Thursday, October 18, 2012

SxSE: Florida Gators Baseball, 1912-2012

Florida has very clearly become a College World Series program, one that everyone expects to reach Omaha every year.  They are not yet a CWS Finals program, like South Carolina.  Most of all, though, they've become a program with an obsession that labels anything short of a championship as Failure.  Some people will applaud that approach, but to my mind it's an obsession that does not tolerate patience and will inevitably undermine the program.  Florida's average W-L record over the past 10 years has been 45-23.

Florida fielded its first intercollegiate baseball team in 1912.

The Gators had 14 different head coaches from 1912 through 1947, and saw little success during those 36 seasons.

Dave Fuller took over in 1948 and stayed on the job for 28  years.   the Gators baseball team for twenty-eight seasons. Fuller won SEC championships in 1952, 1956 and 1962, and made appearances in the NCAA tournament in 1958, 1960 and 1962.

Jay Bergman continued that level of success from 1976-1981. His teams reached the NCAA Regionals in 1977, 1979 and 1981.

Joe Arnold led the team from 1984 to 1994 and advanced the progress of the program another step. He made the NCAA Regionals in 7 of those 11 seasons and took the Gators to the College World Series for the first time in 1988 and again in 1991.

Andy Lopez took over the program in 1995. From '95 through 2000, Lopez took the Gators to 4 Regionals, and, in 1996, the Gators won 50 games and went all the way to the CWS semi-finals. By this time, though, the expectations for Florida Baseball had grown along with the program, and he was let go after the 2000 season, having compiled a record of 278–159–1 (.636) during his tenure at Florida. This is the same Andy Lopez who had won the College World Series with Pepperdine in 1992 and whose Arizona Wildcats won the 2012 College World Series.  Not good enough for the Gators.

Pat McMahon had been the head coach at Mississippi State prior to coming to Florida in 2001. In 2003 and 2004 the team made the NCAA Regionals, and then in 2005 the Gators had their best season ever, losing to Texas in the College World Series final.

The Gators missed the NCAA Regionals in both 2006 and 2007, after which McMahon was fired with an overall record of 202–113–1 (.641), and a trip to the championship game in Omaha.

You should be seeing a trend here.

Kevin O'Sullivan took over the job in 2008, and is still there (last time I checked). In 2008 his team had a 34–24 record and made it to an NCAA Regional. In 2009 they were 42–22 and made it to a Super Regional. In 2010 they had a 47–17 record and made it to the College World Series. In 2011 they were 41–15 and lost to South Carolina in the CWS final.

In 2012 the Gators were the consensus preseason #1 pick, and were 40–16 before going 2-and-Q at Omaha.

Based on Florida's history, don't be surprised if they fire Kevin O'Sullivan if he fails to win it all in 2013. After which they'll hire some other top coach and O'Sullivan will go on to win the CWS with some other school.

Notable Florida Gator ballplayers

Florida Gators Baseball in 2012

In 2012 the Florida Gators were a consensus #1 preseason pick by nearly every college baseball poll and pundit.  They were projected to not only repeat in the College World Series finals, but to win it all.  They finished with a 47-20 record, 18-12 in the SEC.  They won their Regional, they won their Super Regional, and went on to the College World Series, where they fell flat on their face, going 0-2 vs.o South Carolina and Kent State.

O'Sullivan: 'We're not going anywhere' (
For this year's team, the expectation level was a burden. For next year's team, it will be about living up to the legacy left behind.

“They've been great players, but more importantly, they've been a great representation of what we want in this program,” O'Sullivan said. “I think they've done the right thing both on and off the field. I've been awfully proud of the way they've played and the way they've represented our program. They've set a standard that following teams will have to live up to.

I'm awfully proud of what they've been able to do.”
. . .
“We're going to be different,” he said. “But we're not going anywhere.”
The Silver Lining: “Failure” is not a dirty word (
It appears to be difficult for some to say these words but considering they are neither profane nor mendacious, they will be published right here: Florida baseball failed.

It really is as simple as that.

“Failure” is not a dirty word or an insult to effort. It is a factual result.

When someone or something does not meet a set objective – in the Gators’ case that was bringing home the program’s first national championship (read: title or bust) – they failed in their mission. That’s what happened on Monday – whether you like it or not.

“Failure” a word you use to describe a circumstance such as when the most talented and consensus No. 1-ranked team in the country for the preseason, much of the regular season and heading into the postseason not only gets swept out of the College World Series in two games but also falls short of capturing either their conference regular season or tournament crowns in the same year.

It is how you characterize a season that was supposed to change the shape of the program forever (making national titles an expectation, not an aspiration) but instead provided yet another depressing memory on the sport’s biggest stage.

Gator Baseball: A Look Inside (Inside the Gators)
. . . In the past, this section would highlight some of Kevin O'Sullivan's prized signees. This year, O'Sullivan was unable to lure his higher-grade signees to Gainesville. Many of his coveted recruits that were primed for immediate impact at the college level, like Lance McCullers, Jesse Winker and Lewis Brinson, decided to begin their professional careers.

With only two returning outfielders, and holes to fill in the infield, there could be freshman starters on opening night 2013, but the likelihood of that took a significant blow as signee after signee inked minor-league contracts.

For the first time since the start of the 2010 season, Florida will not have the target on its back. O'Sullivan has recruited well, but no team can lose nine players to the MLB draft and expect to pickup where it left off. If the season were to start tomorrow, seven of nine spots in the batting order could be accounted for. The heir to Preston Tucker in right field and the designated hitter situation will likely be solved in fall and winter practice.

With Crawford and Whitson back in the rotation, the Gators can stay competitive in the SEC, but nobody's making reservations for Omaha just yet.

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