Needham’s Whalen gets 500th win
Bob Whalen did not keep the game ball as a memento after freshman Mike Concato tossed a four-hit shutout against Ivy League baseball rival Brown last weekend.
It was the 500th career victory for the Needham native since he was hired for his first — and only — college head coaching position by Dartmouth College in 1990.
“I wanted Mike to have it, and Mike and his family could not have been more gracious that I should have it. But what he did was huge for our team and it was his first win,’’ said the 56-year-old Whalen.
In making his decision, Whalen also thought of his late father, and what was important to him. Bob “Chick” Whalen was a longtime area scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates who also served as the team’s scouting director.
“So it was not a tough call for me,” Whalen said.
Whalen entered this weekend’s four-game set against Harvard with a 502-472-1 career record, placing him fourth all-time among Ivy League baseball coaches for wins, and first among active coaches.
Dartmouth, which has won two league and nine Red Rolfe Division titles during Whalen’s tenure, including the last six division championships, still had a shot at repeating this spring, with a 7-9 Ivy record (13-19 overall) and the four games against the Crimson wrapping up the regular season.
“I just want to make us a better baseball team every day I’m with them,’’ said Whalen.
His father, who died in 1993 at age 72, signed one-third of the starting lineup that the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded in Game 7 of the 1971 World Series: infielders Richie Hebner (a Norwood native) and Dave Cash, and pitcher Steve Blass.
Chick Whalen’s World Series rings from that year and from 1960 are cherished by his son, as is a 1966 photo of his father taken at spring training that he keeps in his Dartmouth office.
“Dad always took me to the homes of players he was signing when I was a kid, and I was with him when he visited Hebner in Norwood,’’ he recalled. “He was a step ahead of the Bruins, who were hoping to get Rich into professional hockey.’’
On the day of the doubleheader sweep at Brown, Whalen and Hebner met again by chance in Providence.
“I always go out for a jog or walk on game day and go over the lineups in my head,’’ said Whalen, who was a Bay State League all-star infielder at Needham High and also starred for the local American Legion team.
“I returned to our hotel, and was about to get into the elevator when Rich was stepping out of it. It took us a moment to remember one another, and we spent some time catching up.’’
Hebner, a former batting coach for the Boston Red Sox, now holds a similar position with the AAA Buffalo Bisons, an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. He was in Rhode Island for the Bisons-Pawtucket Red Sox series.
“It was such a coincidence that someone so important from our family’s past was staying in the same hotel. So it was quite a nostalgic day for me,’’ said Whalen, who graduated in 1979 from the University of Maine, where he played for legendary coach John Winkin.
Whalen returned to Maine as an assistant baseball coach from 1982 to 1987, and was named associate head coach in 1988.
His stops along the way included a successful stint as head coach of the Cape Cod League’s Chatham A’s in 1988 and 1989.
“My dad and Coach Winkin were the biggest influences in setting me on the path to where I am today,’’ said Whalen.
Dartmouth senior captain Jeff Keller, a right fielder from Atherton, Calif., calls Whalen “an incredibly hard worker.
“I take his advice to heart and it’s usually after he’s waited awhile to analyze the situation. Coach has a way of getting me to focus on what matters the most instead of worrying about the little things,’’ Keller said.
Whalen and his wife, Kim, who was a multisport athlete at the University of New Hampshire, have two children. Matt is a sophomore at Phillips Academy in Andover, where he plays shortstop on the varsity baseball team. Katie, 14, attends middle school and is into hockey and softball.
Whalen still has friends in Needham; his sister, Jeanne Pileski, works in the high school library.
“I inherited a passion for baseball and for teaching and coaching from my dad, who was a three-sport coach at St. Mary’s High in Brookline,’’ said Whalen.
“He always felt that if you put the kids first the rest would take care of itself. And Coach Winkin showed me what it took to run a Division 1 program while giving me a complete understanding of the game.’’
His assistant at Dartmouth, Jonathan Anderson, said Whalen is always prepared, at all levels of running the program, from game strategy to fund-raising to recruiting.
“Bob’s focused on the field and he’s driven to win,’’ said Anderson, “but he also knows when to put an arm around a player and encourage him.’’
After returning from the trip to Brown, Whalen was off to Connecticut on a scouting trip on Monday.
“Kind of like what my dad always did, watching young players and evaluating their talent,’’ said Whalen. “It’s a special connection.’’