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.

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.

The memo broadsided Brady.

"She hadn't even been there an entire year. We go to the World Series, and she comes in with an evaluation that is four pages long, telling me how to better perform my duties," he fumes.

"You know what? I'm a friggin' baseball coach. If I want to go off campus and go somewhere, I can go. I don't need to carry around a beeper and have to report wherever my movement is. I'm having success. Trust me to go out and be in the right place at the right time. If I have to call in and be treated like I'm in grade school, if I have to have a note to go to the bathroom, that's bullshit. That's not how you run an athletic department. It was like I had to report everything to the mother hen."

The next year, Dolan altered Brady's contract, requiring him to work on campus through the summer for no additional salary. Before that time, Brady had been working under a nine-month contract, which left his summers open to work at baseball camps to supplement his UMSL salary, which at the time paid him $26,146.

Brady, who says the summer-camp gigs were good for up to $9,000 a year, filed a grievance with university officials, claiming sex discrimination. His rationale: A female employee in the recreational-sports office had gone to a twelve-month contract but was paid a prorated amount for the additional three months' work.

Vice Chancellor Jack Nelson sided with Brady, ruling that the coach's base pay should be increased by one-third, to $34,861, to reflect the extra three months.

"That's when they hit the ceiling," Brady recalls. "From that time on, every time I so much as farted without permission, they'd write it down. They tried to create a paper trail. When I would call it to their attention that they were trying to set me up to make me fail and I'm not going to stand for this, then they really got pissed off."

Robert Samples, UMSL's director of communications, says that the university cannot discuss individual personnel issues. "I can say generally that UMSL conducts employee evaluations and keeps personnel files as a matter of good management," says Samples, "but I cannot divulge the contents of these matters as they related to Coach Brady individually."

In any event, memos from Dolan to Brady increased, citing various infractions, however slight. In a memo dated November 14, 1997, the athletic director complained that Brady had not filled out the proper continuing-education forms for a hitting clinic he organized for local youth. A February 10, 1998, memo appeared to blame the baseball team for a hole in the plaster wall around the indoor track, though Dolan conceded that "there are no witnesses and technically we do not know who put the hole in the wall." Users of the indoor track "have witnessed baseball players spitting in the facility and using profanity in public," she added.

The next missive came from Vice Chancellor Reinhard Schuster in April 1998.

The two-page letter -- which, like the rest of the paperwork concerning his job, Brady has saved -- lists "goals and objectives" for the coming year. Most of the "objectives" are of the boilerplate variety, dictating that athletes "retain their academic eligibility" and that the baseball coach "adhere to all departmental, campus and [University of Missouri] System rules, regulations and guidelines." The next-to-last objective states that the head baseball coach's normal office hours would be 8 a.m.-5 p.m. "with a lunch period of an hour." Any deviation from that schedule would have to be approved by "the director."

The final objective: "[T]he baseball program's success will be at or above .500 in all Great Lakes Valley Conference contests."

This was followed by an ultimatum: "If these objectives are not accomplished, you will voluntarily resign from your position at UMSL as the men's head baseball coach."

At the bottom of the page was a blank line for the coach's signature.

Brady refused to sign the letter.

"This is ridiculous!" he marvels. "If that were the case [at other schools], that you'd have to be .500 or better, every year half the coaches in America would have to resign. I told Schuster, 'Mister, you can intimidate the women; you will never intimidate me. I'm not going to sign nothing.' I sent a letter to them and filed a new grievance against them for retaliation."

Athletic director Pat Dolan denies that the memo amounted to a threat to fire Brady if his team failed to win at least half its games. "That was never in there, that they had to resign," she says. "There are job expectations, that you have to be at work every day by eight and have to work until five. That's what it was, they needed to be in their office from eight to five, that they needed to be at every practice. Their teams had to be involved in three community events during the school year. Their teams had to attend other athletic events. Those are just job expectations."

This time Brady filed complaints with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging age discrimination. In the complaints, Brady noted that Schuster only sent the "goals and objectives" letter to four UMSL coaches, all of whom were over the age of 40. They were Brady, men's basketball coach Rick Meckfessel, women's volleyball coach Denise Silvester and golf coach Jim Niederkorn. Coaches under 40 did not receive the letter. The objectives, Brady's complaint concluded, were "aimed at forcing the older coaches to resign or provide tools to be used for grounds for termination."

Niederkorn, who had been the school's golf coach for eighteen years, wasted little time in submitting his resignation, calling the objectives "unreasonable, illogical and unacceptable."

The former golf coach, slated for induction into UMSL' sports hall of fame later this month, says what Brady has gone through is "terrible. Jim won that grievance against the athletic department, and then they treated him like shit," Niederkorn says. "I hate to throw stones, but something's not right. I can't put my finger on it, but I have to believe that it originates either from the athletic director's desk or from Vice Chancellor Reinhard Schuster or they're in collusion together, trying to purge the athletic department."

