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Simply The Best; Jack Kaiser

By Steve Sidoti, Photos Provided By St. John's University, 08/28/11, 11:53AM EDT

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(L to R) Athletic Director Chris Monasch, Jack Kaiser, School President Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M. and Sam Deluca

Athletic Director Chris Monasch, Jack Kaiser, School President Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M. and Sam Deluca

Even on the campus of St. John's University in Queens, NY, it is difficult for one to recognize the impact that Jack Kaiser has had both on the school and within collegiate athletics. The name greets fans as they enter into the baseball field known as Jack Kaiser Stadium on the Queens campus. The arch lettering is just a small reminder of a large legacy left by a man behind numerous success stories.
 
The start to Jack Kaiser's baseball career was no different than most that lived in the borough of Brooklyn. At the age of six, Kaiser and his friends would get together in one of the many vacant lots around the city. Using taped up broken bats and balls covered with friction tape; Kaiser was slowly being introduced to a game that would eventually serve as the foundation for his many achievements. 
 
Jack Kaiser first arrived on the campus of St. John's University as a student-athlete in 1944. Upon returning from the service, his collegiate playing days began. The school's athletic director, Mr. Walter McLaughlin, coached the baseball program during the first two years of Kaiser's career. 
 
Back in those days, it was previously established that the basketball coach also had to coach the baseball team. Because of that rule, Kaiser and his teammates benefited during his senior season from the leadership of eventual Basketball Hall of Famer Frank McGuire.
 
Under McGuire, Kaiser and the Red Men appeared in the 1949 College World Series in Wichita, Kansas. The following year, the series moved to its now familiar home in Omaha, Nebraska. For Kaiser, playing for Coach McGuire was a privilege. 
 
“It was great,” Kaiser said. “He was a very personable guy. He knew a lot about baseball too and he played at St. John's - both basketball and baseball. Of course his basketball was preeminent but he had a good personality. He used to throw batting practice to us. It was great playing for him.”
 
McGuire wasn't the only Basketball Hall of Famer who was a part of that magical baseball season. The other was Lou Carnesecca, a then reserve who spent game days manning the third base coach's box.

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“He always had a good personality and was always fun loving,” Kaiser said of his friend and former teammate. “He wasn't a regular that year. At that time, coaches couldn't go on the coaching line, so he was our third base coach and gave the signs and so on. He was very influential that way.” 
 
The World Series appearance was just one of the many highlights both on and off the field for Jack Kaiser. As team captain, Kaiser was already learning how to lead by example. His success on the field helped name him Varsity Magazine's College Player of the Year.
 
Despite possessing the ability to play at the next level, Kaiser went unsigned following his 1949 campaign. As a result, he returned to a summer league in Nova Scotia, where he impressed a manager with ties to the Boston Red Sox. The manager would soon sign the young outfielder to his first professional contract following a tryout at Fenway Park. 
 
Kaiser spent four seasons in the minor leagues, before placing an end to his professional playing days. “I love to tell the story,” Kaiser said. “Just before I retired, I got a notice from the Red Sox to come to Spring Training with Louisville, who was their Triple-A affiliate. At the time, I was already married for a couple of years and had one daughter so that was pretty important. The minor leagues did not pay very well. They only paid for six months and then in the winter you had to find another job, which I had done. I worked in the alumni office at St. John's. And I look around and I said 'o.k., who's up there on the major league club?' I was an outfielder. Leftfield - Ted Williams, Centerfield - Dom DiMaggio, Right field - Jackie Jensen, who played some for the Yankees too, and Jim Piersall, who was going to Spring Training with them. I said I better find another job and I cried and I gave up baseball. On the other hand, I gained baseball because I was coaching the freshmen team at St. John's and of course that became my career.”
 
Coaching undoubtedly became the career choice for the man who simply loved everything about the game of baseball. A few years following his exit from the game as a player, Kaiser coached in the Boston Red Sox organization, managing the rookie league team in Lexington, Nebraska. “It helped me understand how to manage a team,” he said of coaching Rookie Ball. “I learned a lot about handling people because they made a lot of mistakes being so young. It was very good for experience, handling people, and also handling the team in a tough situation in competition.”
 
After those two years of managing, Kaiser became a scout in the Mets organization, scouting local and amateur players. That role was given to him by former All-Star reliever Johnny Murphy, and only lasted one season.
 
All in all, Kaiser coached the St. John's varsity baseball team for a total of 18 years, beginning in 1956. He was the first head baseball coach to not coach the basketball team.
 
Following his coaching career in 1973, Kaiser was given the grand responsibility of being the school's athletic director, a position he kept for over 20 years.
One of the many highlights for Kaiser while on that 20-plus year run was witnessing the basketball team's 1985 Final Four appearance under the program's head coach Lou Carnesecca, who of course once played alongside Kaiser on the baseball field.
 
As athletic director, Kaiser played a major role in forming the BIG EAST Conference, one of the most competitive collegiate sporting conferences in the country.
As the story goes, the NCAA tournament came out with a rule, stating that each school must play all the Division I teams in their respected region. 
 
“They were telling us that you had to be in a league,” Kaiser said. “We didn't want to but they were putting us in a league. I got a call from the Athletic Director at Providence, and we arranged a meeting in my office to discuss the situation. He said 'look, what they are doing is they are putting us in a league. We don't want to be in a league but they are putting us in a league, and to be eligible for the NCAA tournament we have to do something. If we have to be in a league, let's form one that we want, not the one that they are placing us in.”
 
It was at this very moment that Kaiser found himself at the center of something groundbreaking. With seven schools the first year and eight the second, the BIG EAST was well on its way to becoming the grand conference that it is today, making the story all that more interesting.
 
What was even more interesting however, was how the group decided on the name. “It's funny,” Kaiser said. “There was a public relations man for Providence and I asked people around here in the department, what would be a name. Without talking to each other, that gentleman and the track coach here at the time, both came up with the name BIG EAST. So when we were discussing them we said 'oh this sounds like a good one. Big means powerful and so on and east means where we were located.'”
When Coach Kaiser arrived on the St. John's campus as a young 18-year old, he never could have imagined the run he would make with the university. He remains thankful and proud of the people who helped shape him along the way.
 
“I love St. John's,” he said. “I can't say enough how much they have done for me in every aspect of my life. The people here helped me mature, do the right thing, and handle situations. I had a lot of great mentors and I think that's what helped shape my life.”