Harvard’s Walsh, Who Led Baseball Team for 17 Years, Dies

Harvard University Baseball Coach Joe Walsh
Coach Joe Walsh offers some advice to captain Hal Carey during a game against Princeton on May 8, 1999. Photographer: Jon Chase/Harvard via Bloomberg

Harvard University baseball coach Joe Walsh, who guided the Crimson to five Ivy League championships over his 17 seasons at the school, died at his home in Chester, New Hampshire. He was 58.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based university said in a statement that Walsh passed away “suddenly.” It didn’t disclose a cause of death. Walsh is survived by his wife, Sandra, and the couple’s four daughters.

“He was full of personality and full of life,” said Brendan Byrne, who was the captain of Harvard’s baseball team in 2007 and now works in institutional sales at Vertical Research Partners LLC in Manhattan. “He had two great passions and they were his family and baseball.”

Walsh had a 569-564-3 record in 32 years as a college coach, including a 347-388-2 mark at Harvard.

“This is a tragic day for everyone associated with Harvard athletics, Massachusetts baseball and the larger baseball community,” Harvard Director of Athletics Bob Scalise said in a statement on the school’s website.

In 1996, Walsh became Harvard’s first full-time baseball coach and the next season guided the Crimson to a 34-16 record and their first Ivy League title since 1985. The following season, he led the Crimson to a school-record 36-12 record and No. 24 national ranking. Those successes led Walsh to be named the Northeast Region Division I Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association in 1997 and 1998.

Competitive, Scrappy

“His teams reflected his attitude; his enthusiasm, competitiveness and scrappiness,” Byrne, who played second base for the 2005 team that won the Ivy League title, said in a telephone interview. “He was a tremendous coach and an even better person. When you think of the program at Harvard and success it’s had, it’s all due to him.”

This past season, Harvard went 12-30, including an 8-12 record in the Ivy League, and had three players drafted by Major League Baseball teams.

Walsh attended high school in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood and played baseball in college at Suffolk University in Boston. His first head coaching job came at Suffolk in 1980-81 and he spent 15 years at the school, where he was inducted into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.

When Walsh came to Harvard in 1996, he became its first endowed baseball coach. Joseph J. O’Donnell, a former Harvard baseball and football letter-winner, established a $2.5 million endowment fund that supports the head baseball coach.

New England Baseball

Walsh had also been involved in baseball’s Cape Cod League since 1988, when he was coach of the Brewster Whitecaps, and also had stints with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and Wareham Gatemen. He regularly threw batting practice at Fenway Park -- home to Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox -- and ran baseball camps and clinics throughout New England.

Byrne, 28, said he was “shocked” by the news of Walsh’s passing, having spoken with him by phone last week. Byrne said they talked about the coach’s family, the prospects for next season’s Harvard team and about sending kids from inner city Boston to the coach’s baseball camp at Harvard.

“He was always trying to help kids play baseball,” Byrne recalled. “He was a great ambassador for Harvard and for baseball. He loved the game and would do anything he could to get people involved in it.”

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