In September of 1998, Dolan notified Brady that Curt Coonrod, then director of admissions, had alerted her that the baseball coach had made "numerous disparaging remarks" about the school's director of financial aid. The next month, Dolan sent Brady a "written warning" about this "inappropriate behavior." As a result of the comments, Brady was informed, he was being put on "probationary status."

Brady doesn't dispute that he made the comments but says Coonrod overheard him talking to someone else about the financial-aid director and blew the incident out of proportion.

The next spring, an on-field spat with an umpire ended with Brady's being suspended for a doubleheader on April 14. On June 29, 1999, Dolan fired him. The stated grounds for dismissal: lack of activity in recruiting, failure to take an NCAA examination on recruiting and failure to spend enough time at his campus office after the baseball season ended.

Brady's attorney, Jerome Dobson, filed a grievance with the University of Missouri system and an EEOC complaint contending that Brady had been terminated in retaliation for his previous complaints.

Two months later, the university's grievance committee reinstated Brady. But Dobson went ahead with a lawsuit in federal court seeking legal fees and back pay. (The matter was settled nearly two years later, in November 2001. Terms of the settlement were sealed.)

When he went back to work, Brady found that his office had been moved. Rather than return to the second floor of the Mark Twain Athletic and Fitness Center with most of his fellow coaches, his colleagues say, Brady was first slated to be relocated to the ground floor, in what had formerly been a janitor's closet. When it became clear that the closet wasn't adequately ventilated, Brady was moved into a solitary office next to the swimming pool that previously had been occupied by softball coach Lesa Bone. Bone, meanwhile, was moved into an office on the second floor.

A year ago this week, Dolan sent a memo to athletic-department staff stating that despite the state's "major financial crisis," her goal was "not to lay off employees and to provide the same revenue allocation" as the previous year.

A few weeks later, however, Brady was called into a meeting with Dolan and Vice Chancellor Schuster, along with softball coach Lesa Boneé and women's volleyball coach Denise Silvester. They were summarily informed that their salaries were to be halved and their medical benefits eliminated. The cutbacks, they were told, were part of a new three-tier system to allow money to be funneled into basketball and soccer -- the two sports at the school that involved the most students, both as players and spectators. Baseball, softball and women's volleyball would henceforth be "tier two" sports at the university.

"'Tier two'? This is Division II; we don't have any money to begin with," Brady seethes. "So what are they talking about, 'Tier one, tier two'? Soccer hasn't been as successful as baseball has. The excuse was 'Well, soccer is more of an international sport.' Well, St. Louis is definitely a baseball town."

Boneé, who left UMSL in September to become softball coach at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, calls the session with Dolan and Schuster "the most unprofessional meeting I had ever witnessed from a group of educators or administrators in the nineteen years I've been in education.

"I asked the vice chancellor when was the decision made, and he said, 'That's irrelevant,'" Boneé continues. "My comment back to him was 'Well, it's irrelevant to you because you still have a job. I find it very relevant because I'm 40 years old and you just reduced me to part-time.' He refused to answer questions. He was so arrogant."

Pat Dolan says dropping the coaches to part-time was a budget decision, period. In 2002, the athletic department was told to pick up the tab for utilities and custodial services that previously had been covered by the university. To cover that $200,000 expense, Dolan says, cuts had to be made.

"We could have cut scholarships, or we could have dropped a sport or sports," says the athletic director, "or cut games out of teams, or [said] that they wouldn't be allowed to travel, or [that they'd] only play league games. We looked at those possibilities, but then you're affecting the students' experience."

As it stood, the baseball program was already run on a shoestring. The UMSL program's annual operating expense of $20,291 (not counting salaries or scholarships) is the lowest of any Great Lakes Valley Conference team; the conference average is $43,322. UMSL is also dead last in scholarships, doling out the equivalent of 2.33 per year, compared with a conference average of 6.87.

The bulk of the seven years' war between Brady and Dolan preceded the current statewide budget crunch in Missouri's state university system. Still, athletics wasn't the only UMSL department in which fiscal constraints and conflicting priorities caused friction. One veteran professor who asked not to be named in this story depicts the employee-relations atmosphere on campus as "nasty and brutish" after years of cutbacks and the simmering feud between former Chancellor Blanche Touhill and staffers who opposed the construction of Touhill's Taj Mahal, a $50 million performing-arts center.

Though the center was paid for out of the state's capital budget and by donors, opponents were perturbed that Touhill had set up an ongoing fund of $1 million per year to help cover operating expenses. That money, they claim, could have funded pay raises for faculty and staff or improvements to other programs.

