April 23, 2014
By: Mark Carlson, Special to Seminoles.com
Mike Martin and his wife Carol will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary June 28.
Two days later they can enjoy another milestone. June 30, 1964, was the first time Martin and his wife walked the Florida State University campus and had the opportunity to step on a baseball diamond that would eventually be named Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium.
Neither Mike or Carol could have dreamed that first visit would lead to a love affair with Florida State University and the city of Tallahassee, although “11” as he’s known to most Seminole baseball fans admits “the first time we saw the town we fell in love with it. The canopy roads with moss hanging from the trees was something we had never seen before.”
Martin, who had graduated from Wingate (N.C.) Junior College, was not a celebrated recruit for head coach Fred Hatfield despite twice earning All-American honors as an outfielder. In fact, the two never met until Mike returned to campus in late summer for the start of classes. Martin’s case for a baseball scholarship was promoted by Morris McHone, who had previously attended Wingate and was a basketball manager for the Seminoles. When Mike and Carol arrived for that June visit they met with Ernie Langford, who was the assistant baseball coach.
“When I was offered the scholarship to play here it was a huge deal,” Martin recalls. “Then I found out coach Hatfield had about 30 other players on scholarship.”
Martin’s arrival was greeted with only mild excitement. In fact his bio did not even appear in the 1965 baseball media guide.
Times have changed.
Today, Martin, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday, has a bio that extends over four pages in the Seminole baseball media guide. A 4-3 extra inning win at Wake Forest last Saturday was the 1,800th for 11 as the Florida State baseball coach since taking over for the 1980 season. His overall won/loss record is a lofty 1,801-621-4.
A simple paragraph on the second page of the upcoming Seminole baseball game notes provides the best documentation confirming Martin’s success…
“The FSU alum has become the face of Florida State baseball having been associated with the Seminoles for 42 of FSU’s 67 seasons. Of the 3,701 baseball games played in program history, Martin has been involved in 2,808 as a player, assistant coach and head coach. What is even more impressive is Martin’s involvement in 2,067 of the 2,700 all-time victories at Florida State. In one way or another, Martin has been a part of more than 76.5% of FSU’s victories.”
Victory 1,800 pushed Martin into a group so select it includes just three others who have coached college baseball–two at the Division I level. Only one of the other three Texas’ Augie Garrido is still active. He has coached at the college level for 46 years, including stints at San Francisco State, Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton (twice), Illinois and Texas. Garrido’s overall record is 1,904-882-9. After Garrido, Gordie Gillespie notched 1,893 wins while coaching at Lewis, St. Francis (Ill.) and Ripon. Gene Stephenson guided Wichita State between 1978-2013 watching his Shockers compile a record of 1,837-675-3. None of the three can match Martin’s winning percentage of .743. The all-time winning percentage belongs to Cliff Gustafson, who coached at Texas between 1968-1996, compiling a record of 1,427-373-2 for a .792 mark.
Many individuals in sports downplay significant milestones. Not Martin.
“Sometimes numbers are just that,” Martin says. “I must admit it’s a great feeling to be associated with a program that has these numbers. It was more than Mike Martin that got the wins. Many were involved and I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
Yes there are losses but Martin views them as part of the learning experience.
“I love the word `unconquered’ which has become a huge part of the Florida State University vocabulary,” Martin says. “That word makes me proud. You might beat us but it’s going to take a lot more than our opponent wants to give. Seminoles are not going to give up. Seminoles will not throw in the towel no matter the score.
“We play hard and clean. We are going to battle. Baseball is not a war. It’s a game. The Seminoles are going to battle you for 27 outs, more if necessary. If we lose our goal is to play better tomorrow.”
Martin enjoyed immediate success as the head coach for his alma mater. His first 12 teams won no less than 50 games (most schools scheduled a minimum of 60 games in the 1980s when the season began in early or mid February).
Yet he will tell you something was missing in those early years. He was hard on his players and difficult for umpires if he thought it was necessary to get a point emphasized on what 11 believed was a missed call.
Long time Florida State observers recall a game at Florida where he was chased by an umpire after disputing a call at first base, eventually tossing the bag into the outfield. Others remember a disputed call at Troy State where 11 was not only ejected but FSU lost a 20-game winning streak when the umpires declared the game a forfeit.
His demeanor changed following the 1985 season when the Seminoles were bounced from the NCAA Regional Tournament played in Tallahassee.
“We were winning but I realized I was not a very good leader for the men I was coaching,” Martin recalls. “It was my way or the highway. I was not setting a good example for my players or the fans.”
Christianity became a vital element of Martin’s life.
“I reassessed my life from the standpoint of what was really important,” Martin told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I tried to get more involved with learning about Christianity. I had been raised as a Christian, but my relationship with the Lord was more superficial.
“As a result of my studying…I became more relaxed, and more sensitive to the players.”
One example came earlier this season when the Saturday game with Notre Dame was in a weather delay and the players from both teams engaged in some non-baseball hijinks that had the crowd cheering. It started with the teams “bowling”, where players rolled a baseball from one dugout to the other attempting to knock down stacked cups. FSU players also lined up in a football formation with quarterback/closer Jameis Winston tossing a touchdown pass. Notre Dame staged a BBQ pig roast.
