Iconic baseball coach announces retirement

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ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH — Jerry Bartow is set to retire after nearly 40 years of coaching baseball for the Southwestern College Jaguars. A national sports figure, Bartow was SWC’s 2012 honorary degree recipient. Dianna Innocencio/Staff

ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH — Jerry Bartow is set to retire after nearly 40 years of coaching baseball for the Southwestern College Jaguars. A national sports figure, Bartow was SWC’s 2012 honorary degree recipient.
Photo by Dianna Innocencio

In 1976 Rocky Balboa graced the silver screen for the first time. Elton John was the world’s biggest rock star. Gerald Ford was president.  And in 1976 Jerry Bartow took over as head coach of the Southwestern College baseball team. This season, his 39th, will be his last.

“It’s always sad when you have to give up something,” he said, “but it’s time for somebody that’s probably got a lot more energy than I do now. I don’t move as fast as I used to, my voice might not be as good and my whistle might not be as strong.”

Bartow, or “Forty” as his players call him, can still see the silver lining.

“It’ll be a chance to do something else for a while that I haven’t done,” he said. “Play a little more golf or bum around and see the country. Maybe I can be in Yakima and shoot a few ducks or something.”

Bartow has done much in his illustrious career. A member of the Table Bluff Reservation near Loleta, California, he played college baseball at Washington State University and minor league baseball in the Northwest League.

“We beat USC for the Pacific Coast Championship,” he said. “Played in the old College World Series… in Omaha. Rode the train back there from Spokane, Washington. I came back, I signed with the old Salem Senators, and I pitched there in Salem, Oregon.”

Bartow credited his adoptive father, MLB legend Carl Mays, winner of four World Series titles and Babe Ruth’s roommate, with his decision to go back to college for a graduate degree.

“My stepdad, who was then scouting for the Cleveland Indians, he was in the major leagues for 17 years,” said Bartow. “He was a scout for the Cleveland Indians and he made a suggestion. ‘You know if you made it to the Pacific Coast League in those days, you might make $1,500. You should go back to Washington State and get your Master’s, work on your doctorate.’ So that’s what I did, I finished my Master’s.”

After graduating, Bartow left Pullman, Washington to coach Hoover High School, where he, with a little support from Teddy Ballgame himself, built Ted Williams Field. He led Hoover to a CIF title against Bonita Vista in 1975, the last year he was not wearing an SWC ballcap.

Bartow is one of the lucky few to spend their entire lives doing what they love. His passion and knowledge of the sport was clear to retired SWC professor Bill Virchis, whose son played for Bartow.

“The game is not a game to him, it’s a lifestyle,” said Virchis. “My son learned so much from him, that’s why he’s in the pros right now. First being drafted by the White Sox and now as a scout. There are many people that come through your life. He’s one that will just stick with you.”

Bobby Rector, who played for Southwestern in 1993, said he still has Bartow etched in his memory.

“Forty had quite a few quirks that still stand out, like him singing that song,” he laughed before singing a line. “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. He used to have that on his answering machine too. He was probably the most nervous coach I’ve ever seen in my life. (If) there’s a tough situation he’s in the corner of the dugout not looking. He was just a crack-up.”

Rector, who played in the San Francisco Giants system, is one of 37 former SWC baseball players who signed professional contracts during Bartow’s tenure. His squads have transferred 182 players to play at universities, almost five players for each of Bartow’s 38 years at SWC.

“We’ve had a lot of wonderful players, we’ve pretty well taken all of our kids from our own area,” he said. “Had a lot of kids out of Eastlake, Chula Vista. Had that (Alex) Palaez who played for the Padres. He was a little fat guy and Jay (Martel) says ‘You’re not going to like him because he’s fat,’ and I said, ‘Well, if he can swing the bat I’ll like him.’”

Countless players have laced up their spikes under Bartow’s watch, but it is the Jaguar Junction baseball field that he considers his greatest accomplishment.

“What I’m probably the most proud of is that I got the ballpark all fixed up so it’s a nice park,” he said.  “Took a long time to get the concrete and get some of the things done, like the big scoreboard, the turf and looking like a ballpark should. I hope that some day there will be some bleachers in there, some things will change, and will even get better.”

Those who do not know Bartow will look at the record books, see his 11 conference championships and his scores of players in universities and think of him as a good coach. To those that played for or worked with him, however, those are actually his least important accomplishments, said Rector.

“He was just kind of one of those father figures, always had good advice,” he said. “Whether we wanted to believe it or not, it would always come true. He used to always say stay out of TJ, don’t get an expensive car, and don’t have a girlfriend or don’t get a girl pregnant or something like that. It just seemed like that’s what happened, the guy knew what would happen with young men.”

For Professor Angelina Stuart, the Academic Senate President when Bartow was awarded an SWC honorary degree in 2012, her first thought of him was the work he has done for the community.

“We have a word for it in Spanish, mansedumbre,” she said. “It’s a sense of humbleness. It’s just doing something good, selflessness.”

Bartow and his selflessness have been a fixture on campus for nearly four decades.

“Southwestern, when I first started here, H Street didn’t even go through,” he said. “And my ballpark wasn’t much to look at.”

Years later, H Street runs through to Eastlake and the Jaguar Junction ballpark puts some professional fields to shame. A lot has changed since 1976, but Jerry Bartow has not. Shakespeare might say he is “constant as the northern star, true-fixed and resting quality.” Bartow, though, is more likely to quote Cal Ripken, baseball’s iron man.

“So many good things have happened to me in the game of baseball. When I do allow myself a chance to think about it, it’s almost like a storybook career. You feel so blessed to have been able to compete this long.”

Bartow said he is ready for one last year in the sun.

“It’s gonna be a great season,” he said, then he paused briefly. “They’ve all been great.”

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