Since 1980, UMSL enrollment has hovered around 12,000. Increasing costs and stagnant enrollment figures led to budget wars that had an effect on morale and retention throughout the campus. Tim McBride, associate professor of economics, public policy and gerontology, says faculty voted with their feet, many taking advantage of early-retirement incentives. Indeed, since 1999, 48 of the school's 317 tenured and tenure-track faculty members have left.

Additionally, says McBride, many feel that UMSL doesn't get its fair share of the university system's resources: The St. Louis campus serves 23 percent of the four-campus system's students but receives only 12 percent of the budget.

"We have an equity problem within the university system. UMSL gets a disproportionately low share of funding compared to other campuses," McBride complains. "Morale is quite low. It's a combination of a lot of factors: the state budget problem, the inequity problem and the fiscal mismanagement on this campus. There wasn't a salary increase this year, and last year it was 1 percent. What we're fighting for is to be treated like one of the other four campuses. We don't feel like we're being treated that way. There is definitely a poor-stepchild feeling, as you have with these hyphenated campuses in other states."

UMSL spokesman Robert Samples would seem to agree with the perception that the school doesn't get its fair share. Noting that the state Coordinating Board on Higher Education recently reported that the university system as a whole appears to be receiving adequate funding, Samples says that the CBHE also found that UMSL "may not receive an adequate share of state funding from the UM Board of Curators." He adds that Touhill told state legislators in 2001 that "she felt UMSL was severely underfunded in comparison to all other state colleges and universities."

Tim McBride isn't sticking around to see whether things change. He's leaving for a faculty position at the St. Louis University School of Public Health.

In 1990, before the problems at UMSL started, Jim Brady was found to have colon cancer. "It was attributed to me being a typical macho coach who liked to chew tobacco," he recalls. "I was addicted to the stuff. The surgeon told me, 'You combine your diet with all that chewing tobacco, Jim, that turned into a sewer down there.'"

The cancer had reached Brady's lymph nodes but no vital organs. Through surgery and chemotherapy, he recovered.

"I remember sitting there in the hospital thinking, 'Please, God, if I can just get out there and compete, I'm not going to be all about 'winning and that's the only thing that matters.'" I just want to get out there and compete because I enjoy this so much,'" he recounts.

That line of thinking lasted until he returned to the dugout.

"We were playing Central Missouri State. Walking out on the field for the very first time, as soon as I put my foot on the field, it was: 'Gotta win.' It's about winning. That passion to win and not let the other team get the better of you, it just kicked right back in."

That passion runs deep. Brady's grandfather is in the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame. Brady's own playing days started early, though, much to his grandfather's disappointment, soccer took a back seat to basketball and baseball.

Brady is aware that the turmoil he has endured at his job spilled over into his personal life. "I bet the place has taken five years off my life, the stress that I've suffered," he says. "It was a definite factor in the breakup of our marriage. My ex-wife will take accountability that she probably should have handled some things better, but ever since this current administrator has taken over, she said I would come home and be so mean and hateful. Apparently I was taking out my frustration on her by being short with her, ignoring her. I became cold and distant. It probably reached a point that she felt she couldn't take being treated like this."

Brady's former wife agrees. "I wanted him to leave that place many years ago," Vicki Brady says. "Let's put it this way: He was not very nice for some time because of the stress and the crap at work, but ultimately it was his choice to stay. He's still there. I can't believe it. I begged him for years to leave there. It was disruptive for the family."

The couple has two sons, both of whom are in high school.

Skip Erwin, who broadcast UMSL basketball games from 1981 to 1997, describes Brady as "consumed" by baseball. "He's a hard worker," says Erwin, who now hosts a local sports-talk show host on WGNU (920 AM). "That's all he thinks about. He sleeps, eats and drinks baseball. That's it. I can't understand why they're making it so difficult for him. I can't understand why they don't appreciate what he's done. I've known him for twenty years. He could coach anywhere on the college or professional level."

Ric Lessman, baseball coach at Washington University for the past ten years, coached at St. Louis Community College-Meramec for 27 years, including two years when Brady played outfield for him.

"There are a lot of people who like baseball, but they don't know how it works. Jim knows how it works. He can recognize good players. He knows how to put together a lineup. He knows where his good players should be playing," Lessman says. "There are smart managers and other managers who aren't quite as smart. He fits in the category where he has the aptitude, the instinct for the game. He's absolutely a good coach."

Gary "Bo" Collins, who has coached at UMSL rival Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville for 25 years and won 740 games, echoes Lessman's analysis and adds, "Jim doesn't deserve the treatment he got. To take a guy's health insurance away -- that's hitting below the belt. His players play hard for him. That's a telling sign for a coach. When your players hustle and play hard, if they do that and they win, too, what else do you want of a coach?"

