Baseball Coach Southworth Dedicates Half a Century to SCSD
Published on 6/3/15
Syracuse City School District baseball coach Bob Southworth is a record-holder in many respects. Having just retired from his 50th season coaching high school baseball, he has officially led his teams to more than 700 wins. Not to mention, he is the only baseball coach Corcoran High School has ever had, serving in the role since the school building opened.
Starting as a coach at Corcoran in 1966, Southworth has long been a fixture in Syracuse baseball. Affectionately called “Southy” by his players, Southworth has been inducted into both the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame and the New York State High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
With his 706-421 record as the head coach, Southworth boasts a winning percentage of .626 and only eight losing seasons. Southworth has led teams to ten league championships and three sectional titles, and he is now third in New York State baseball coaching history. In spite of all the accolades, Southworth remains modest about his accomplishments and steadfast in his passion for the sport and the opportunities his coaching position provided him.
“The district has treated me great. I’m very grateful they let me hang on for so long,” Coach Southworth said. “It’s been a very good experience. What brought me back all these years were the kids. The kids have been great.” Southworth noted that seven of his players have gone on to play professional baseball.
Looking back at his 50-year legacy with the Syracuse City School District, Southworth reflected, “Hopefully people remember that I loved every minute of it. It was never a job—it was always fun. Most of the time, I didn’t even know how much I made—that was just something extra. I never did it for the money. Like most of the coaches in the city, I coached for the love of the game.”
April Wertheim has known Southworth for years and has worked alongside him in her role as the Athletic Director at Fowler and Corcoran High Schools. She attributes the success of the district’s baseball program in large part to the longtime coach.
“He’s an icon,” Wertheim stated. “Everyone knows Southy because of baseball. He’s extremely passionate about the sport—he eats, sleeps and breathes it. He practically cuts the field with the scissors himself when it needs to be cut. You want every coach in the city to be as passionate about his sport as Southy is. He’s Mr. Baseball!”
Pete Birmingham agrees. Having coached for Southworth and against him for forty years, Birmingham says no one else has left quite the impression on him that Southy has. Birmingham’s coaching career started in 1974, right out of college, when he served as Southy’s JV coach. Soon after, again thanks to the Coach, he accepted the head coaching job at Christian Brothers Academy. He has been coaching ever since.
“Southy showed me how to run a baseball program the right way,” Birmingham explained. “We ran the way he ran, we hit the way he hit, we had the bullpen sessions set up the way he did.”
“I was so lucky. I was coming out of college and I just loved baseball. I thought I knew a lot and I actually knew nothing. My big stroke of luck was getting to work with Southy,” he added.
The draw of his mentor, Birmingham says, is his presence—the way Southworth cares for his players. He speaks of another coach he currently works with, now in South Carolina, who went to Valley High School here in Syracuse. As the two talked about their backgrounds, the colleague mentioned that Southy had been his Babe Ruth baseball coach. But his fondest memory was of Southy loaning the youngster his car for the then-teenager to take his driving test.
“You could compile a list of 1,000 things Southy has done for kids, and there would still be 10,000 things you missed. Every kid that’s ever played for him has left better off than he was when he got there,” Birmingham insisted. “He’s irreplaceable.”
Jim Tormey played left field on one of Southworth’s first Corcoran teams, in 1968-1969. He recalls a story of a conflict brewing among he and his teammates and how Southy helped resolve it.
As are many baseball players, Tormey was superstitious. He was having a good season and attributed it to the bat he was using. It was ugly, he said, and no one wanted to use it until he started getting good hits with it. Naturally, Tormey didn’t want to share the lucky bat, for fear that a teammate would break it. Sure enough, Southworth forced Tormey to let his teammate borrow the bat—and the teammate promptly broke it in half (accidentally, he acknowledged).
“But look at our record,” Tormey continued. “It didn’t affect our team. Southy got us all to work together. That’s what he did. He knew everyone personally. He knew your strengths and weaknesses and got everyone blended together and working as a team. That’s why we were successful.”
And, like Mr. Birmingham, Mr. Tormey also attributes his eventual coaching tenure to Southy’s influence. “I coached softball, lacrosse, hockey and soccer, in part because of the influence he had on me,” Tormey explained. “He was such a positive figure in my life. He was an inspiration to all of us. He’s a friend, a mentor, and he really cares what you do with your life. You can still feel that.”
Jim Bradley played 2nd base on the Corcoran Class of 1978 baseball team. He calls playing on Southworth’s team a childhood dream come true. “Your ultimate goal was to play for Southy,” he says. “We were committed to him from the time we were at Clary [Middle School]. If you grew up in the Valley, baseball was king—and Southy was the King of Baseball.”
Bradley recalls his senior year, traveling to Florida to play three games. Their first game was to be against the number 1 ranked team in the State of Florida. “We’re just out of the gym—haven’t even played on the field yet,” he remembers. “They have 30 games under their belt! And guess what? We upset them! That was heard around the state. And it was all because of Southy. He knew what we had to do to win and he told us.”
