Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tom D'Armi, Duke Baseball Coach and Born in Federalsburg, Md. Dies

DURHAM, N.C. -- Tom D'Armi, a fixture around Duke University athletics for nearly three decades, died Saturday in Wilson, N.C., at the age of 75.

D'Armi coached the Blue Devils' baseball program for seven seasons and also served as the director of athletic facilities and game management for all of the school's sports - totaling 28 years of service to the university when he retired in 2004.

As a coach, D'Armi guided Duke baseball to 125 wins and five consecutive winning seasons during his seven-year tenure from 1978-84. He coached eight All-ACC selections and seven Major League Baseball draft picks during that time.

"He was my second dad, it's as simple as that," said Bob Brower, one of D'Armi's top players who went on to a Major League career with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees in the late 1980s. "For me he was Duke, someone you could lean on in good times and bad. He taught us so many things, in his way, about being a man, about being responsible, about being accountable. He had that tough persona, but behind that was a kind man, a teddy bear who just gave and gave and never asked for much in return."

"He was certainly a good man and a great coach," recalled David Amaro, a senior on D'Armi's final team of 1984. "He was the reason I came to Duke to play baseball in 1980, and I had a great four years with him. He was funny, inspirational and he taught us that camaraderie was the most important factor in achieving success as a team. He will certainly be missed but not forgotten."

"I have such great memories of him," added two-time All-ACC catcher Tom Decker. "What I remember most was that he truly cared about his players both on and off the field. He was such a great competitor and mentor. He will be truly missed."

Mark Militello, an All-ACC baseball and football player who still owns one of the top career batting averages in Duke history, pointed to the 1981 season as perhaps D'Armi's greatest coaching job. He was named ACC coach of the year that season after leading Duke to a 29-10 record and a deep run in the ACC Tournament.

"Coach D'Armi was revered by his players as a person and as a coach. He would have his players' backs at all times, in good times and bad," Militello said. "He made us believe that we could beat the likes of Carolina and Clemson with only a limited number of scholarship players compared to their full NCAA allotment.

"Coach D'Armi fought tooth-and-nail with the likes of Carolina's Coach (Mike) Roberts and Clemson's Coach (Bill) Wilhelm, and that fighting spirit carried over to his players."

Militello noted that when he ran into South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner at a tournament last summer, their conversation quickly turned to 25 years ago when Tanner was an assistant at N.C. State during D'Armi's Duke era. "I spoke to him for about 30 minutes, and seemingly every minute was spent sharing Coach D'Armi stories," Militello said.

Born April 21, 1935 in Federalsburg, Md., D'Armi was an All-America soccer player at East Stroudsburg State and graduated in 1960. He earned his master's degree at North Carolina in 1961, then became the head baseball coach at West Georgia College in 1962. In four seasons, 1962-65, he posted a record of 59-13, directed the team to three conference (GIAC) championhips and was named league coach of the year three times. In 1990 he was inducted into the West Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

D'Armi served as the assistant baseball coach at Mississippi State from 1966-73, during a time when the school won three SEC titles and played in the 1971 College World Series.

Before coming to Duke, D'Armi also trained heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson, traveled to Italy as the general manager and field boss for the Milan franchise in a European professional baseball league, and authored the book "Daddy, Will You Play Catch With Me?"

D'Armi arrived at Duke in the fall of 1976 as the assistant coach to Enos Slaughter. He was named the program's head coach following the 1977 season and remained at the helm through May of 1984, posting a record of 125-98-2.

Along with producing five straight winning ledgers, D'Armi's victory totals of 29 in 1981 and 25 in 1984 were at that time the best marks in school history behind only the 31 wins achieved by the 1952 College World Series team.

D'Armi also handled groundskeeping duties at Duke's Jack Coombs Field, grooming the field on his tractor early in the morning before every home game and lining the field himself. He eventually took over management of all of Duke's athletic facilities, including Cameron Indoor Stadium and Wallace Wade Stadium.

"One memorable moment came when President Reagan spoke at Cameron," Militello recalled. "Coach D'Armi refused to give a key to Cameron to the Secret Service. He said something like, 'I go where the key goes. No exceptions.' Coach D'Armi defeated the Secret Service."

"He was a face for Duke, just a very special person," added Brower. "You could walk into his office and you might see Enos Slaughter or Tommy John or Sandy Koufax. You might see Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Valvano hanging out as paisans. He knew a lot of people and he did a lot of networking for Duke in his own special way."

Militello and fellow former Blue Devil players Bud Copeland and Dave Coughenour helped launch a Duke scholarship in D'Armi's name. D'Armi's family has asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Tom D'Armi Scholarship Fund, c/o Mary Dinkins, Duke Athletics, Box 90542, Durham, NC 27708.

D'Armi was predeceased by his wife Jane D'Armi and is survived by his son Mickey D'Armi.

A celebration of his life is being planned for August.

No comments: