CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Ron Fraser, the longtime Miami baseball coach who won two national championships with the Hurricanes and whose innovative marketing ideas helped spark a surge in the college game’s popularity, has died.
Family spokesman Tony Segreto said Fraser died Sunday morning. Fraser, known as “the wizard of college baseball,” 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.
Fraser led Miami to national titles in 1982 and 1985, taking the Hurricanes to the College World Series 12 times over his 30 years at the school. He retired in 1992 with 1,271 wins, never having a losing season in his three decades overseeing the program.
His legacy, however, may be what he did to promote the game.
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, as the Hurricanes not only became a winner on the field, but one of the best-known brands in college baseball.
“I was more interested in getting the people in the stands,” Fraser once said, “because I knew we’d never be really successful unless we made money.”
Fraser also played a key role in getting baseball on national television. And now, the College World Series — the entire NCAA tournament, really — is a mainstay on TV, as are hundreds of regular-season games annually.
Fraser was named NCAA coach of the year three times and coached numerous national teams — including the 1992 Olympic team.
“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 last year. “He is like a father to me.”
Fraser was born and raised in New Jersey, then attended Florida State, where he’s a member of the Seminoles’ Hall of Fame.
His induction there really had very little to do with his athletic achievements in Tallahassee.
“Florida State University is proud to honor a former athlete who more recently has become a distinguished opponent,” read the text of his induction into that Hall of Fame in 1981. “A brilliant promoter and coach, he has advanced collegiate baseball at the University of Miami, across Florida and across the nation.”
That’s how well thought of Fraser was: The Seminoles put an arch rival in their Hall of Fame.
Fraser took over at Miami in 1963 with a $2,200 salary, a converted shower for an office and a cow pasture for a field. College baseball was not a revenue generating sport, even for successful programs, so Fraser got creative.
Giveaways, parachutists, whatever he could think of, it all was part of Fraser’s plan to entice more people to come see his team.
“My whole thing was to entertain the people. People said it was the winning, but I was trying to entertain the people so they would come back,” Fraser said around the time his coaching career ended. “I did a lot of crazy things and it worked.”
Attendance at Miami grew over a seven-year span from 33,000 a season to 90,000. And in 1981, the Hurricanes set a record with 163,261 fans — over 3,200 per game. Attendance dipped below 100,000 only once for the remainder of Fraser’s tenure.
After eight straight winning seasons to start off his tenure at Miami, the Hurricanes finally broke through with the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1971. In 1982, the Hurricanes swept through five games in Omaha, clinching the school’s first national title with a 9-3 win over Wichita State.
Three seasons later, the Hurricanes won their second championship, beating Texas twice in three days for the 1985 crown. That team finished with a school record 64 wins.
And to think — Fraser’s run at Miami almost didn’t get started.
With the athletic department in dire straits in the early 1970’s, the school elected to cut one program. Football was lousy, basketball was worse and baseball — though far more successful than the others — didn’t make money.
“We were going to have to let one of them go,” Fraser said.
He fully expected baseball to be the program that got cut. So in a last-ditch effort, Fraser called in some favors. Baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial, major league broadcaster Joe Garagiola and other notables showed up at a beach benefit banquet that impressed the school. In 1972, the university dropped basketball instead of baseball.
Fraser made the move pay off, finally leading Miami to its first College World Series appearance in 1974.
“On the field and off, Ron Fraser showed how one man can make a difference,” acting Miami athletic director Blake James said. “The University of Miami, South Florida and college baseball are all better because of him.”
One of his best teams would see Fraser out. The Hurricanes went 55-10 in 1992, winning their first two games in Omaha before being eliminated, ending his tenure.
“It’s the dream of all coaches to have the opportunity to leave when things are going well,” Fraser said.
Fraser was involved with many community and charity organizations after his retirement. Miami officials said he had three children and five grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
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