Stone to Roll into Hall of Fame

01/08/2010
By From the Lowell Sun

By Chaz Scoggins

LOWELL -- During his 37-year tenure as UMass Lowell's head baseball coach, Jim Stone helped develop two players who went on to play in the major leagues, Mike LaValliere and Matt Tupman.

He knows there could have been at least two more.

Stone, who is being inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame tonight in Dallas after winning more than 800 games during his college coaching career from 1967-2003, couldn't help but think of the two future major-league superstars that got away.

One of them, Tom Glavine, went on to win 305 games in the majors and will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in a few years. The other, Carlos Pena, is an All-Star first baseman who tied for the AL lead in home runs with 39 for the Tampa Bay Rays last summer.

Glavine, a two-sport star at Billerica Memorial High School, had signed a letter of intent to play both baseball and hockey at what was then the University of Lowell. Then the Atlanta Braves selected the left-handed pitcher in the second round of the 1984 draft, and a couple of weeks later the Los Angeles Kings picked Glavine in the fourth round of the NHL draft.

Fearing he would injure his valuable left shoulder playing hockey, the Braves offered Glavine first-round money -- $80,000 in those days -- and signed him. By the time Glavine would have been pitching his senior year for the Chiefs, he was already in the major leagues.

"I guess Ted Turner got off his yacht and told them to give him the money," says Stone, referring to the owner of the Braves back then. "(Hockey coach) Billy (Riley) and I had already walked him around the campus.
"But," Stone willingly conceded, "he made the right decision."

And then there was Pena.

"He went from Haverhill High School to Wright State, wasn't happy there, and wanted to transfer to Lowell," Stone recalls. "But a scout from the Marlins told him he had a far better chance of being drafted from a Division I school.

"That was kind of ironic because at that time we'd had more players drafted and signed out of our program than Northeastern had," Stone says. "We thought for a month he was coming here until he called me and told me he was going to Northeastern."

The Texas Rangers made Pena the 10th overall pick in the 1995 draft and he has gone on to win Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards in the majors.

Although Glavine and Pena never wore Lowell uniforms, Jim Stone never lacked for good players while rolling up an 801-393-7 record, including seven 30-win seasons and at least 20 victories in each of his last 22 years.

"When you first go into coaching you don't think you'll have a shot at something like this," he says of his induction into the ABCA Hall of Fame. "But if you get good players and good assistant coaches, good things happen.

"It just seems like it all went by awful fast."

His first year as head coach was in 1967 when the school was known as Lowell Tech.

"We went 7-5," he remembers. "We had a 14-game schedule and two games were rained out. Eight hundred wins was not on the radar, not when your program plays a 14-game schedule."

That changed in 1975 when LTI and Lowell State merged to become the University of Lowell. John Duff became chancellor and emphasized a strong intercollegiate athletic program that benefited the baseball team.

"John Duff was instrumental in that," Stone says. "He created scholarships in basketball and hockey and tuition waivers for some of the other programs, including baseball."

With hockey quickly evolving into a national Division II power, Riley found a way to help the baseball team raise funds for a Florida trip every spring.

"Those were golden years for us when we had the beer and wine concession at the Tully Forum," Stone reminisces. "After that ended, our players had to pay their way to Florida."

But by then the baseball program had become established as a regional Division II power.

Most long-time local sports fans have probably forgotten that in addition to coaching baseball, Stone also coached basketball until 1975. Following the merger Stone stepped down as basketball coach so he could watch his son play high school basketball.

"Ten years of coaching both sports was enough," he says.

That also gave him more time for recruiting baseball players.

Despite the 20- and 30-win seasons, for more than 30 years Jim Stone felt like Moses wandering the desert. His promised land was Montgomery, Ala., the home of the Division II World Series, and year after year the Chiefs -- and later the River Hawks after the school became UMass Lowell -- kept falling one or two tantalyzing victories short of qualifying.

Stone's years of bitter disappointment finally ended in 2001, although the outlook was bleak when the River Hawks lost the first game of the NCAA Northeast Regionals to Concordia, 4-2, and had to come out of the losers' bracket.

"We beat New Haven 18-3 in the second game, and we took Jon Cahill, our regular shortstop and No. 3 pitcher, out after four innings and 50 pitches so we could pitch him again the next day," Stone remembers.

"Well, we have to beat Concordia twice that day, and Cahill is pitching but is sitting as far away from me in the dugout as he can, which is unusual for him. I went down to see him, and he says he isn't feeling well but didn't want me to know it.

"I said: 'Did you eat breakfast this morning?' And he said no, but there was no way he was coming out of this game. I don't know whether he just skipped it or couldn't afford to buy a breakfast, but I sent (athletic department member) Johnny DeFreitas up to the concession stand to buy a hamburger for him to eat.

"He pitched a complete game, a gem. It was a Frank Merriwell moment. We won, 6-2, Patrick Shirley beat Concordia, 8-0, in the second game, and we went to Montgomery for the first time.

"Cahill's game was the biggest game of my career," Stone recalls. "When we got to Montgomery, I saw a Superman T-shirt in a store and gave it to him because he was our Superman.

"It was probably against NCAA regulations, but what the heck. I'm retired now."

Cahill will be in the crowd along with current UML coach Ken Harring and several other LTI, ULowell, and UML alumni at the induction ceremonies.

"Four or five guys from my first team will be there," he says. "It's fun looking back. It seems like yesterday."