Friday, February 07, 2014
There’s never been a question about Joe McCarthy’s impact on youth baseball in western Massachusetts.
But after five years, the Easthampton native will finally be recognized at the state level when he’s inducted into the Massachusetts High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“I’m thrilled and overjoyed,” McCarthy said. “I was nominated five years ago, and every year I’d get a call saying I was close. But many of my former players sent letters to the committee, which was extremely helpful. Words cannot put in perspective how humbled and honored I am.”
McCarthy coached baseball at Holyoke High School for 15 seasons, including nine leading the varsity from 1981 to 1989. His teams won four outright league titles and shared two more while compiling an overall record of 143-46.
The 1985 Purple Knights won the Western Massachusetts Division 1 championship and went on to claim the state title as well.
“We had a lot of great teams, and this award is really about the kids I coached,” McCarthy said. “Obviously the state championship team sticks out, and those other Valley League title teams were great squads as well.”
The induction ceremony is Saturday evening at the Double Tree Hotel in Westborough. A social hour at 5:30 will be followed by the main banquet at 6:30. Tickets can be ordered at the website www.massbca.com.
Being inducted “is certainly not something I thought about at all when I retired, but my former players really went to bat for me to get in,” McCarthy said. “I read a lot of their letters and would get tears in my eyes. They’re all great kids.”
The 65-year-old McCarthy grew up in Easthampton and played for the Eagles his first two years of high school. After moving to Holyoke prior to his junior year, he spent his final two seasons playing for MBCA Hall of Famer John “Jinx” O’Connor. McCarthy later served under O’Connor as junior varsity coach in the late 1970s and succeeded him in 1981.
“I had a lot of hustle and desire when I played,” he said. “I feel I continued to do that as a coach. I tried to drill the importance of the fundamentals, but I wasn’t a holler type of coach. I wanted them to work hard and concentrate on improving. But I never embarrassed a kid, never yelled at anybody. Holyoke kids have a natural work ethic, so I really didn’t have to pry it out of them.”
His coaching career actually began in another sport. As coach of Holyoke’s boys freshman basketball team, he put up a record of 50-1. He also taught at the school for 18 years, retiring in 1989.
“I wanted to be a phys ed teacher, but I ended up being a history teacher,” he said. “I always had a love of sports and decided to give it a try. After basketball, I moved on to baseball and worked my way up.”
Among the many players he coached was former Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Mark Wohlers, who closed out the 1995 World Series for Atlanta’s lone world championship. McCarthy was flown to Atlanta by the Braves to witness Wohlers sign his first pro contract.
“I coached Mark for three years, and we were really happy to see him enjoy a successful big league career,” McCarthy said. “That was fun to see.”
In addition to his former players, a trio of coaching colleagues advocated for McCarthy to receive the honor — current South Hadley coach Matt Foley, former Chicopee Comp coach Dan Dulchinos and former Palmer coach George Cornwell.
The McCarthy name still has an impact on Holyoke baseball. He’s sponsored one of the city’s Mickey Mantle teams for the past 25 years, and the award given to the best high school senior pitcher for the Purple Knights bears his name.
“I feel my love of the game always came through, and that’s the legacy I want to leave,” he said. “I think the kids I coached knew I truly cared about them as players and people.”
After receiving the news of his induction, McCarthy’s first call went out to his 13-year-old grandson, who plays for the Easthampton-based AAU team McCarthy founded last year and will coach later this year.
“I decided to give it a shot again,” he said. “People always ask if I miss coaching, and I say not in April with the cold weather. But I still have a true love for the game.”
McCarthy and his wife Carline, whom he met while at Holyoke Community College, own Subway franchises in the area. They reside in Holyoke but their office is in Easthampton.
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.