alex Box Stadium, LSU placed second to Florida. The weather played a huge role in the tournament.

“The weather experts and horticulturists told me it was the worst rain in 100 years of weather-keeping records,” said Bertman.

The loss wasn’t something the team could dwell on for long. “Even though we lost at home, we knew we had the (NCAA) regional tournament ahead of us,” said Bertman. “We had to get ready for that right away.”

The Tigers did just that. They walloped in-state rival Northwestern State, 13-2. In that game, LSU collected 17 hits. Following that game, the Tigers defeated Oklahoma, 4-3. Greene captured his 19th career save in the game in just his second season. Game 3 pitted LSU against Texas A&M. Sirotka, a native of Houston who was heavily recruited by Texas A&M, struck out six in a 7-1 victory. LSU played Southwestern Louisiana in the deciding game of the Regional. A barrage of RBI singles by Johnny Tellechea, Chris Moock, Armando Rios and Hymel helped the Tigers claim their stake in Omaha for the fifth time under Bertman, defeating USL, 8-5.

“We had to play awfully well to win the regional even though we went through without a loss,” said Bertman. “It was not easy at all. We had to have some outstanding pitching and clutch hitting to win those games.”


THE COLLEGE WORLD SERIES

When it came to the College World Series, the Tigers had always been the bridesmaid and never the bride. However, the Tigers had improved in the national rankings after each trip to Omaha. In 1986, the Tigers finished the season in fifth place. They moved up one spot, to fourth, in 1987. In both 1989 and 1990, the team finished in third place.

Like current LSU football head coach Les Miles recently said – “There really is only one odd number left – No. 1.”

“We were fortunate to make CWS appearances in '89 and '90, and we had to come out of the loser's bracket both years,” said Garrity. “The '91 team had many players that had already been to the CWS and lost, and we were able to use those experiences.”

Unfortunately, the Tigers had to open the CWS against Florida, the same team that had defeated LSU on its own field during the SEC Tournament.

“I was disappointed to be paired with Florida,” said Bertman. “They were exceptionally hot and had already had the greatest year in the history of their program. I remember saying to myself, ‘Boy, that’s a bad draw.’”

Despite not wanting to face Florida, coach Bertman and Florida head coach Joe Arnold were fairly close. During the tournament, the two teams stayed at the same Embassy Suites hotel, and even shared breakfast together.

When it came to the diamond however, the Tigers wanted to end the season of the same team that destroyed their SEC Tournament title hopes.

“I was fortunate to be a DH my first year (1990), and from the bench I was able to watch how coach Bertman could manage and manipulate the game,” Mouton said. “In turn, that gave me great insight on how I could change the game in different aspects.”

In Game 1 of the CWS, Mouton really only used one aspect to help defeat Florida – home runs.

The Tigers sent Florida to the loser’s bracket, defeating the Gators, 8-1. Mouton went 3-4 with five RBI, smashing his first career grand slam for his second home run of the game. Garrity added a solo shot of his own. Ogea pitched 2.1 innings of shutout relief for the win after Byrd left in the fourth inning with the game tied.

“We hit extremely well in batting practice,” proclaimed Bertman. “Lyle put on a Cecil Fielder or Jose Canseco type of display. A lot of opposing players commented on how he hit the ball.”

He wasn’t the only Tiger swinging for the fences.

The Tigers were pitted against Fresno State in Game 2, hoping to win back-to-back opening games for the first time in LSU history. They did so in impressive fashion, defeating the Bulldogs, 15-3. Hymel crushed two dingers into the stands at Rosenblatt Stadium, finishing the game 2-4 with three RBI and three runs. Moock went 3-3 with a double, a triple and three RBI. Sirotka won his 11th game of the season, giving up only five hits over six innings. At this point, LSU found itself only one game away from the CWS title game.

But before they punched their ticket to the championship game, the Tigers had to play one more game against a familiar foe – Florida. After eliminating Fresno State and Florida State from the loser’s bracket, the Gators stood in the way of the Tigers for one last time. Having faced the Gators seven times already that season, the Tigers had a pretty good grasp on what they had to do to advance.

