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At the 2009 alumni game, Ted Thoren's number 10 was retired on the left-field wall at Hoy Field. Thoren's is the only number ever retired by the Cornell baseball program. Photo: Darl Zehr.

Old-school, legendary Big Red coach Ted Thoren remembered by generations of former players

When longtime Cornell baseball coach Ted Thoren died May 10, Cornell lost not only one of its legendary figures, but also one of its greatest ambassadors. Thoren, who coached the Cornell baseball team for 38 years before his retirement in 1990, became synonymous with the university to a generation of players.

Ted Thoren

"When people say Cornell, I think of Ted Thoren," said Dave Menapace '83, a former player who played in 124 games over four seasons under Thoren. "He had that much of an impact on me. When he came out to see me play in an American Legion league game and spoke with me and my parents, he was the first impression I had of Cornell."

"I would not have gone to Cornell without Ted Thoren," said Rich Booth '82, who pitched for Thoren for three seasons and is now a major benefactor of the athletic department. "I was all set to go to Baylor, had my paperwork sent in and roommates assigned, and then Ted came out to see me pitch and told me the right place for me was at Cornell. He just made a great pitch for the school."

Thoren expected the absolute best, his former players and colleagues say, and those who bought into his teachings were assured of a friend for life.

"Playing for Ted was fun, but he was -- and this I learned to appreciate more after I was done with school -- he was from the old school," Menapace said. "He was a disciplinarian, a very organized guy who was great with the alumni. What I respected most was that he was a disciplinarian. He demanded a lot out of his players, and as an 18- or 19-year-old kid, you kind of slough it off, but as a young man, once you step back and look at it, he helped shape a lot of the things I do today."

"He was a tough guy to please, but when the going got tough for you, he was right there by your side," Booth said. "A lot of people probably didn't know that about him, but there were players who suffered the death of a parent, and he was the first one there to help."

Ted Thoren, center, at the 2009 alumni game with Rich Booth Sr., left, and Rich Booth Jr. '82. Photo: Darl Zehr.

"Ted and I got off to a rocky start because of a confrontation I had with him in 1972 when I was the sports information director at Bucknell," said longtime Cornell SID Dave Wohlhueter, who worked closely with the baseball program until Thoren's retirement in 1990. "Five years later I came to Cornell, and he still remembered our first meeting.

"After we settled this in a verbal battle, we became best of friends, and I mean close friends. … Sometimes he was tough to work with, but he always was thankful and gracious. He was meticulous when it came to his preparation and left nothing to chance. Ted wanted his ball club to be first-class, and that's the way it was. He was first-class all the way."

"It became clear to me from the outset that this guy, like many successful men from his era, appreciated physical and mental toughness, preparation and effort as much as he appreciated winning a game," said Tom MacLeod '70, who pitched three seasons for Thoren and served as a team captain in 1970. "If you were willing to be tough and compete, he was on your side -- and not just while you played for him, but for a lifetime."

Ted Thoren in the dugout.

Thoren retired in 1990 with the most wins (541) in a single sport among any coach in Cornell history, a mark that stood for 21 years until being passed this spring by softball coach Dick Blood (542 wins). His legacy includes membership in seven halls of fame, including the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame and the Ithaca College Sports Hall of Fame.

Even after his retirement, Thoren remained active in the Cornell baseball community, organizing the first alumni game in 1996 to raise annual operating funds for the program. It was these gatherings that allowed Thoren to show once again how much his former players meant to him.

"He never forgot a name and a face, and he brought so many people together through the years," Booth said. "Guys would show up at an alumni game, guys he hadn't seen in years, and Ted would have a story about them."

Even in the days leading up to his death, Thoren still exhibited a great deal of care and concern for his former players.

"I visited Ted in Ithaca nine days before he passed," MacLeod said. "He was in great physical pain and bedridden, but during my visit, we talked only about two things: how to make this year's alumni game go smoothly despite a late start to register the players, and what should go in his letter recommending a former player for the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame. It wasn't about him at all. He was looking out for us right to the very end."

Related links:

Chronicle Online's Ted Thoren obituary

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