Joe Walsh coached at Harvard, and he loved it. But he didn't want to be known as a Harvard man. He was a baseball man, a lifer in the game he loved.
Walsh, longtime head baseball coach at Harvard and before that at Suffolk University in Massachusetts, passed away unexpectedly at his New Hampshire home early Tuesday morning. He was 58.
He was remembered Tuesday as a down-to-earth man with passion and enthusiasm for his program and its players. He helmed the Harvard program from 1996 through 2012 after spending 15 seasons at Suffolk. In addition to his college duties, he threw batting practice at Fenway Park.
"He was proud of the fact that he wasn't a Harvard guy," said Athletics assistant general manager David Forst, who played on Walsh's first Harvard team. "He was a baseball guy. That was one of the first things he would tell you. He'd call me and want to talk about the A's or the Red Sox or anything related to the big leagues."
Walsh coached one Major Leaguer during his tenure, Indians reliever Frank Herrmann, and also sent several men into Major League front offices.
"He was one of the most real people that I've ever met in my life, and I mean that in the most positive way possible," said Herrmann, currently pitching for the Indians' Triple-A Columbus affiliate. "He coached at Harvard, but he there was no pretense about him. The guy was who he was, a little guy from Chester. He had the thickest Boston accent you'd ever hear. He was awesome. I kept in touch with him."
Walsh posted a 569-564-3 record for his coaching career, including 347-388-2 at Harvard and 204-136 in Ivy League competition. He was the program's first full-time head coach, and helped make it into a significant factor not just in the Ivy League, but at times on the national scene as well. He also coached in the Cape Cod League, where he had players such as Barry Zito and Ben Sheets.
"He just had so much fire in his heart for baseball," Zito said. "It was such a pleasure to be around the guy, because he just inspired you to take the game more seriously, to be more driven, to really make the best of yourself. He just really loved the game."
In his 17 years at the helm, Walsh led the Crimson to five Ivy League championships and thus five appearances in the NCAA Tournament. In 1997, Harvard upset a top-seeded UCLA team in the opening of an NCAA regional before the Bruins came back to advance to the College World Series. The 1998 team went 36-12, won two games in an NCAA regional and finished with a final ranking of No. 24 nationally.
He advocated a take-on-all-comers approach, taking Harvard to play elite competition during the regular season. That policy served the team well in postseason competition, players believed.
"It was his rallying cry," Forst said. "The minute he walked into the job, he said that. He said, 'We're not just Harvard. We're going to play anybody anywhere.' We went down to Florida, we played Miami, we played those teams, and it ended up paying off. We beat Miami, we beat UCLA. It was a program that we were very proud of, and I think that's what Joe wanted it to be."
Harvard under Walsh was a successful program on the field, but was more than that as well. The greater impact of Walsh's program, in fact, is likely felt elsewhere. He coached several young men who went on to be executives, including Forst, Peter Woodfork (now a senior vice president for baseball operations with Major League Baseball), and Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett.
"It was just [about] seeing someone who was passionate about what he did," Woodfork said. "His love of what he did every day and how he wanted to be successful and wanted us to be successful was an example."
Crockett remembered the Walsh's energy and love for his family and players.
"He was an incredibly passionate person about everything he did and loved nothing more than being on the field and spending time with his family," he said. "He was a great motivator and cared so much for his players. He will be sorely missed."
Walsh is survived by his wife, Sandra, and their four daughters, Tory, Holly, Katie and Kasey.
Matthew Leach is a national reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.