It was pretty surreal sitting in the press box at Founders Park Friday night going through a barrage of tweets slamming Chad Holbrook and his USC baseball program. At the time the Gamecocks were losing to Missouri 4-1 midway through their series opener. It was a game they would ultimately come back to win in a series they would ultimately sweep. As the tweets rolled in Friday night the Gamecocks were sitting on 30 wins and on top of the SEC standings. They are having a great season, even by the program’s lofty standards, yet the negative tweets kept coming.
Here’s a taste of those tweets.
— Calvin (@Calvin_Lake) April 23, 2016
@KMacMustDie like all Media in this town you ignore trends. 3 years and team still.looks flat way too often. Not going to win another series
— Jeff Kahrs (@jeffkahrs) April 23, 2016
@KMacMustDie no doubt it’s a roller coaster. Just think lineup could be even better. Winning ugly doesn’t work in postseason usually.
— RALace (@ralace22) April 23, 2016
You can go back through the whole exchange, but it is a rabbit hole that I must warn you go down at your own peril. Here’s the thing. I don’t get it. Aren’t fans supposed to enjoy the ride when they have a baseball team that is contending for an SEC Championship, ranked in the top 10 in every major poll and putting itself in position for a top eight national seed? Sure they have some tough games ahead, but they’ve played some pretty tough ones, too. And won a bunch of them.
But that’s not good enough, apparently. Because, you know, they didn’t win ALL OF THE GAMES. Like North Carolina? How could they lose to North Carolina? 15-0 no less. Two weeks later fans are still griping about this game because apparently losing to the Tar Heels, a top 20 program and perennial power, is “unacceptable” at South Carolina.
Here’s a comment we received yesterday on this site. Keep in mind this came in after USC had swept Missouri to improve to 33-8 and 14-4 in the SEC.
We lost 15 – 0 to UNC in Charlotte…..we lost 2 out of 3 to Clemson and 2 out of 3 to Georgia. I love the Fighting Gamecocks more than anybody here in NJ but like they say in Missouri, “The Show Me” State……While our overall record is very good, losing to UNC in a rout and losing to Clemson and Georgia are downers for sure. Get to Omaha and then I’d consider the season a success. Founders Park is perhaps the finest college baseball venue in the country. Fan support is rabid. Yet, I don’t see many players coming out of the NJ while UNC recruits NJ very well. What is the problem…..we should be recruiting more kids from the northeast in general and NJ in particular. —Alan P
How do you even unpack this? I guess I will try. Here’s is what I think Alan is trying to say: “Sure we have a great record, but WTF? WE LOST TO NORTH CAROLINA! Sure we swept Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri, but WHAT IN THE WORLD WERE WE THINKING AGAINST CLEMSON AND GEORGIA!?!? Look, if this team gets to Omaha, great. If not, this is all a waste and a TOTAL FAILURE. Oh yeah, WHY THE HELL AREN’T WE RECRUITING MORE KIDS FROM NEW JERSEY, CHAD?”
Now that we have shared some of the Chad Holbrook #HotTakes from a few fans, let’s go through the top gripes the Holbrook haters cite when ripping him.
“The program has gotten worse every year! “They were in Omaha the year before Holbrook took over, then lost in a Super Regional the next year, in a Regional the year after that, and then missed the postseason all together! It is a sinking ship!”
Okay, you’ve got me. Kinda. Yes, the Gamecocks have dipped since their last trip to the College World Series. That shouldn’t be a shock. The program only had one direction to go from a run that included three straight trips to the CWS that led to back-to-back-titles and a runner-up finish. At one point the Gamecocks won 22 straight postseason games. That is unheard of. Holbrook was in a no win spot. He was not only replacing a legend, but one who went out on top. Joe Torre wasn’t going to top that run. No one was. It was going to “slip” a bit from there. It had to.
