Tom O’Connell pitched for the University of Connecticut’s baseball team in the ‘50s, for military teams after college, and starting in the mid-‘60s coached the high school baseball team in Braintree, Mass., Brandeis University’s team in the bulk of the ’70s, then Princeton’s team in much of the ’80s and ’90s. I doubt you’ve heard of him, but he is one of the bigger names in Northeast college coaching in recent decades.
I’ve heard of him because a while ago I obtained some memorabilia-primarily news clippings-that O’Connell had gathered over the decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s: a mix of material from his professional life in baseball and material from his life as a fan of the Red Sox and Celtics. As Brandeis noted in its story on O’Connell’s death, he “led Brandeis baseball to six-straight NCAA Division III tournament appearances, including a berth at the 1977 Division III College World Series.” Princeton added: “The Tigers went to the NCAA Tournament three times during O’Connell’s tenure (1985, 1991, 1996), won two Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League championships (1985, 1991) and one Ivy League title in 1996.” Here is his obituary. I won’t pretend to have great unique insights into O’Connell, but this 1985 New York Times article on O’Connell’s work at Princeton jibes with the impression of the man that’s created by thumbing through other news articles on what he did at Braintree High, Brandeis, and Princeton. The impression is that he was a baseball lifer dedicated to winning and sustaining the sport’s ideals not by presenting a warm, understanding personality to his players, but by disciplining them and always asking them to do more. O’Connell, it seems, was one of those coaches who make up the backbone of organized amateur baseball.