BASEBALL: Ahead of final season, Stuper looks back on his baseball journey and 30 years at Yale
Courtesy of Yale Athletics
After 30 years at the helm of Yale’s baseball program, John Stuper is set to retire at the end of the 2022 season.
Stuper, whose retirement was announcement by Yale Athletics last month, is the winningest coach in baseball history at Yale with a total of 533 wins, including 267 against Ancient Eight teams. The Pennsylvania native has four Ivy titles and a pair of NCAA regional appearances under his belt and had 37 of his Bulldogs selected in the MLB Draft.
“Coach Stuper gave me the opportunity to play baseball at the greatest university in the world, and my family and I will be forever grateful,” said Oakland Athletics pitcher and former Yale baseball player Kumar. Nambiar ’19. “Stupe has always believed in me as a pitcher, even when others haven’t, and he’s a huge reason why I pitch professionally.
Nambiar’s favorite memories weren’t on the pitch, he said, but when Stuper”[shared] stories about Yale players before me,” he said.
“There are countless remarkable people he has recruited and coached during his tenure, and these stories prove just how special Yale baseball has been over the past three decades thanks to Coach Stuper,” Nambiar said.
Contributions on and off the pitch
Stuper’s contributions to the Yale community are not limited to baseball. According to pitcher Quinn Cleary ’23, the team often participates in other college programs, including field hockey, volleyball, football and hockey, performing a myriad of duties as student employees in a tradition that Stuper established during his tenure as head coach. Of all the sideline contributions, however, the field hockey ball-hunting skills of the Yale baseball team are unmatched.
In interviews with the News, four different field hockey umpires described Yale baseball’s ball-chasing skills as the best in the NCAA. Yale baseball captain Mason LaPlante ’22 was one of the players who chased field hockey balls in games this year.
“When I came here, my freshman year, we had already established [chasing balls at field hockey games] as Yale baseball culture… We hold ourselves to a very high standard,” LaPlante said. “A few years ago we had a group of four guys who were asked to hunt the regional between Harvard and Princeton. And then this year, four of us, and I was one of the guys this year, went to New Jersey for the Rutgers vs Liberty area.
According to Cleary, there was even talk of sending Yale’s baseball batters to Ann Arbor for the national championship.
Coach John Stuper is married to former Yale field hockey head coach Pam Stuper, who announced she was leaving in December to accept a position with the USA Field Hockey Foundation as executive director leading all fundraising initiatives, ending a 17-year run with the Blue and White.
The Stupers first met at Yale, quickly becoming friends before getting married on campus. The ceremony was filmed by former baseball player and now Florida Governor Ron De Santis ’01. The Stupers coached at Yale for a total of 47 years.
“I think [the Yale baseball program is] just an extremely welcoming group of players, families, parents, alumni,” said Yale assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Andrew Dickson.
“What stood out to me the most was when I first accepted the job. [in 2020] to come [to Yale] I hadn’t even moved yet, I was kind of in the process, and once Coach Stuper let the team know how many texts I got from every player on the team who reached out to me and just welcomed me meant a lot because that doesn’t happen everywhere,” Dickson explained.
The generosity of the Yale baseball family was on display in 2019 when former volunteer assistant coach Ray Guarino was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. When former Yale baseball player Joseph Lubanski ’15 found out about Guarino’s condition in May, he reached out to teammate and former captain Richard Slenker ’17 to set up a GoFundMe page to help their coach.
In less than 24 hours, the Ray Guarino Yale Baseball Cancer Fight Fund raised over $21,000, and by July of that year the page had raised $100,695 from 858 unique donors.
“It was just something that I really think any Yale baseball player would do,” Lubanski said of starting the GoFundMe page in an interview with the News last year. “I think it would have happened eventually. Ray-Ray has impacted many of us, and it’s a big part of all of our lives, even though we may not be on campus every day like we used to be. The answer speaks for itself of who he is and what he means to the program and the families he has touched along the way.
To this day, Stuper keeps a photo on his desk of Kyle Burnat ’05 and Nicholas Grass ’05, two pitchers who died in 2003 after a fatal car accident that claims the lives of two other Yale athletes.
The Origins of Stuper’s Baseball Journey
Stuper’s journey to lead Yale’s program was anything but simple.
