Nole Digest: You like to play real baseball, as opposed to what the college game became for a while there, when it was a lot of Earl Weaver's influence: pitching, defense and three-run homers. Have the new bat regulations brought the sport back to how you want to play it?
Mike Martin: Well, it's changed the game, no doubt about it. You're less prone to say, "OK, we got the man on first and [James] Ramsey is two hitters away, and you bunt that guy to advance him to second and you've got one out now. That doesn't automatically ensure that James is going to hit with a runner in scoring position because they can always get that next out for the second out, and here comes Ramsey with a man on second base and they put him on [with an intentional walk]. So there still is so much that goes through your mind. You feel like the bunt is the best thing. But, dadgum, give your man a chance to hit.
I manage by feel. I manage to where we are in the ballgame, what they've got in the ‘pen. ... But there have been times that we have bunted with first and second, nobody out, third hitter at the plate and that third hitter might have been Ramsey. If we're left on left and that guy's pretty darn good, we're gonna bunt there with Ramsey.
ND: Five, 10 years ago, when the game was getting out of control, especially in Omaha, where teams were hitting five, six, seven home runs per game, how difficult was it to manage the way you wanted to manage? "The Animals" didn't always like it, I'll tell you that.
MM: You just have to do what you feel is best for your team. You can't manage for popular reasons. There's two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning. If the pitcher's not getting it done, he's coming out of the ballgame. If I say, "Let's give him one more [out] so he can get a win," and he walks two guys and we end up getting beat, then it was stupid on my part because I let my feelings get in the way.
I'm going to manage the game exactly the way I feel is best, and I'm never going to be influenced by anything or anybody. I can't be. If I get beat, I'm going to get beat the way I'm comfortable. And James Ramsey may bunt a couple of times this year first and second, nobody out, left-handed hitter, we're in a big ballpark, the wind's blowing in. I mean, to say, "No way," that's bull. But I do like to play to where you move runners with a bunt, you hit and run.
I guess it's kinda like a football coach. If you run the option and you can't throw and you get two touchdowns behind, you know when you're beat. You're beat when you're inside four minutes and they've got the ball. You can't throw, so that means you've gotta run the option and score twice, and you don't have the ball and there's four minutes left to go in the game. Anyway, we're still going to go for big innings, even with the bat. You have to be able to do that. If you're two runs behind in the eighth inning and you know what he's got to come at you, and all of the sudden Rammer comes up first and second in a two-run ball game, they have got the righty on the mound and the lefty hasn't thrown, you ain't bunting Ramsey. Here's your chance to do something. He's gonna get the entire at bat. It may not work out for you, but you still gotta do what you think is best there.
ND: What do people think they know about you or your program that isn't true?
MM: They think I can play golf well (laughs). As much as I play, you'd think I would be better than I am.
I've never tried to hide anything. I believe in being myself, and I know that baseball, of all the sports, the coach is going to get criticized because to me it still is the American pastime. We know when we should take a pitcher out. We know when we should take a shortstop out. But the coach is the one that has to have a feel for the game.
Many people that follow this great game think that a third base coach tells a man when to run home when the ball gets by the catcher. You would be shocked how many people think that's the third base coach's responsibility. Or a man that hits a ground ball to the shortstop and the ball gets by [him], they'll blame the first base coach for not telling the man to go to second. People have no idea how much time we spend teaching our base runners to know where the ball is and make your own decision. How about the base hit to left-center field? The base runner is on first, and he comes tearing into second base and about 20 feet from the bag looks at the third base coach. You won't play for me if you do that. Is the third base coach gonna yell at you, "How you feel? You running well today? How good's the arm of the left fielder? Well, I tell you what, when you think of those things, you make your decision!" He has to make his decision on his own by knowing those things that I just yelled at you.
It's like a quarterback dropping back for a pass. Jimbo [Fisher] doesn't tell that quarterback when to start running. That quarterback knows when he needs to start running. It's instinct. It's concentration. It's "No, I gotta get outta here." [An] offensive lineman doesn't yell, "I just threw a lookout block! Take off, man!"
Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.
A conversation with Mike Martin, Pt. II
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