Friedlander: Mike Martin's success at Florida State was built on much more than just wins
There are 2 ways of judging someone’s success in life.
One is through his resume.
And Mike Martin had a stellar one.
The Florida State baseball legend won 2,029 games in his 40 seasons as a college coach, more than anyone in the history of the sport. Although he never won a College World Series title, he got the Seminoles to the NCAA Tournament in every season he was with the program.
He meant so much to the program and its school that the field at Howser Stadium is named in his honor.
But for all he accomplished professionally, it’s the other method of judging success in which Martin truly stands out.
It’s in how others speak of him.
Not just his friends and those in his inner circle. But in his case, all those rival coaches he spent years beating the daylights out of.
The messages of condolence they left on social media upon the news of Martin’s death at the age of 79 on Thursday were more than just the standard “thoughts and prayers” for his family and memory.
Virginia’s Brian O’Connor, a Hall of Famer himself, NC State’s Elliott Avent, Duke’s Chris Pollard just to name a few, all posted messages with a similar theme.
“I’m grateful for the way he treated me as a young coach coming into the ACC 21 years ago,” O’Connor wrote.
“I will always remember how good he was to me when I got to the ACC as a young coach,” echoed Pollard.
The Duke baseball family sends our deepest condolences to @FSUBaseball and the Martin family on the passing of Coach Mike Martin.
Rest in peace, 11. pic.twitter.com/mLAZfeIXNn
— Duke Baseball (@DukeBASE) February 2, 2024
Avent went even further. He referred to Martin as a dear friend and mentor.
He said one of the greatest honors of his own standout coaching career came when he learned of a memento Martin kept prominently displayed.
“His son told me there’s a picture of me and him together (hanging) in his house,” Avent said. “That makes me smile.”
Martin was a master recruiter who had an eye for talent. That’s illustrated by the multitude of future Major Leagues who played for him in Tallahassee.
It’s a star-studded lineup that includes the likes of Buster Posey, JD Drew, Doug Mientkiewicz and Cal Raleigh. Current FSU coach Link Jarrett also played for him.
Martin was also a skilled in-game tactician who knew exactly which buttons to push at just the right time.
As generous as he was in sharing his knowledge of the game with others, his greatest gift to his younger coaching counterparts was the example he set by the way he handled himself once the final out was recorded.
“He was as good a competitor as I’ve ever seen,” Avent said. “He wanted to win more than everything. But he knew how to win with dignity and learned how to lose with grace.”
More importantly, the man who became known simply as “11” because of the number he wore on his Seminoles jersey both as a star outfielder in the mid-1960s and as their coach held everyone involved with his program to the same standard.
“He does it the right way,” O’Connor said in 2019, prior to Martin’s final visit to Charlottesville before retiring. “How he talks to the players, how he runs the program … he treats everyone with respect. He’s your classic Southern gentleman.”
— FSU Baseball (@FSUBaseball) February 1, 2024
Martin’s ability to communicate was one of his greatest strengths. But that only made his diagnosis of Lewy body dementia in 2021, 2 years after he retired from the dugout, that much more difficult for him and those around him.
He spent his final days at a memory care facility and entered hospice care in mid-January.
Next Saturday, Florida State will hold a public memorial service for “11” on the field named in his honor. It’s a good bet the stands for his celebration of life will be as full – and as full of love – as they were for the celebrations sparked by his team’s many victories.
That, in retrospect, could be considered the most important victory of his career, which is saying something for a man whose team won more games than any coach in college baseball history.
“The wins and losses did not mean as much as much as making a positive difference in people’s lives,” Martin’s family wrote in a statement announcing his death. “He especially wanted Seminole fans to be proud of his ‘boys’ on and off the field.”