Our latest guest on the New England Baseball Journal Podcast is one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of Ivy League Baseball – legendary Yale skipper John Stuper. The Yale athletic department recently announced that the 2022 season – Stuper’s 30th at Yale – will be the coach’s last before retirement.
Over his career, Stuper has led the Bulldogs to four Ivy League championships and a pair of NCAA Regional appearances. From 2016 to 2019, his teams posted a record of 53-27 in the Ivy League.
He originally planned to retire after the 2021 season, but the cancellation of the Ivy League season and some pressure from his players helped persuade him to return for one final season.
“I got a call from one of my players, one of my pitchers, and we were talking about his mechanics and his throwing program,” Stuper said. “We did that for about 10 or 15 minutes, and then — out of the blue — he said, ‘Coach, we’ve been talking and we’re wondering if you’d consider coming back for another year.’ And to be honest with you, I didn’t think 18- to 22-year-olds really gave a crap. I was very, very touched by that. As I said, this is a great group. I couldn’t say no to them.”
Stuper felt he had one of the most talented teams of his 30-year tenure heading into the 2020 season before the season came to an abrupt close after 10 games due to the start of the pandemic. Yale’s 2021 was also cancelled, as the Ivy League was the only Division 1 conference in the country to forego the spring season. Stuper said he has struggled to find joy in coaching over the last two years.
“I have; I’m not going to lie,” Stuper said. “I think the thing with our league is this: in 2020, when everybody shut down, obviously everybody got that. In 2021, when basically we’re the only league to shut down, I was upset. I’m not going to lie to you. I was upset. I thought I might have had the best team I’d ever had. But I always thought that the presidents of our league were very well intentioned. They were. Do I think they were overcautious? Yes, but I’m a coach and I wanted to play. They have the best interests of our student-athletes at heart. And so even though I disagreed with their decision, I understood it and realized that they did what they thought was best for our kids. And you can’t ask for more than that. Was it tough? Yeah, it was tough.”
Stuper played professionally for the St. Louis Cardinals in the early to mid 1980s. In 1982, he outdueled Don Sutton in Game 6 of the World Series by pitching a complete game through two lengthy rain delays. The Cardinals went on to win that World Series – their first since 1967.
“It was the sixth game of the World Series, and we were down 3 games to 2,” Stuper said. “The first rain delay was in between the fifth and the sixth inning, and it was a half hour. OK, no big deal. I went out. I was lucky enough to pitch a scoreless inning. And then between the sixth and the seventh, the next rain delay was 2 hours and 19 minutes. OK, so clearly nobody would ever bring anybody back then. But it was a different time. So, I wanted to finish the game for a number of personal reasons. We had a big lead, and I wanted to have a complete game in the World Series. I’m not going to lie to you. But I also wanted to save the bullpen for the seventh game so we’d have a totally fresh bullpen for the seventh game … I’m a small part of Cardinals baseball history, but I’m proud of that small, small part, and I do it again in a heartbeat.”
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