(This article was originally printed in the February 8, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball.)
By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Ron Fraser, the greatest innovator in college baseball history, died Jan. 20 at the age of 79 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Fraser guided the Miami Hurricanes’ baseball program for 30 seasons (1963-1992) and led the Hurricanes to the 1982 and 1985 College World Series titles, amassing a 1,271-438-9 record and ending his career as the second-winningest coach in NCAA history at the time.
Under his guidance, Miami never had a losing season. And that was amazing when you consider the Hurricanes didn’t have scholarships to give out during his first 10 years as head coach, except for a couple of partial tuitions.
But in 1973, that changed. Miami’s baseball program was granted 13 scholarships when the limit for NCAA Division I baseball programs at the time was 24. The following year in 1974, Miami qualified for the College World Series for the first time and finished second to Southern California which allowed the Hurricanes to be a major player on the national stage ever since.
When Fraser was hired in 1963, he earned $2,200 his first season, and the athletics director told him to try not to spend any money. He had to conserve every wooden bat and baseball he had at the time.
So he taped old balls, nailed broken wood bats back together and did something highly unusual to clean up dirty baseballs.He soaked them in Pet Evaporated Milk to make them white again.This world class skipper was named National Coach of The Year four times.
Fraser was unquestionably the greatest promoter in the history of the game. He was the force behind the most amazing promotions in college baseball history.
On Feb. 16, 1977, Fraser pulled off a $5,000 a plate dinner at Mark Light Stadium with the proceeds going toward Miami’s million dollar baseball complex, a magnificent facility at the time with permanent stands for 3,000 and total seating for crowds in excess of 5,000, lights for night play and artificial turf for all weather action.
Imagine being surrounded by lavish floral arrangements containing goldfish swimming and exotic birds chirping.
An internationally famous harpist serenaded as guests nibbled on some of the world’s great delicacies and sampled wines and liqueurs from every corner of the globe.
Couples attired in tuxedos and evening gowns sat down to a sumptuous 10-course gourmet meal, each attended to by their own waiter or waitress and entertained by a trio of strolling violinists.
It was one of the most widely publicized collegiate baseball events of all time with writers in attendance from Sweden, Japan and Germany. The honored guests, after being chauffeured to Mark Light’s centerfield opening in antique cars and transported to home plate via a tram, feasted as few ever have.
Four internationally known chefs, headed by Germany’s Wolfgang Diehl, prepared the exquisite selection of food.
The 24 honored guests dined on exotic dishes and drank imported beverages like Russian vodka, French champagne and wines from the world’s finest vineyards.
Other great promotions that Fraser orchestrated during his coaching career included:
$10,000 Money Scramble — Fraser was part owner of a local bank and arranged for a Brinks armored vehicle to drive into the infield area of Mark Light Stadium from the centerfield gate.
Policemen with shot guns and guard dogs were on the field as $10,000 was spread onto the field. Then a couple of lucky ticket winners from the crowd were allowed to grab as much money as they could during a certain amount of time.
Open Heart Surgery — A local doctor donated open heart surgery to a lucky winner which had to be used within a 5-year time span if the individual needed it.
Automobile give away — Six cars were given away during one incredible game. During one game, a Mercedes convertible worth approximately $56,000 was presented to a lucky ticket holder.
Tax Night — Anyone who brought in their 1040 forms would get in free. Tax experts were stationed in booths to answer questions and help complete forms. Completed tax returns then were dropped off at the stadium.
Trip To Nowhere — People came to Mark Light Field on a Friday night with their suitcases packed. Then the winning tickets would be announced, and the winners would jump in a limousine with their suitcases and be given a glass of champagne not knowing where they would go.
As they drove through the centerfield gate, the PA announcer would tell the crowd that winners would be taken to the airport to catch 9:30 p.m. flights to New York to see a show while others would go to Las Vegas.
Foot Promotion — A gentleman by the name of Edward T. Foote was named Miamiâ€™s new president, and Fraser thought it would be a good idea to draw a foot just before the front gate. If your foot was larger than the drawn foot, you got into the game for free.
Bikini Night — Ladies who wore bikinis got in free, but people who brought in binoculars or telescopes had to pay double. You would be surprised at the number of guys who gladly paid double during this promotion to view the bikini-clad women a little better.
Longest Sandwich, Sundae In World — People constructed the longest sandwich in the world as well as the longest sundae and fans in attendance got to eat them.
Miami Maniac’s Wedding — This wedding was carried on national television at Mark Light Field.
First Parachutist Into Stadium — Fraser utilized the first parachutist to drop into a ball park. But unfortunately, he missed the stadium with an unexpected wind gust. Because of the miscalculation by the parachutist, Fraser refused to let him in the ball park for free. He had to pay to get in.
Eating Contests — One fan captured the Oyster Eating Contest as he gobbled up a couple of dozen oysters in a short period of time. Another person won a pizza eating contest and devoured a huge amount of food.
Promotions For Kids, Women — Promotions were always family oriented. Several involved having clowns and toy giveaways. Promotions targeted for women were also done with facials, dresses and special trips given away.
