Foul Ball

Baseball coach Jim Brady has been fighting his bosses in the UMSL athletic department for seven years. And he thought colon cancer was a pain in the ass.

A career win-loss record of 530-295.

In sports parlance, that's a .639 winning percentage. And it would be the envy of any baseball manager. Joe McCarthy, skipper of the New York Yankees from 1931 to 1946, owns the best career winning percentage in major-league-baseball history, in the record books at .610. St. Louis native and Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver won at a .583 clip, good for eighth on the all-time list. Fellow hometowner Dick Williams managed .520, as did longtime Cardinals head man Red Schoendienst. Whitey Herzog, who managed the Cardinals to three World Series, retired with a .532 winning percentage. The still-active Tony La Russa is at .529 and counting.

Of course, it's a long way from the humble Normandy turf of the University of Missouri-St. Louis Rivermen to Busch Memorial Stadium. None of his players is likely ever to make it to the major leagues, but sports reduce human performance to measurable, objective statistics, and by that indisputable yardstick UMSL baseball coach Jim Brady is a baseball success story.

Jennifer Silverberg
Brady poses with UMSL athletic director Pat Dolan earlier this season, after Dolan presented him with a plaque commemorating his 500th career victory.
Brady poses with UMSL athletic director Pat Dolan earlier this season, after Dolan presented him with a plaque commemorating his 500th career victory.

That assessment is backed up in Brady's bio on the school's Web site, which notes that in his eighteen seasons as head coach, the Rivermen have never suffered a losing season, that in nine of the past eleven years the school has won 30 or more games and that the team once even managed to secure a coveted berth in the Division II College World Series. "During his tenure at UMSL, Brady has coached nine All-American players, 33 all-regional players and 62 all-conference players," the Web site states. "Brady has been awarded with the Central Region Coach of the Year Award twice, in 1993 and again in 1996."

This year, Brady's Rivermen finished the regular season securely atop the Great Lakes Valley Conference with a record of 36-13 -- good enough for UMSL to be ranked thirteenth in the nation among Division II schools. This past weekend, they went 3-0 in winning the GLVC tournament, and Brady was named the conference's coach of the year. Next comes the regional tourney this weekend in Allendale, Michigan. If the Rivermen survive that four-team double-elimination scramble, they'll be one of eight teams in the nation to make it once again to the Division II World Series in Montgomery, Alabama later this month.

But for Jim Brady, winning hasn't been enough. Despite piling up more wins than any other coach in UMSL sports history, Brady's job is in jeopardy -- and has been for the past seven years.

Brady's not on the verge of flaming out like Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy or Alabama football coach Mike Price, both of whom lost their jobs in recent weeks for high-profile naughtiness. Compared to them, the UMSL coach's decline is more like death by a thousand paper cuts.

Still, a job is a job, whether it pays millions or, in Brady's case, $19,000 a year with no health benefits. And for a guy like Jim Brady, who has eaten, slept, lived and breathed baseball for virtually all of his 52 years, it's more than that. He may not have the same physique he had when he played baseball at St. Louis Community College-Meramec and Southwest Missouri State University, but Brady still walks and talks like a jock. He hasn't lost his swagger. His belly may be bigger, but there's still fire in it. No matter how many times he tells his story, though, it's clear Brady has trouble believing that it's actually happening to him.

"We've been nationally ranked every year for the last ten years. We graduate 80 percent of our guys," says the coach.

"This is the only job in America where you get demoted for being successful."

Jim Brady's world began to unravel at an unlikely time.

After seeing his UMSL teams cruise through the early '90s averaging 30 wins a year, in 1996 Brady led the Rivermen to their best season to date. That year, they went 37-9 and won the central regional. Despite the team's early exit from the Division II World Series, making it to the big tourney was a feat in itself.

On July 8 of that year, Brady received a memo from his new boss, athletic director Pat Dolan, who'd been hired the previous fall.

"By most measures, this past baseball season has been a successful one," Dolan's memo began.

But from there, things went downhill.

"[T]he win/loss record, however, is not the only measure of a successful program," Dolan wrote. What followed was a four-page, single-spaced description of Brady's shortcomings as a university employee. The stakes were made clear in the second paragraph: "This memo addresses other aspects of coaching where you need to make significant progress in order for us to continue the employment relationship."

According to the memo, Brady had been late for two staff meetings and had missed one. He was late filing his year-end evaluation. The memo also warned there must be "no more deficit spending," though it did not cite by how much Brady had exceeded his budget. He was told to keep 8 a.m.-5 p.m. office hours and to be "off campus ... no more than three or four times a month." Dolan further noted that she had observed Brady using "vulgar, inappropriate and unprofessional" language when talking to players. "Cussing at players is not acceptable," she admonished.

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