Describing his former coach as consistent, calm, fair and firm, Bradley says the lessons he and his teammates learned extended far off the field. “What he taught us was beyond strikes and hits,” Bradley adds. “It was about how to present yourself with a positive attitude.”
Bradley speaks of the experiences that Coach Southworth created for he and his peers. “He enabled us to do things and see things that we never would have done if he hadn’t put them together,” he says, telling of trips to Long Island, Manhattan and spring training in Florida. “We were lucky to be a part of that. It allowed us to form a brotherhood that followed us from Corcoran and beyond. We owe that to Southy. We really love that man and would do anything for him. You couldn’t help but to want to just play your heart out for him.”
John Milligan, now a Physical Education teacher at Webster Elementary, was Bradley’s teammate back in the late 70’s. He played first base on Southworth’s 1977 and 1978 teams. What lingers with him about “Southy” are the fact that he would constantly eat black Twizzlers—and the life lessons he imparted.
Milligan recalls first and foremost the attitude that Southworth expected of his players. “He wants all of his players to play baseball for the love of the game,” Milligan recalled. “We’d occasionally have a player who was outstanding—not just by batting averages—but because he loved the game. Southy would make them a MVP. But instead of a trophy, he’d give them a bat that said ‘for the love of the game.’”
Those values encouraged by Southworth have carried with Milligan—especially the importance of keeping things in perspective. “He’d say to players who would strike out: one of the hardest things to do in baseball is hit a round ball with a round bat.’ He’d also say things like: this is the only sport where you can fail 7 out of 10 times and still be considered good.”
This care comes from Southworth’s genuine care for his players, Milligan insists. “When I was 17, a junior, I played first base, but I didn’t have a nice first baseman’s mit. He went out and bought a brand new first baseman’s mit and said as long as I took care of it, he’d let me use it.” He paused. “I still have that mit.”
In other words, Southworth has been a mentor to decades’ worth of young ball players. “He took a lot of young, immature boys and tried to make us into young men in the years we were with him,” Milligan explained. “He was constantly being a mentor. Boys will be boys, so sometimes we wouldn’t make the right choices. But he’d stick by us. We were always in the club.”
Sean McBride coached JV baseball with Milligan for several years, after graduating from Corcoran in 2005 and playing baseball at Onondaga Community College for two years. He was on Southworth’s team from 2001-2005 and attributes his people skills largely to his time with the veteran coach.
“Sometimes, Southy would come down hard on someone, and I’d go back and pick my teammate up,” he recalled. “I was always trying to get the best out of my teammates. I think I took that from Southy—he was the master of that. He knew how to coach different kids differently. Some kids, he knew he could be more stern with, and some kids, he had to be more gentle. He taught me how to handle people in different ways.”
The support and positive attitude that McBride displayed led to his being one of the select players to receive Southy’s coveted MVP bat, something he still considers to be a huge honor.
More than anything, McBride was honored to have received the bat from Coach Southworth. “He was very into the game and loved the game more than anything—and teaching the game to kids,” McBride explained. “It’s his passion. I went and saw him when he got his 700th win and we talked. He still has the charge to be out there—it’s always been his calling.”
McBride, like so many players before him, remembers the team’s trip to Florida fondly, calling them a sign of the coach’s dedication to his team. “We would go every year for spring break,” he said. “No matter what, Southy would make sure all the kids that were on the varsity team were able to make the trip, whether their parents had the money or not. And if a JV player showed that he was good enough and had the heart, Southy would bring him with us. No matter what, every player went to Florida with the team before they graduated. He would make sure of it.”
Bob Weismore concurred that being on Southworth’s team meant being a bit spoiled. “If we were on the road, to Watertown or Rochester or somewhere a bit farther away, Southy would take the team out for dinner. It was special. He treated us special, and that’s what I do with my players now.”
His players now are the Westhill High School baseball team. Weismore is in a unique position, having served as a pitcher and first baseman on Southworth’s 1968-1970 teams and now leading his own team as they occasionally face off against his former coach’s.
“It makes me smile when I coach against him,” Weismore insisted. “He’s a terrific guy. As a coach, he taught me never to give up on anyone—no matter what the circumstances. You have to give them every opportunity.”
Noting what a rarity it is for a school to be graced with the same coach for 50 years, Weismore said Southworth’s retirement will be the end of an era for the Syracuse City School District.
“All you have to do is mention the name Southy, and you think of Corcoran baseball,” he said. “Everyone knows who he is. When he retires, you’re losing years and years of connection. It would be like Coach Krzyzewski leaving Duke. There’s only one name tied to Corcoran baseball—Southy. No matter who follows him, it’ll be quite a job.”
He paused, and then added, “There will never be another Southy.”