If this wasn’t enough, Fraser introduced bat girls to the game of baseball, was the first college baseball coach to hire the San Diego Chicken for a promotion and was instrumental in getting college baseball televised. Fraser was also known as a superb teacher of baseball and a great evaluator and recruiter of baseball talent.
He led Miami to 20 consecutive NCAA Regional berths and 12 College World Series appearances. More than 100 of his former players went on to play professionally in Major League Baseball.
Fraser also enjoyed international success in leading the U.S. National Team to a Silver Medal at the 1987 Pan American Games. He also served as head coach of the first U.S. Olympic baseball team in 1992.
Fraser came to the University of Miami in 1963 after serving as the coach of the Dutch National Team for three years, winning three European Champions.
His international reputation earned him the job at Miami, succeeding Whitney Campbell.
A three-year letter winner at Florida State from 1954-56, Fraser’s uniform No. 1 was officially retired on April 24, 1993, at Mark Light Field. He was a member of 10 Halls of Fame, including the inaugural class of the College Baseball Foundation Hall of Fame in 2006.
On the field, Fraser is famous for two special games — The Grand Illusion against Wichita St. during the 1982 College World Series and the championship game of the 1979 World Championships as head coach for Team USA.
This historic play that took place during the 1982 College World Series will always be remembered as the greatest sting operation in CWS history.
Miami, Fla. had just taken a 4-3 lead against Wichita St. in the top of the sixth.
All-American Phil Stephenson of the Shockers came to bat in the bottom of the sixth for WSU and promptly walked. He had swiped 86 bases in 91 attempts to set an NCAA record.
Everyone knew Stephenson was about to try and steal second base. Several leisurely tosses back to first base got the desired result — Stephenson diving back.
A special play was flashed to the Miami defense by the Hurricane Associate Head Coach Skip Bertman by sticking a finger in his ear, a maneuver which pitcher Mike Kasprzak repeated to clue his teammates in on the play.
Once Kasprzak received the ball back from his first baseman, he stepped off the pitching rubber and made a quick motion to first base as if he had thrown the ball. But the ball was still in his glove.
Again, Stephenson dove back to first. But this time, first baseman Steve Lusby dove over Stephenson’s outstretched legs in a remarkable acting job as he tried to snag the “wild throw”. Lusby cursed his displeasure and started sprinting toward the right field bullpen.
Right on cue, the Miami bullpen pitchers, catchers and bat girls located in the right field bullpen scattered as if the ball was coming toward them. Reliever Dan Smith and catcher Bob Walker leaped up as if to avoid being hit by a ball.
Shortstop Bill Wrona forlornly covered second base and looked in the distance at the bullpen commotion. Kasprzak shrugged his shoulders as if he had indeed thrown the ball away. The Hurricane dugout yelled, “Go! Go! Go!” Undoubtedly, it was one of the finest choreographed plays in baseball history.
“I looked back and saw the first baseman diving,” explained Phil Stephenson after the game.
“I saw the Miami second baseman (Mitch Seoane) and their rightfielder (Mickey Williams) running toward the right field bullpen as the Miami players and bat girls scattering. I assumed the ball must have got stuck in the screen or under a chair.”
Naturally, Stephenson took the bait and ran to second base as any normal person would. As he raced toward second base, Kasprzak took the ball from his glove behind the pitcher’s mound and tossed it to shortstop Billy Wrona who tagged the flabbergasted Stephenson for an out which effectively stopped the rally.
Pandemonium reigned as Wichita St. coaches and players protested to no avail.
.50-Calber Machine Guns
One game that Fraser enjoyed telling everyone about was the championship game of the 1979 World Championships when he was the head coach for Team USA.
“During the 1979 World Championships in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, we were not all that welcome,” Fraser told Collegiate Baseball in 1992. “The Communists had taken over, and there was a tremendous amount of anti-American sentiment.
“In the championship game against Cuba, we had .50-caliber machine guns on top of our dugout. We had 17 soldiers with automatic weapons in our dugout. The Communists bought out all the tickets to that game against Cuba, and the Dominican government tried to buy back all the tickets. They said the tickets were no good and would re-issue them.
“Then there was an abrupt strike and glass littered the road to the baseball stadium. There were very few vehicles moving after the strike. Television officials from CBS were there and were being pelted by the fans. The CBS folks wanted to come into the dugout, but the Green Berets would not allow them in. A guy from the American Embassy comes in the dugout and tells me we have to play the game.
“I told him there was no way I would play this game with a .50-calibre machine gun sitting on top of our dugout and soldiers in the dugout and everyone in the stands being checked for weapons.
“He told me not to worry. He told me after the game we will have a bus with soldiers on it which will take us to a deserted motel out at the airport with food and blankets there.
“He told me that we have 2,000-3,000 Marines in the Caribbean, and they can be here in 25 minutes. I laughed and told him that may be true, but we will all be dead.”
The Cubans won, 1-0.
“After the final out, the Cubans went nuts. They carried the Cuban flag and paraded it around. People in the stands burned the American flag. We ultimately went to the airport, and it was a convoy. Military personnel escorted us to the airport. Every soldier had pump guns, and machine guns were on top of the vehicles.
“They reported to each other back and forth on what route to take to the airport. We got back safe and sound.”
The life and times of Ron Fraser.