“In my early years as head coach I may have allowed it, but probably would not have enjoyed it. Now I sat back and laughed watching college kids being creative. I can’t remember laughing that hard while in uniform. It was college guys having fun.”
Martin did admit he probably would not have enjoyed the entertainment as much if either Miami or Florida was in the opposite dugout. He doubts the head coach at either school would have allowed the playful games to begin.
At times, the pre- 1985 side still exists but rarely in public. He can’t remember the last time he was tossed by an umpire.
“This year when the NCAA suspended DJ Stewart for four games after a bumping incident against Florida I lost it,” Martin recalls. “Luckily I was at home by myself and nobody was watching or listening. When I made it to the office I was calm and very few people who saw me that day knew how unhappy I was.”
11 also tells the story of how he reacted after the Seminoles lost 3 consecutive games at Clemson immediately before the start of the 2002 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. The next four days the Seminoles practiced starting at 5:30 a.m. The same losing scenario took place in the 2010 season.
“I honestly did not know what I was going to do after we lost the third game,” Martin says. “I was driving my own car between Clemson and Greensboro and the only person with me was Carol. I prayed asking for help in deciding the right thing to do. We did not practice. Instead we secured a ballroom at our hotel where players, coaches and staff played poker for two hours and everyone left happy. Later in the week we won the conference championship.”
Players are the focus of Martin’s coaching world. FSU is the only school to produce four Golden Spikes winners–outfielder Mike Fuentes (1981), pitcher Mike Loynd (1986), outfielder J.D. Drew (1987) and catcher Buster Posey (2008).–since the award was established in 1978. Most consider the honor equivalent to football’s Heisman Trophy. All-American and other national and regional honors are too numerous to mention here.
Do not ever think, however, that 11, who got the name from outfielder Jim Busby in 1974, is going to select his all-time favorite Seminole.
“I will not go there,” he replied when asked to name a player who he would select if starting a program from scratch. “How could I not name Mike Fuentes, who was cut from the program when he walked on as a freshman? I still marvel at everything that was done by Luis Alicea. The work of Buster Posey can’t be ignored, nor that of James Ramsey, who was one of the best campus leaders this school has ever had. Gage Smith can’t be forgotten. He was a Florida State nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship. Those names are just the start. It’s impossible for me to single out one individual.”
Martin does not cut corners. Academics is not a byproduct of being a Florida State baseball player. The cumulative team grade point average is normally in the 3.0 range.
“When a young man joins our program the first priority is to get an education,” 11 says. “The second objective is to play baseball.”
It’s easy to document the baseball highlights. This is just the beginning…
Most would expect that Martin’s biggest disappointment is that the Seminoles have never returned from Omaha and the College World Series with a national championship.
“Winning the national championship is not our focus when we start practice in the fall,” 11 says. “Our goal is to get to Omaha. I am the happiest every season when we have won the Super Regional Tournament and know later that week we will board a plane for Omaha. Only eight teams get that opportunity each year.
“The goal changes when we arrive in Omaha. We want to win the national championship and will play our best. Seven other teams are playing for the same thing. We have come close but thus far other teams have been better. Ask any player who has been here at Florida State. Their main baseball objective every year is to play in Omaha.”
Martin never experienced the opportunity to play in Omaha. As a player in 1965 he purposely leaned into a pitch to reach base at Clemson and broke his arm. It ended his season but he still traveled to the World Series and watched FSU lose two of three games.
“The NCAA would only allow schools to travel with players who were on the active roster,” Martin says. “A school was not permitted to pay expenses for a student athlete who was not active. Someone, and to this day I don’t know who, paid for my ticket and expenses to travel with the team.”
The following year FSU lost in the District 3 playoffs in Gastonia, N.C. As a player Martin batted .352 with 62 RBI in those two seasons.
Following his senior year, Martin was drafted and played three years in the organizations of the New York Mets and Detroit Tigers. Among his teammates were future Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, future major league managers Jim Leyland and Gene Lamont and MLB all star outfielder Ken Singleton, who today is a broadcaster for the New York Yankees YES cable network and was part of the home plate ceremony this year when the Yankees entertained Florida State in a Tampa exhibition game.
Following the brief tour of duty in the minor leagues, the Martin family settled in Tallahassee. Mike taught and coached at Cobb elementary and Godby high school. He also had a very brief stint as the first head basketball coach at Tallahassee Community College.
“We never finished the season,” Martin says. “In January we were down to just seven active players with more than half the season remaining. We competed but did not win many games. The school president decided to end our season. It was a huge disappointment.”
The call to rejoin the Florida State program came in the fall of 1974 from Woody Woodward. He was teaching at Cobb but would join Woodward in the afternoon. His salary was $2,000 and he received $500 increases in each of the next two years. He was hired as Florida State’s full time assistant in 1978 while also taking a teaching role in the physical education department. When Woodward departed prior to the 1979 season, Dick Howser, a former FSU All American who coached third base for the Yankees took the assignment for one year.
In the fall of 1979, Howser returned to the Yankees as the manager. It was Martin’s turn to step into the lead role. Since the day he was informed by President Bernie Sliger he would be the next head coach for Florida State University baseball Martin’s mantra for his team and players has remained the same…”LET’S PLAY BETTER TOMORROW.”