Ron Fraser’s impact on college baseball carried far from between the white lines.
Fraser, who died Sunday, built Miami into a national power on the field but it was his innovative marketing ideas that helped increase the college game’s popularity nationwide.
Skip Bertman worked for Fraser for eight years as an assistant before heading to Louisiana State. Borrowing many of the things he learned from Fraser, Bertman established a program that would go on to win seven national championships.
“The stuff I did here early on were the same things Ron did to build his program in Miami,” Bertman said Sunday by phone from Baton Rouge, La. “We brought in the San Diego Chicken, we had a money scramble on the field, we had a coaches committee that helped us raise money.
“In my mind, he did more for college baseball than anyone that ever lived. He showed athletic directors that if the ballpark was clean, the food was good, the coffee was hot and the tickets were reasonably priced that people would come out to watch college baseball.”
Of course, it also helped that Fraser’s teams could play. He won 1,271 games and never had a losing season in a three-decade career that ended at the 1992 College World Series. After getting to Omaha for the first time in 1974, he brought 11 other Hurricane teams to the CWS, winning national championships in 1982 and 1985.
“Ron didn’t always get credit for it but he was a good baseball man,” Bertman said. “He knew the game, he was extraordinarily good at judging talent, and he was an excellent motivator.”
But Fraser’s real genius was in promoting his program and college baseball. He took over the Miami program in 1963 with a $2,200 salary, a converted shower for an office and a pasture for a field. College baseball was not a revenue generating sport, even for successful programs, so Fraser got creative.
From raffling car batteries to bikini nights to even offering nine-course gourmet meals on the infield of the team’s stadium, Fraser had ideas that even he called crazy. His unusual ways proved successful in building the Miami into one of the best-known brands in college baseball.
“I was more interested in getting people in the stands,” Fraser once said, “because I knew we’d never be really successful unless we made money.”
Fraser led the push to get college baseball on national television. He was named national coach of the year three times and coached numerous national teams, including the 1992 Olympic squad.
“Coach Fraser is the most influential person in my career and the man who put college baseball on the map,” current Miami coach Jim Morris said. “He is like a father to me.”
Fraser was born and raised in New Jersey and attended college at Florida State — one of Miami’s arch-rivals.
Family spokesman Tony Segreto said Fraser died Sunday morning. He had battled Alzheimer’s disease for many years. It was believed that Fraser was 79, though his family’s statement did not release his age or other private matters, including a cause of death.
Bertman said he had not seen Fraser for two years because of his disease. A daughter, Liz, kept Bertman updated of her father’s condition.
Fraser’s daughter called Bertman early Sunday morning.
“I looked at the caller ID, and I knew right away that the news must be bad,” Bertman said. “I got to spend eight wonderful years with him at Miami, and I would have never been able to accomplish what I did had it not been for him.
“He might not have won the most games or championships, but he did what no one else did. He did it by himself. Ron Fraser was a stand-up guy, a man of great vision. He was 30 years ahead of his time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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