Fred Claire writes a touching column about Coach John Scolinos for mlb.com:
Scolinos was more than just a coach
Three time national champion passes away at age 91
He never played in the Major Leagues, and yet he impacted the lives of many who entered professional baseball.
He placed more of an emphasis on playing the game the right way than winning, and yet he became one of the most successful coaches in the history of collegiate baseball.
He won more honors and awards than he could recall, and yet he never mentioned a single achievement.
He was my friend, he was “Coach,” he was John Scolinos, who passed away on Saturday of old age at 91 in Claremont, Calif.
I’m among a band of hundreds of people who have been fortunate to spend time in baseball and who have been blessed with being able to call Coach Scolinos a friend.
If you have followed college baseball through the years, you know that Scolinos reached a level of respect that few ever obtain.
“His reach with both athletes and students is immeasurable,” said Tim Mead, vice president of communications for the Los Angeles Angels and a student when Scolinos coached at Cal Poly Pomona. “In my mind, few ever deserve the description of an icon, but John Scolinos certainly is that.”
I consider myself fortunate in that I knew Scolinos before and after my 30 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In recent years, a group of former college coaches and those who have been involved in the game would meet about once a month in Claremont to have lunch with Coach.
All of us treasured those times together. The regulars usually included Ben Hines, a former coach at nearby La Verne College who was the hitting instructor for both the Dodgers and Houston Astros; Bill Arce, former Claremont College coach who has been instrumental in the advancement of baseball on an international level; Mike Riskas, former Pomona College coach; and Jerry Miles, former director of both the College and High School Baseball Coaches Associations who recently wrote the book “John Scolinos: The Man, The Legend.”
All of us realized we were in the presence of a great man at those gatherings, and yet it was John who seemed to be the most content even though in recent years, his agility, sight and hearing were failing. His smile and spirit never faltered.
With all of his aches and pains, the only time I ever heard the coach complain at those luncheons was when he wasn’t allowed to pay a portion of the bill.
Hines said learning from Scolinos meant “learning the game the right way.
“He was a highly principled individual,” said Hines. “He was always telling me, ‘I don’t want any donkeys in my program.’ But, the thing was, if you behaved yourself, he would never, ever cut you off the roster.”
“He was a man of uncommon integrity, dedication and friendship,” said Riskas. “He was the consummate baseball coach. He touched many lives and was highly admired by his players and coaches.”
Scolinos coached Cal Poly Pomona to three national championships (1976, ’80 and ’83) and retired in ’91 as the winningest coach in Division II history. Prior to becoming the head coach at Cal Poly, Scolinos spent 14 seasons at Pepperdine University, where his teams went 376-213. His record in 44 years of coaching was 1,198-949.
Scolinos never spoke of his records or his achievements. It was the students and their lives that he cared about the most, and where he made his greatest contributions.
“Coach Scolinos was truly one of the most inspirational educators and coaches in the history of Cal Poly Pomona,” said university president Michael Ortiz.
“When I talk to people about Coach, I tell them he was a baseball coach who used the sport as a forum to spread lifelong messages,” said Riverside Community College coach Dennis Rogers, who played for Scolinos and then served on his staff.
“If there was one word to describe Coach, it would have to be that he was a man of selflessness,” said Rogers. “He always made time of himself to others. He was a man of faith who gave endlessly of himself.”
During my time with the Dodgers, I would invite John and his wife, Helen, to watch a game with me from time to time.
After those visits, Coach Scolinos would never fail to follow up with a handwritten letter of thanks.
I saved some of the letters. I treasure all of the memories.
Fred Claire was a member off the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice-president and general manager. He is the author of “Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue” This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.