Sherman: Wishing baseball mattered
May 23, 2011
The things I will mention here will not fully describe the eccentricities of Northwestern's baseball team that make it fascinating and confusing to me.
I don't want to criticize coach Paul Stevens. After all, every single person I've ever talked to who's met him has gone on and on about how great a person he is, and his sense of humor makes my job as sports editor easier by constantly providing me with really fascinating quotes to put in the "On the record" quote box up there. By all accounts, Stevens does a fantastic job producing talented student-athletes for NU. I just want to say I think he has one of the better jobs in the world: a baseball coach with unimpeachable job security.
For the 17th time in Stevens' 24 seasons as NU's head coach, the Wildcats failed to make the Big Ten Tournament, which now features six teams, after losing a series with Michigan State this weekend. The means that for the 24th time in 24 seasons, they won't make the NCAA Tournament. Although the Big Ten typically isn't a baseball powerhouse, producing typically one but sometimes as many as three tourney teams, NU hasn't even been to the Big Ten Championship game to fight for the potential of an automatic bid in those 24 years. In those seven tournaments, the Cats are 3-14 under Stevens' tenure.
NU hasn't typically had a winning baseball program. Still, these facts pretty much get my point across without context: For the past 24 years, NU baseball hasn't been relevant.
As Americans, we love the sport of baseball. We played little league. (Two-time champion, Peter Stuyvesant Little League) We go to Long Field every Sunday to play slow-pitch softball and pretend it's baseball. We play fantasy baseball. We like going to games and eating hot dogs. Tonight, a bunch of you will probably head down to Wrigley Field for NU Day at Wrigley.
But while many colleges embrace their baseball teams - for example, NU played every single game of its series against Michigan State in front of a crowd of 1,000 or more - we simply don't. Baseball is often the third-most popular sport at a school behind football and basketball. At NU, I won't count.
Normally these columns are where I yell at my fellow students to support some athletic team we have, then reference NBA Street Vol. 2. But as Stevens' tenure enters year 25, I don't feel the need to urge my fellow students to head up to Rocky Miller Park.
Not that I'm calling for Stevens' head. In fact, it would be downright cruel to fire a 24th-year head coach who has produced 25 classes of quality student-athletes while both of his sons play for his team. I just feel the need to point out that Stevens' continued role means somewhere along the line, the powers that be made a decision that the purpose of NU's baseball team is not to produce a consistent winning team. As is, this team doesn't win, doesn't draw student interest, and neither of those appear to be changing. There are no expectations of success or punishments for failure.
So if NU baseball coach isn't the world's best job, I don't know what is.
Sports editor Rodger Sherman is a Medill junior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org