Jack Kaiser, legendary former baseball coach and athletic director at St. John’s, who was instrumental in the formation of the Big East, died Wednesday at the age of 95, the school announced.
“We are saddened to hear of Mr. Kaiser’s passing and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg said in a press release. “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.”
Kaiser left his biggest mark as the school’s athletic director, a job he held for 22 years, from 1973-95. Kaiser played a key role in the birth of the Big East conference in 1979 and in helping expand the women’s sports program. He is member of multiple halls of fame, received numerous awards for this contributions to college athletics and is one of the most revered figures in St. John’s history.
Kaiser’s relationship with the school dates to his days as a baseball player there, starting in 1947. He was named an All-American and College Player of the Year in 1949 while leading St John’s to the College World Series. Kaiser played professionally for the Red Sox in the minor leagues for three years until 1952. He later worked in the Red Sox organization as a manager in their minor league system for two seasons.
Kaiser returned to St. John’s in 1952 as an assistant coach for the baseball and basketball teams and took over the helm of the baseball program in 1956. He managed the team through 1973, winning six Metropolitan Conference championships and earning 11 invitations to the NCAA post-season tournaments.
St. John’s reached the College World Series three times (1960, 1966, 1968) during his tenure, in which Kaiser posted a record of 367-133-2. The school’s baseball field, Jack Kaiser Stadium, is named after him, as is the most valuable player award for the Big East Conference tournament.
“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,” school president Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P said. “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.”
Kaiser was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 6, 1925, and attended St. John’s Prep before enlisting in the Army toward the end of World War II.
“A heartbreaking day,” said Kathy Meehan, St. John’s senior deputy athletic director. “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.”