Former Arizona State baseball coach Jim Brock invented slogans to motivate his Sun Devil teams.
“There will be kicks in ’86.”
“Omaha and more in ’84.”
“Staying Late in ’88,” which was a reference to ASU's “0-2 and barbecue” performance in the 1987 College World Series.
Pat Murphy has his own catchphrase. Only this one's been dreamed up for him, not by him:
“Omaha or Bust.”
Never mind that the Sun Devils came within one game of the College World Series last season.
Or that they've been ranked among the top 12 teams nationally four of the last seven seasons. Or that they haven't lost a season series to Arizona since Murphy's arrival in 1995.
That won't get Murphy a cup of coffee from ASU's demanding baseball fans. Their bottom line is top-heavy: The Sun Devils haven't won a national championship in Murphy's nine seasons, and they've reached the CWS just once, in 1998.
Hovering, as always, is the combined record of Murphy's legendary predecessors — Brock and Bobby Winkles: a combined 17 trips to Omaha and five national championships.
It's enough to make a grown coach fly off the handle.
“I've said this a million times and I know I sound defensive, but this is a new era in college baseball,” Murphy said. “These aren't the 1966 Sun Devils. These are the 2004 Sun Devils.
“This is a different time. You're not going to go to Omaha every year. We want to. We've been knocking on the door. It's not like we can't. But it's not going to be the benchmark of whether we're good or not.
“You hope someone would realize that if any other program in the state did what we were doing, they would be held in high esteem. We're not because of the championships they (the Sun Devils) won in the ’60s and ’70s. I'm to the point where I'm like, ‘Who cares?’ ”
In one respect, Murphy's rant is self-serving. He knew the score when he set foot on campus in 1995. The bar had been set, and it wasn't going to be lowered. One trip to Omaha in nine seasons isn't an “A” on the report card.
But there's also an element of truth in his comments. It isn't 1966 anymore. College baseball has changed. Scholarship limitations, the 64-team NCAA tournament field and an increased emphasis on the sport nationwide —
Southwest Missouri State built a $30 million stadium, for example — has blurred the line between the haves and have-nots.
To expect Omaha to be on ASU's itinerary every summer is unrealistic.
(Stanford is the exception to the rule because, as a private school, it can raise more revenue to pay for scholarships. And ask yourself this question: What does ASU have that Stanford doesn't?)
“Everybody talks about our tradition, but these kids don't know who Reggie Jackson is,” Murphy said.
“Our goals don't change. Our expectations don't change. But we're certainly not going to let these kids walk out of here after three years and say, ‘You didn't go to Omaha so you were a (expletive-deleted) group.’ And I don't want to hear some guy from the 1980s talking about (Murphy switches to a gravelly voice), ‘Well, when I was there, we went twice to Omaha.’
“Compare apples to apples. We have one of the best programs in the country.”
The constant criticism of Murphy is also surprising in that the baseball program is the least of ASU's problems. The football team finished tied for eighth in the Pac-10. The basketball team finished last and didn't qualify for the conference tournament. Yet there's a cadre of fans who want to run Murphy out of town because he doesn't pack a road map to Omaha.
“I'll put up my success locally against any other coach in the state,” Murphy said. “But there's always 25 people who write letters to the editor who don't like me or try to make life miserable for me because they know it's a sore spot.”
ASU begins a three-game series against Stanford today that will determine the Pac-10 championship. The Sun Devils (39-14) have successfully navigated the toughest schedule in the country and are guaranteed a fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
To those Winkles and Brock devotees who sniff at such an accomplishment, another slogan:
“It's ’04, and they're not here anymore.”