The fact of the matter is programs, even high caliber ones, have to re-calibrate from time to time. Tanner knows this. After three straight trips to Omaha from 2002-2004 the Gamecocks lost on the road in an NCAA Regional in Atlanta. Then they were bounced in Super Regionals the next two years. After that they lost road Regionals in Raleigh and Greenville, N.C. the following two years. It took Tanner, a Hall of Fame coach, five whole seasons to get the Gamecocks back to Omaha after taking them there three straight years. You see? Making that trip to Middle America isn’t as easy it looks.
“Fine. But Ray Tanner didn’t miss the postseason in any of those years. Missing the postseason is unacceptable at a program like this.”
I agree, missing the postseason is and should be unacceptable at a program like South Carolina. No one is arguing that. Chad Holbrook certainly isn’t. He took full responsibility for what happened and vowed to get it fixed. I think, based on the results we’ve seen this year, you can make a strong case that he has. Does that mean this team is going to go to Omaha? Not necessarily. But there’s no question they are exceeding expectations. This is a team that didn’t have a single player on the preseason 1st or 2nd All-SEC team yet is currently leading the conference standings.
Last season was a bust. There’s not denying that. Fans had every right to demand better. With that said, you can’t hold last season against Holbrook and not give him credit for what he’s done this year. He’s having a “Coach of the Year” type of season yet some of his own fans still think he’s in over his head.
“Alright, KMac. You are really starting to get on my nerves now. Holbrook doesn’t get the importance of rivalries. Losing to Clemson, Georgia and North Carolina is not going to cut it. Sorry, you can’t defend that.”
Actually, I can. This is sports, more specifically, it’s baseball. You ha..
“KMac! Stop patronizing me! I know what sport we are talking about!”
Okay, okay. Calm down inanimate voice that I’ve created for the purpose of this exercise. What I am saying is baseball scores, more than any other sport, are irrelevant when it comes to margin of victory or defeat. It’s why you never hear someone predict the score of a baseball game, or even by how much they think a team will win. No one says, “The Dodgers are going to beat the Yankees tonight by four runs tonight.” Sometimes a game, like that North Carolina match up, gets out of hand when a coach realizes it is a lost cause and opts to save his best pitchers for the next game. Sometimes you run into a hot pitcher. Sometimes it’s just not your night. The good thing is a single loss in baseball isn’t the same as a single loss in football or basketball. In football, you only get 12 games so of course every one of them is critical. You get little more leeway in basketball because you play more games, but the losses to get out of the single digits for the elite team. In baseball, even the best teams lose double digit games. Some of those losses come against teams that you think have no business beating you. You know who Ray Tanner lost to his final season, a season the Gamecocks went to Omaha and played for a national championship? Francis Marion, that’s who. That same year they lost to the College of Charleston and were swept at Kentucky. The year before they lost to Furman, Citadel and twice to Georgia. That team went on to win the CWS. It’s baseball, you are going to scuffle at times and you are going to lose. No other sport is as big picture as baseball. Too many fans look at baseball with a college football mentality.
Fine. Holbrook needs to get to Omaha though. It’s all about the College World Series.”
That’s the goal, but not making it there doesn’t mean it’s a failure. I think it is unfair that some people cite a game three Super Regional loss at North Carolina, where the Gamecocks were a pitch or two away from a trip to Omaha, as a knock on Holbrook. That is a great season that for some reason people cite as part of the evidence he’s not doing a good job. Holbrook is bringing in top flight talent, but that doesn’t guarantee a trip to Omaha. Some of the Gamecocks all-time best players never touched the field in Omaha. Kip Bouknight didn’t pitch in a College World Series. Justin Smoak didn’t go. Reese Havens also didn’t see Rosenblatt Stadium. A Gamecock team that was 56-10 and the number one national seed didn’t even make it to Omaha! None of this happened because Ray Tanner didn’t know what he was doing. It’s just, you know, baseball. The other teams have pretty good players, too.
It’s a free country and fans are free to feel whatever they want about their team. My friendly suggestion would be to enjoy the ride when your team is doing well. It is okay to be bummed out when you lose, but if that disappointment involves firing of a #FireHolbrook tweet, you aren’t doing it right.