Following the sudden death of long-time youth baseball coach Bob Linneman on Wednesday, July 1, 1970, sports editor Chuck Dell sought a reaction from Joe Bowers, who headed Lima’s youth baseball program.
Said Bowers, “Bob Linneman was one of the finest coaches we’ve ever had working with young boys in Lima. He was out at the ball field early every evening working with the boys. We never had any complaints about him or his teams. Bob had a heart attack a few years ago, and afterwards, we told him he’d have to take it easy. He always replied, ‘When I die, I want to die on the ball field.’”
And, in self-prophesying fashion, the previous evening, that’s exactly what happened on the ball diamond next to West Junior High off the Jameson Overpass just moments after a big extra-inning victory.
The Braves had another game scheduled against the Phillies the very next evening, a game that Bob Linneman’s son Pete decided needed to be played to honor his father. However, when funeral home services were immediately scheduled for that evening, the game was postponed.
Pete remembers, “It was Jim Falk, who I remember as such a dear man and calming presence, who told me I should take over for Dad. He said he’d continue to help as would another father, Don Cygan, and I knew I could count on my pals Tom Cullen and Gary Bohnlein. Tom had just completed his freshman year playing shortstop for the University of Chicago, so he certainly had a lot to offer. In the truest sense of the word, it was a collaborative effort.”
And, over the course of the next six weeks, that collaborative effort resulted in what a skilled billiard player might call running the rack. The Braves honored their fallen coach by never losing another game.
Recalls Pete, “Despite my grief, there was a wonderful teaching moment here for these kids, including my younger brother Matt, who was on the team, to rebound from such a shocking event and press on. Also I assumed Dad’s coaching duties because my father so loved the game. Back in World War II, as a Marine, he played on base teams and loved to tell the story when he struck out Phil Rizzuto of the great New York Yankees who, like many Major Leaguers who served in World War II did, played base teams.”
In a round-table discussion at Dan Moening’s house, Dan, Charley Gasperetti, Jay Sheets, Jeff Bailey, Kevin Tierney and Tom Cullen each had their memories from 50 years ago.
Moening, a retired vice president at Chase Bank, remembers Bob Linneman as a coach who, when throwing batting practice, would always throw just a little harder than what you might be able to handle just to challenge you.
Cullen, the critically acclaimed stained-glass artist, remembers his role as not only a coach but also sort of a big brother, often listened to girlfriend problems and, more importantly, helped the kids cope with what they’d seen.
Recalls Cullen, “If Mr. Linneman thought a player was getting cocky, thinking he was the next Johnny Bench, during batting practice, he’d snap off a couple curve balls to remind him he had a lot to learn.
“I also remember how conscious Mr. Linneman was not to swear. If he didn’t like an umpire’s call, you could hear him yell for a pretty fair distance, ‘Cheese and crackers! Got all muddy! Open your eyes, ump!’”
Gasperetti, plant manager at Lima Ashland Oil, remember the attention to detail Bob Linneman demonstrated.
“I think he taught us there were no shortcuts when it came to how the game was supposed to be played, and, by doing so, I think he made a lot of life-long baseball fans out of us in our adulthood.”
Jay Sheets, now a retired insurance man, remembers when it came to the religion of baseball, there really was no day of rest.
“We had batting practice every Sunday evening. Even on weekends, Mr. Linneman was willing to give of his time.”
Jeff Bailey, whose career path led him into small business, remembers his coach’s team-building skills, often piling several players into his station wagon and heading out after games for ice cream or a pizza.
And, Kevin Tierney remembers a coach who taught lessons that transcend childhood. “He was so encouraging, so positive about everything. He never let us give up or give in. I know it may sound clichéd, but such things tend to stay with you long after you’ve played your last game.”
For Bob Linneman’s son Pete, whose accomplishments are lengthy — earning a doctorate and then becoming accomplished educator, author and company builder — he feels, were his father alive today, he’d be most pleased with his and wife Kathy’s humanitarian efforts, supporting over 200 kids in Kenya in a program they founded called “Save a Mind, Give a Life.”
In high school Peter Linneman was a classmate of mine, one of 235 who graduated from LCC in 1969. Back then, ours was a relationship of prepositions. I knew of him, not about him. Now, given our time talking, I know not only of Peter Linneman but about him, his father and several of his former kids, now men, who all acknowledge that the impact of a great coach has the ability to transcend time.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.