Hymel launched a three-run homer in the first inning against Florida, and the Tigers never looked back. Despite repeated attempts to get back in the game, the Gators came up short. LSU scored five runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, thanks in part to another home run by Hymel and one from Mouton. LSU defeated Florida, 19-5, to claim their rightful spot in the CWS championship game.

LSU was set to play Wichita State for the 1991 National Championship on June 8. On the mound for the Shockers would be Tyler Green, who was the 10th overall selection in the ’91 amateur draft by the Philadelphia Phillies only days before. Undaunted by Wichita State’s star pitching staff, which also included future Major Leaguer Darren Dreifort, LSU started the game in quick fashion with Armando Rios scoring on Cordani’s sacrifice fly in the first. Garrity then knocked Mouton home at the end of the first. LSU had a 2-0 lead when they took the field for the first inning, but then gave up a run to Wichita State to end the first with a score of 2-1. In the second inning, Rios nailed a two-run shot for his first home run in nearly two months. Two innings later, Cordani hit a two-run triple for a five run lead. Ogea, who had pitched seven innings of phenomenal baseball, was pulled in favor of Greene, the Tigers’ fiery relief pitcher. After stifling the Shockers’ rally in the eighth, Greene struck out the first two batters of the ninth. When Jason White chopped a soft grounder to Moock, the Tigers were only seconds away of finally becoming the bride.

“I swear the ball took an hour to get across the diamond, although Chris threw the heck out of it,” said Greene. “The next memory I have was Chad Ogea running full sprint to tackle me. I didn’t know how he got there so fast but after seeing replays, it seemed like the entire team was over the foul line before Johnny Tellechea caught the ball at first.”

The team set a new CWS average scoring record of 12 runs per game, breaking the record previously owned by the 1957 Notre Dame squad. The Tigers’ fielding percentage of .993 was also a CWS record.

“I know there have been more talented teams at LSU that could have won a championship, but we happened to be the first to accomplish the feat,” said Mouton, who along with Hymel, Tellechea and Ogea, were named to the CWS All-Tournament Team. “It definitely was, and still is, an honor to be a member of the first national championship team.”

THE CELEBRATION

The team returned to Baton Rouge with the hardware they set out to earn before the 1991 season even began. The Tigers celebrated with fans at Alex Box Stadium prior to taking a trip to the White House as a guest of President George H.W. Bush. Also celebrating with the team in Washington D.C. were Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, who were being honored by the president for their incredible feats during their playing days.

“I'm a huge baseball fan in general, and I remember getting George Bush, DiMaggio and Williams all signed on separate baseballs,” said Greene. “What a thrill.”

While their season was over, it truly was a beginning for LSU baseball. The 1991 NCAA Championship team set a standard that would be met by four more LSU baseball teams in the next eight years.

The ’91 team featured 13 eventual draftees, seven of which went on to star in the majors. Ogea pitched for six years, with the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies, compiling a record of 37-35. Byrd is still thriving in the big leagues with the Indians, and has posted 97 career MLB wins.

Mouton hit .280 in seven seasons, mostly with the Chicago White Sox, in addition to belting 22 home runs. Sirotka also spent time with the White Sox, pitching six years for the team in the south side of Chicago. He won double-digit games in three of those seasons. Rios spent parts of six seasons in the majors, with his best years coming with the San Francisco Giants. Sheets played for five different teams in eight seasons. Greene, who was a first round pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1992, represented the United States at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. No matter what they have accomplished in their professional careers, nothing is as sweet as being a member of the first national championship team at a baseball powerhouse.

“As someone who has bled purple and gold his entire life, I am very proud to be a part of LSU history,” said Garrity.

“Having a group of individuals from all walks of life to be able to mesh together and work as one toward a common goal has transcended into my family life and business life,” added Mouton, who is now a financial advisor in Florida.

Similar to what the 1991 team did for future LSU baseball teams, Greene believed the victory was one the program had been building for over an extended period of time.

“We all knew that many people before us had laid a tremendous groundwork of effort, heart and desire at LSU,” said Greene. 

“We were just very, very fortunate to have been able to win it all.”

 

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