Legends come from many walks of life. Heroes are not always diverting a major catastrophe. Role models don’t always sponsor 90-second Public Service Announcements.
A leader can be defined by a single moment or a lifetime of commitment. Bill Newman has recently been recognized for his life-long dedication to helping the younger generation in the Portsmouth area grow through sports; particularly through his 29 years as the American Legion Post 23 baseball coach.
Newman was presented with the fifth annual Gene Bennett Classic Dale Rice Leadership award, which comes on the 40th anniversary of the only state championship Newman captured for Portsmouth in 1974.
His daughter, Jeannie Barnhart, knows what coaching and this award means to her father.
“Just all the time he has spent helping others,” Barnhart said. “He has four daughters. Unfortunately he lost his only son at a young age. So, we’ve all been supportive as a family of what he’s been involved in and we’ve encouraged him to do everything he has done. A lot of the boys that have been on his teams have been like surrogate sons too him to a certain extent.”
“So that 40th reunion for him was very special, having one state championship and having taken those young men so far, I was just so pleased that they did that for him.”
Bennett, who has carved out his own tenure in baseball, knows how valuable Newman has been to Scioto County.
“He’s be an active in sports in the community,” Bennett said. “He’s done a lot for this community, for the young players. He’s been an asset to the sport’s program in the county forever and he’s just done an outstanding job.”
Even though Newman was celebrating his only state championship, which occurred 40 years ago, Newman’s most prolific team arguably suited up 10 years earlier in 1964.
“That year (‘64), I had three professional all-stars,” Newman said. “I had Al Oliver at first base. Larry Hisle in center field and pitching, and Gene Tenace in left field.”
During the 1964 season, as district tournament time approach, Al Oliver was approached with an opportunity to try out for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 17-year-old Oliver asked the legendary coach for permission to try out for the Pirates’ organization.
“I didn’t want him to go but he was entirely attributable to a career in professional baseball,” Newman said. “If you do go, you won’t be back home.”
Newman had a tremendous amount of confidence in Oliver; he knew the future National League batting champion was destined to become a champion.
“I told him I’d miss him and the team would miss him. But he had a unique opportunity, and I knew he would make the most of it,” Newman said.
Oliver remembers his coaches’ faith.
“He was hesitant in giving me permission to go try out because he didn’t think I would come back,” Oliver said. “He believed in me.”
Oliver attributed his work ethic and success at an early age to Newman.
“He was a coach that cared about his players,” Oliver said. “He didn’t have a lot of rules, but he wanted us to show up on time and hustle. That is the only thing a coach can really ask of any player.”
Oliver accepted an offer to play professional baseball for Pittsburgh. The Portsmouth native ended up playing 19 years in the major leagues, winning a World Series with the Pirates in 1971 and winning the National League batting title in 1982 with the Montreal Expos at the age of 35.
Despite losing Oliver and not winning a championship in 1964, Newman has nothing but found memories.
“Those three players on the same team, the same year, that was a blessing and they put on quite a show,” Newman said.
After his American Legion days concluded, Hisle went on to have a successful MLB career with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Minnesota Twins and the Milwaukee Brewers. Likewise, Tenace carved out a successful 14-year career in the major leagues.
Despite the accolades, Newman said he coached baseball to make his players become better individuals.
“The main part of American Legion baseball is teaching the fallacies and the good points of what life is all about,” Newman said. “Be respectful to yourself and others around you.”
In the end, Newman wouldn’t change a thing.
“It was all worth while and I enjoyed it,” Newman said.
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 298, or on Twitter @crslone.