Lately Brady has been getting up at 5 a.m. some days to put in a few hours working for his brother's landscaping business. He has also filed a grievance with the university alleging that the cut to part-time pay was retaliatory.

"We think there's a pattern," says attorney Jerome Dobson. "They claim it's part-time, they have made his pay part-time. The question is: What is the motivation? Is that truly a cost-saving measure, a de-emphasis on baseball, or is it really a way to retaliate against Coach Brady and eventually get rid of him? I don't think they thought he'd stay for half the pay he was making before."

Another potential factor: If Brady's post were to revert to full-time within a year of his being switched to part-time, the university's employment guidelines dictate that he would be automatically reinstated. If a switch were to be made after a year passed, however, Brady would enjoy no special preference. In other words, if UMSL changes the baseball coach's position back to full-time after June, Brady will have to reapply for his own job.

That scenario is reminiscent of what happened to Tom Redmond, who had been the head coach of the men's soccer team as a part-time employee for nine years when Dolan decided to make the position full-time. Though Redmond applied for the full-time position, he wasn't hired.

According to spokesman Robert Samples, UMSL has no plans to reverse the decision to make Brady's job part-time.

Whatever might transpire, Brady says, he will be there for the fight -- which leads to the unavoidable question: Why doesn't Brady simply leave UMSL? He says he promised his sons he'd stay in town until they finish high school. Another reason may stem from the fact that he's a South Sider through and through: His house on Lansdowne Avenue is precisely six blocks away from the house he grew up in.

"They look on my personality as being abrasive," he says. "You can take off all my clothes and I'll beat you naked. They can't deal with the fact that despite all they've tried to do to decimate the program, the more that they attempt to do it, the more resilient we become. It has to gall them to see us be successful in spite of all their efforts."

Brady admits that "in a sick way, there's a part of me that thrives on it." He compares it to a chronic problem he once had with ingrown toenails. "It used to just kill me. It would get to a point where I wouldn't go to a doctor; it would be so bad I would have to cut it out myself. In a sick way, I would look forward to pulling that thing out, because I'd know how good it would feel once I pulled it out. I remember doing it for the umpteenth time and thinking, 'Brady, you are fucking sick.' It was painful, but I knew the relief I would feel once it was out."

Pat Dolan expresses surprise that Brady's pay cut has caused financial duress.

"I didn't know his finances were bad," the athletic director says. "I haven't talked to him about that. He's never said anything. He has other jobs; he's doing other things. I don't know, because that's not my venue with him."

Dolan also seems to want to distance herself from her past differences with Brady. The UMSL athletic department's Web site features a photo of Dolan presenting the coach with a plaque commemorating his 500th win. When asked whether she considers Brady a problem employee, the athletic director says, "Oh, no. He's a baseball coach, busy doing baseball."

But something must have been amiss for her to have attempted to fire Brady in 1999. "That was four years ago," Dolan responds. "I mean, people change."

With Jim Brady, the conversation always comes back to baseball. And the stories go back a long way. One of the oldest and most telling involves a couple of games that were played more than 40 years ago by Brady's fourth-grade St. Gabriel the Archangel baseball team.

That year, the pint-size squad played in the semifinal game in the Catholic Youth Council's city-championship tournament at the old Busch Stadium (as Sportsman's Park was known after Anheuser-Busch purchased the facility in 1953) on St. Louis' North Side. All the boys were primed to play ball on the hallowed turf once trod by the cleats of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Ted Williams and Dizzy Dean. And of course the Cardinals team at the time boasted its own mythic figure.

"It was so cool to play there," Brady recalls. "It was, like, Stan Musial sits here; so-and-so sits here; this is where so-and-so takes a crap."

St. Gabriel won the semifinal in a laugher, 25-0. In the final, contested at Forest Park, the team pulled out to a 5-0 lead. At that point, Brady says, the game was stopped so the combatants could pose for photos for the St. Louis Review, the archdiocese's Catholic newspaper.

"All of a sudden we come back and the rally's not the same," says Brady, who played catcher. "Before you know it, they tie it up. In the top of the seventh, we go up by one to make it 7-6. We had two outs. They get a couple of fluke hits. They hit a ground ball to Tommy Herman -- all he had to do was step on third. He throws to first. It's a bad throw. Rich Etling blocks it. The kid's going to third base; he throws the ball to third -- whoosh, right up in the stands."

Brady was standing at home plate when the winning run scored.

"I remember that kid coming in, jumping up and down," he says. "I can still see him jumping. I wanted to tackle him. I didn't want him to touch home plate. He touched home plate. I had my catcher's glove, and I dropped it. Man, I was bawling. The whole team was crying. It was the most upset after a loss I had ever been in my whole life."

The way Brady tells the story, it's as if the game just happened yesterday. He was ten years old at the time.

Scroll to read more St. Louis Metro News articles


Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.