Harvard University varsity baseball coach Joe Walsh died suddenly at his home in Chester, N.H., early Tuesday morning at age 58.
A 1971 graduate of Catholic Memorial, Walsh served proudly in his self-professed “dream job” as the Harvard baseball coach for the past 17 seasons, winning five Ivy League championships. His wife Sandra said it is believed her husband of 26 years had a heart attack, according to the Associated Press.
“This is a tragic day for everyone associated with Harvard athletics, Massachusetts baseball and the larger baseball community,” said Director of Athletics Bob Scalise.
“Joe’s passion for the game redefined success in the Ivy League and he positively impacted the lives of so many people. To say that he will be missed would be an understatement.”
A true son of South Boston, Walsh stayed local for college, playing baseball at Suffolk University before graduating in 1976. His first head coaching job came at his alma mater, taking the reins in the 1980-81 season. He remained at Suffolk for 15 years and was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in May, 2009.
In 1996, Walsh became Harvard’s first full-time, and first endowed, baseball coach. Joseph J. O’Donnell ‘67, MBA ‘71, a former Harvard baseball and football letterwinner who is a long-time supporter of the college, established a $2.5 million endowment fund that supports the head baseball coach in much the same way that an endowed chair supports a professor.
In 32 years as a college coach, Walsh posted a 569-564-3 record. He led Harvard to a school-record season in 1998 by going 36-12 with a final ranking of 24th nationally after leading the Crimson to victories over Tulane and Nicholls State at the NCAA South II Regional at LSU.
That success followed his 1997 campaign when he took Harvard to a 34-16 overall record. After claiming its first Ivy title since 1985 with a League-best 18-2 Ivy mark, the Crimson made an impressive showing in the NCAA Midwest Regional at Oklahoma State where Walsh’s sixth-seeded club handed top-seeded (and fourth-ranked) UCLA an opening-round loss and then eliminated Stetson in the second round.
Walsh was named the 1997 and 1998 Northeast Region Division I Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association. The Crimson were 12-30 this past season.
His involvement in the renowned Cape Cod League dates back to 1988, when he was the head coach of the Brewster Whitecaps. He served stints with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox under legendary head coach Don Reed and, from 1991 to 1998, served as the pitching coach for the Wareham Gatemen.
In addition to coaching on Cape Cod, Walsh was a regular at Fenway Park throwing batting practice. He also ran baseball camps and clinics throughout New England as the Play To Win Baseball Camp.
Walsh survived by his wife and their four daughters, Tory, Holly, Katie and Kasey.