Foundational Figure in History of University and Intercollegiate Athletics Passed Away Wednesday at Age of 95
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A foundational figure in the history of St. John's University and American intercollegiate athletics, Jack Kaiser passed away on Wednesday at the age of 95.
The patriarch of the Red Storm athletic department, Kaiser dedicated parts of nine different decades to his beloved alma mater, beginning as a standout three-sport athlete in the 1940s and ending with his tenure as the department's athletic director emeritus from 1995 until his death.
"St. John's University mourns the passing of Jack Kaiser," said Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John's University. "We live in thankfulness for everything that Jack was and his enduring impact on St. John's and the BIG EAST Conference. As a player, a coach, an Athletic Director, and especially as a supporter of St. John's, Jack was a difference-maker. We celebrate his life well-lived.
"While the baseball stadium bears his name, Jack's footprint on the trajectory of St. John's athletics and his personal impact on our students transcends generations of Johnnies across multiple sports. Long before I came to know Jack personally, I knew of his influence on college sports, a boundless one that only endures and expands. Jack leaves behind an immeasurable legacy and a commitment to athletic excellence. May he rest in peace."
"We are saddened to hear of Mr. Kaiser's passing and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends," said St. John's Director of Athletics Mike Cragg. "Long before I arrived in Queens, I knew of and respected Mr. Kaiser for his outstanding reputation in the field of college athletics. Upon taking this job, he was one of the first people to whom I placed a phone call. I will always cherish his wisdom, wit and friendship."
Born in Brooklyn on Oct. 6, 1926, John Warren Kaiser attended St. John's Prep before enlisting in the United States Army toward the end of World War II. Upon returning home in 1946, Kaiser enrolled at St. John's University, where he was a three-sport star for the Redmen. He enjoyed his greatest success on the diamond, leading St. John's to its first College World Series appearance in 1949.
After college, Kaiser signed a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox, playing three years in the organization from 1950-52. Kaiser often quipped that after the 1952 campaign, he sat down and had a long, hard look at his prospects in the Red Sox organization moving forward. An outfielder, Kaiser saw that he would have to break into an outfield core that included Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Jackie Jensen. With that in mind, Kaiser decided to accept a standing offer to join the baseball coaching staff at St. John's, kicking off a career that would touch the lives of countless individuals over the next seven decades.
From 1953-55, Kaiser served on the staff of Al "Dusty" DeStefano before taking over as the program's head coach in 1956. Over the next 18 seasons, Kaiser elevated St. John's to new heights on the diamond, turning in a cumulative record of 367-133-2 (.733) and appearing in 11 NCAA Tournaments. In 1960, Kaiser became the first man in NCAA history to lead his team to the College World Series as a player and a coach. Kaiser would go onto guide the Johnnies back to Omaha in both 1966 and 1968. In addition to his duties leading the St. John's baseball program, Kaiser also coached the freshman basketball team and served as an assistant coach for the varsity squad.
Before the start of the 1973-74 academic year, Kaiser handed off the baseball program to Joe Russo, his protégé and 1966 team captain, in order to fill the position of athletic director left vacant by the retirement of Walter McLaughlin. Over the next 22 years, Kaiser steered St. John's through a shifting national athletic landscape. Most notably, Kaiser was one of the seven athletic directors who banded together to create the BIG EAST Conference in 1979, forever changing the history of college basketball.
"We are saddened to learn of the death of St. John's legend Jack Kaiser, a BIG EAST founding father who saw the potential an Eastern-based basketball conference and helped bring our league into being 43 years ago," said BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman. "Jack's passion for collegiate athletics went beyond basketball. As a star baseball player at St. John's, he led the team to the 1949 College World Series, and in his 18-year career as head coach at his alma mater, he guided the team to 11 postseason appearances, including three trips to the College World Series. We now proudly honor the outstanding performer at the BIG EAST Baseball Championship with the Jack Kaiser Most Outstanding Player Award. Jack was a model athletics administrator who always conducted himself with class and dignity, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to the St. John's community on their deeply felt loss."
A staunch advocate for equality on all fronts, Kaiser instituted women's varsity athletics at St. John's beginning in 1974, setting the foundation for the 10 successful Red Storm women's teams sponsored by the University today.
"A heartbreaking day," said St. John's Senior Deputy Athletic Director Kathy Meehan. "Words cannot adequately express what Jack meant to so many people. He was an inspiration and mentor to me. I am very blessed to have known him. Jack was a gentleman in every sense of the word, a true Vincentian who will deeply be missed."
After retiring from his athletic director post in 1995, Kaiser began his tenure as the department's athletic director emeritus. Kaiser did not take his role as the Red Storm's elder statesman lightly, coming into the office multiple on a nearly full-time basis well into his 90s and sharing a lifetime's worth of wisdom with the department's coaches, administrators and student-athletes.
"One of the greatest honors of my professional and personal life has been getting to know and befriend Jack Kaiser," said St. John's Baseball Head Coach Mike Hampton. "His guidance and mentorship over the past 20 years has meant so much to me, not only as a coach, but as a person. I will never be able to thank him enough for all that he has taught me both on and off the diamond. His legacy on this program will never fade."
Kaiser received innumerable professional accolades over the course of his career, most notably earning induction into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1979. Kaiser, who served as president of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) from 1973-88, had the baseball stadium at St. John's renamed in his honor in 2007.
Visitation hours will be Monday, May 30 from 2 to 6 p.m. and Tuesday, May 31 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Leo F. Kearns Funeral Home located at 61-40 Woodhaven Blvd., Rego Park, N.Y. A mass will be held on Wednesday, June 1 at 10:30 a.m. inside St. Thomas More Church on the Queens campus of St. John's University. The mass will be streamed live at www.stjohns.edu/church.