Harvard baseball coach Joe Walsh died Tuesday morning, at 58, leaving behind a wife, four daughters and a university that couldn’t possibly grasp his full value. The working hypothesis is that Walsh had a heart attack. Not long ago, in this space, I’d called him my favorite human being in college sports, and maybe sports generally.
Why? Well, Joe Walsh was kind. He was the most genuinely Boston (that is, Dorchester) man I ever met in Cambridge, Mass. To any writer at the student paper—several generations of whom chose to cover baseball because of him—Walsh would burst with details: about his recruit with the 1,600 SAT that admissions still wouldn’t admit; about tutoring Barry Zito in the Cape Cod League; about how “there’ll be plenty of time to be pushing pencils in concrete caves.”
That last bit, as gracefully immortalized by my friend Martin Bell in 2003—before I ever got to college or walked into The Crimson or saw O’Donnell Field or met Walsh—has stayed with me ever since I read it. It made me want to meet this coach. Yes, it made me want to cover college baseball. It made me want to write sports.
This March, while talking to the current generation of Crimson reporters about the game, Walsh summoned the phrase again. “When you leave here and they send you out to those concrete caves where you’re pushing a pencil around and reading the Wall Street Journal every day, once Feb. 1 comes, you start thinking of baseball,” he said. “And that happens to everybody, anyone who’s played this game.”
It happens, thanks to Joe Walsh, to people who never did.