Peters: The Time is Right

by William Peters | 4/12/15 6:39pm

Before I begin, I want to state that I did not seek or receive opinions from any affiliate of the Dartmouth baseball team. These opinions are my own, formed through research and observation of the team’s performance.

Baseball is a sport of brains and brawn, similar to life as a Dartmouth student. Whether it’s braving through the winter cold after an all-nighter to get to that 8 a.m. final or attempting an epic throw save, we all put our minds and bodies to the test. We should all demand some kind of glory at the end of each term. Personally, I’d like to see that in the form of a Ivy League Baseball Championship.

Maybe it’s because I’m from Boston, where I have enjoyed a decade and a half of championship success across professional sports. Maybe it is because the College has taught me to demand more. Regardless, the fact remains that the College has not seen the baseball team win an Ivy Championship since 2010. Moreover, it took head coach Bob Whalen 19 seasons to lead the team to its first championship. Given that there are eight schools in the Ivy League, ideally, the Big Green should win at least about once every eight years. Though the College, with help from Whalen’s fundraising efforts, built Red Rolfe Field — arguably the best facility in the Ivy League — to boost quality in recruitment, the Big Green has only gone to the National Collegiate Athletic Association regional tournament twice in the last 24 seasons.

I’ve heard the argument defending Whalen’s success. His 507-474-1 record and his 10 Red Rolfe Division — an Ivy subdivision comprised of Dartmouth and Brown, Harvard and Yale Universities — titles, as of 2014, make him one of the most successful coaches in recent Ivy history. Yet, being satisfied with finishing as best of four — rather than eight — teams is settling for mediocrity.

Whalen has his fair share of accolades during his time here at Dartmouth. Aside from winning the division seven years in a row, he is well liked by his players and their families and has a well-known presence throughout the community. He has taken great measures to assist players in their post-college futures. He also has mentored several current professional players, such as Cole Sulser ’12, Mitch Horacek ’14 and Kyle Hendricks ’12, who pitches fifth in the starting rotation for the Chicago Cubs. This depth of talent, however, shows that the team has been long capable of championship-level success, and Whalen’s Red Rolfe record cannot be used as a shield from the demand to bring home an Ivy League title.

Whalen’s troubles are highlighted by two recent Ivy Championship matchups. In 2013 Sulser, Horacek and Mike Johnson ’13 were drafted, and Kyle Hunter ’13 was signed as a free agent. Despite this talent, the Big Green lost the championship to Columbia University in two games that year. The year prior was more tragic. Facing Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, starter Adam Frank ’15 pitched arguably the best five innings of his life, holding the Big Red to one run. Frank was replaced in the fifth by closer Thomas Olson ’15, who was known for his precision pitching. Olson held his own for six innings, while Johnson — the would-be 14th-round draft pick — warmed up in the bullpen. He never faced a batter. Whalen decided to keep Olson in the game into the 11th, and with one out, he surrendered a line-drive single to right-center. Instead of putting in Johnson, Whalen allowed Olson to stay on the mound. The next batter he faced smashed a fastball over the right-field wall for a two-run walk-off home run and another Ivy Championship loss.

Baseball is off to a great start this season. If the we do not win a championship this year, I am not saying that the College should ask Whalen to leave. I do want to point out, however, that coaching positions should not be treated as though they are tenured — Whalen must use the talent and capability of his team to bring in the championship that we are able to achieve. Since the renovations of Red Rolfe Field in 2009, Whalen has been able to bring in players that are more talented and garner more wins. For the past five years, he has led a team of skilled players to win a lot of games — but not enough. This is Dartmouth, and we do not accept mediocrity — not in our classes and not on our fields. Our team swept all four games at Yale this weekend, and we clearly have the talent to win the championship. Red Rolfe titles alone are not enough.