Sporting Life

Pitching 101

Yale leads in getting baseball players into pro ball.

Stephen Eschenbach is a sports writer and baseball historian.
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John Stuper pitched in the majors. Now he coaches Yale baseball. View full image

In 16 seasons as Yale’s baseball coach, John Stuper has won two Ivy championships and enough games (302) to trail only Ethan Allen (333), who coached George H. W. Bush '48. Yet Stuper's most remarkable accomplishment may be the 22 players he’s coached who have been drafted by major league baseball—the most of any Ivy baseball coach. For comparison, Yale had only six draftees in the 27 years before Stuper took the helm.

Ask Stuper why he is so successful, and the Mazzuto Family Head Coach for Baseball mentions an "outstanding coaching staff" and Yale’s support. But he also offers another reason: "It’s easier to get pitchers drafted.”

About half of the players on a major league team are pitchers. But pitchers account for 80 percent of the major league draftees whom Stuper has recruited over the past ten years.

That he would have particularly good luck with hurlers makes sense. Stuper pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds during 1982–85, going 32–28 with a 3.96 earned run average through 111 games. His most memorable performance came with the Cardinals during his first year in the majors. In the 1982 World Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cardinals were down three games to two; Stuper started the pivotal sixth and threw a complete game, a 13-1 masterpiece that Sports Illustrated has called one of the ten best performances by a rookie pitcher in the history of postseason play.

Stuper is Yale’s pitching coach as well as its head coach, and "he’s phenomenal with pitchers," says Josh Sowers ’05, an Ivy League Pitcher of the Year who was chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in the tenth round of the 2005 draft. Stuper helped him develop an essential pitching tool—the slider, a pitch that breaks down and out of the strike zone. "He made the slider my go-to pitch," says Sowers. "I wouldn’t have made it to the next level without it." Stuper’s ability to teach the slider also made a difference for Jon Steitz ’02, ’07JD, who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and calls the slider his "greatest weapon.”

Players also say that Stuper’s major league experience was key to their own ability to go professional. Says Steitz, "As a former big-leaguer, he has a great grasp of the mental aspects of pitching." Craig Breslow ’02, currently a reliever with the Minnesota Twins, says Stuper "tailors the way he teaches the game and the athletes he recruits so that his players will not just be successful collegiate athletes, but successful professionals as well." Breslow, who first reached the majors with the San Diego Padres in 2005, recently ran off a streak of ten straight scoreless appearances for the division-leading Twins.

Not all of Stuper’s pitchers make it into professional baseball. But according to Steitz, the coaching he provides to help his players make it into the big leagues in other fields is just as good. Steitz suffered a shoulder injury his first full season and "basically panicked. I tried to tough it out and pitch through it, but things just got worse." Stuper "would provide sage words of advice meant to help me focus on what I could still do well." When retirement from baseball was unavoidable, Stuper wrote a "glowing recommendation" to Yale Law School.

Some say Yale and high-level athletics don’t mix. But Stuper tells his recruits that by going to Yale they don’t have to give up the "dream of playing major league baseball." With him as coach, they have a real chance. 


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Two of the six Yale alumni competing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics won medals. U.S. fencer Sada Jacobson ’06 captured a silver in the individual saber competition (she had won a bronze in Athens in 2004); in the team saber event, Jacobson and her two U.S. teammates claimed the bronze. Rower Josh West ’98 was a member of the British men's eight crew that won a silver at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park.

In the annual preseason Ivy sports poll of the media in August, Yale and Harvard were tied in the voting for first place in football. The Eli team, captained by senior linebacker Bobby Abare, opens its season at home on September 20 against Georgetown.

Beijing was not the only foreign venue for Yale athletes. Rowers Alexander Rothmeier ’08, Charlie Cole ’07, and Jamie Redman ’08 competed in July in elite events in Europe; Cole and Redman, members of the U.S. men's and women's eight, respectively, won gold medals at the 2008 FISA World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Brandenberg, Germany. In Windsor, England, on June 7, members of the Yale and Harvard polo teams met at the annual Varsity Games. Harvard prevailed, 6-5.

The retirement in June of longtime Yale men's golf coach Dave Paterson marks the end of an era that began in 1976. During his time, the Eli men captured eight Ivy golf titles. Until 2000, Paterson, 72, was also the director of the Yale golf course; during 1981-93 he was also the women's golf coach. A celebration in his honor in May featured the dedication of the David Paterson Golf Technology Center in the Payne Whitney Gym.

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