Stuper grew up in Pennsylvania and adopted his father’s love of baseball. His father, he said, was a coal miner who turned down a professional baseball contract in order to support his wife and children. Despite the long days at the mine, Stuper’s father was never too tired to play catch with him.
“I get the biggest kick when my players come back and introduce their wives or kids to me,” Stuper said. “And I look at them and say, ‘I remember you as an absolutely ignorant 18-year-old freshman. “”
In high school, he had a 3-4 record as a pitcher and “nobody really cared about him,” according to Stuper. That was until Stuper met then-Butler County Community College baseball coach Tom Beckett. Beckett, who would later become Yale’s athletic director from 1994 to 2018, transformed Stuper “from a boy to a man” and launched him on the path to baseball stardom. In two years with Beckett, Stuper went 25–3 and began to attract attention.
After transferring to Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Stuper played for a year before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 18th round of the 1978 MLB Draft.
After a self-proclaimed “horrible first season” with the Pirates, Stuper was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. But his struggles didn’t end there, as he had a rocky start to double-A ball with the Arkansas Travelers. But on August 5, 1980, Stuper’s manager had a conversation with him.
“Here’s how he motivates me: We’re in Shreveport, Louisiana, and he’s like, ‘I don’t have anybody else, you’re going to have to throw the most.’ Great,” Stuper said. “So he proceeded, when he went to hand out the lineup cards at the start of the game, only to have an argument with the ref and got kicked out. So the ref is pissed off at anyone wearing an Arkansas jersey… And to somehow I went out to throw a four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts, went the whole nine innings and came back to the clubhouse and [the manager] was shocked.”
From there, everything seemed to click to Stuper. By the end of the year, he had made the Cardinals MLB 40-man roster. After a series of winter ball games in Mexico, Stuper arrived at the Cardinals’ Major League spring training camp and “almost made the team” due to his mid-season form thanks in every inning he pitched in 1980. According to Stuper, he was told by the Cardinals manager that even though he wasn’t on the team, he would surely be back in a few months to help the club out. the big league. But after pitching 276 innings in a calendar year, Stuper’s arm had “nothing” and failed to impress in its first year in Triple-A ball.
When the 1981 minor league season ended, Stuper took the winter off to rest. Despite having a suboptimal spring training with the big league club, he got off to a 7-1 start in Triple-A, achieving two shutouts. On June 1, 1982, Stuper made his first career MLB start with the St. Louis Cardinals. Beckett had a three-hour call that day with his former boss, the athletic director of Butler Community College, listening to a description of the game because he hated watching, according to Stuper.
“So that was 1982,” Stuper said. “Big year in my life.”
Stuper won the World Series with the Cardinals later that year and was an integral part of the championship team. He started Game 2 and Game 6 of the series against the Milwaukee Brewers, winning the latter.
Become a coach
During the offseasons, Stuper would return to Butler Community College to help out. At some point, he said, the “coaching bug” got to him. After finishing his playing career, Stuper returned to Butler Community College and coached for five years.
Stuper would later get a call from Hall of Fame catcher and fellow Cardinal Ted Simmons asking if he wanted to be a pitching coach with St. Louis. After two years of training with his old team, Stuper checked himself into a Pittsburgh clinic he attended every year. There he met Yale softball coach Kathy Arendsen.
“So she walked into the coaches reception room, and I [could] say she didn’t know anyone,” Stuper said. “Because I was kind of a veteran of that clinic, I went upstairs and started talking to her… So we started talking about Yale and she said, ‘You know, baseball work at Yale is open – if you know anyone who might be interested, let me know. “And I said, ‘Well, tell me about that. And so she continued to extol the virtues of Yale and how awesome the kids were. I said “I’m interested”.
Stuper got the job. In his first season in 1993, the Bulldogs won 33 games, a school record he then broke in 2017 with 34 wins.
Two years after joining the Bulldogs, Stuper’s “second dad,” Beckett, took over as athletic director. Stuper joked that he got Beckett the AD job he held for 24 years.
“It was a 30-year privilege,” Stuper said of his time at Yale.
And now, in his final season, Stuper hopes to lead his team to another Ivy League title with a team that ranks first in the 2022 Ivy League Baseball Preseason Poll.
Stuper’s final regular season game, scheduled for May 15, is a home game at newly renovated Bush Field against Harvard.