Bob Whalen has been the head coach at Dartmouth since 1990, where he has coached 24 MLB draft picks, including 2016 MLB ERA leader and World Series champion Kyle Hendricks. He previously served at the University of Maine as an assistant and associate head coach- where he tutored 20 MLB draft picks- from 1982-89. Whalen was the head coach of the Cape Cod League’s Chatham A’s in 1988 and 1989, working with eventual Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and 25 other players who signed professionally. He Played at Maine under ABCA Hall of Fame coach John Winkin.
How did your upbringing influence your coaching career?
My journey started early, just because I was very fortunate to have great parents and grow up around the game. My dad was in professional baseball as an area scout and eventually a scouting director with the Pirates in the Northeast. I played at Maine for John Winkin and was very fortunate to learn a lot about playing, evaluating and how to teach and coach the game.
What is your take on ‘perception versus reality’ when it comes to Ivy League baseball?
I’ve learned over the years that there’s a perception out there that because all eight institutions are some of the premier academic institutions in the world, they make assumptions that the athletics aren’t as good, particularly with baseball in the Northeast. It’s a very quality product, and I think the track record with Regional teams and players produced validates that.
Academics will always take priority over athletics, as it should. That’s my own philosophy as a teacher. Baseball is important, and the lessons they learn and the discipline required to be very good in our sport is the same thing required for the real world.
We currently have eight guys playing professional baseball. Sandy Alderson [general manager of the Mets] is a Dartmouth alum, Matt Klentak [current Phillies GM], Jim Beatty [former GM for Expos and Orioles, current scout with Blue Jays], it goes on and on.
You are known for scheduling top opponents on a regular basis. What is your philosophy on that?
I just feel very strongly that we want to schedule up and schedule nationally ranked, quality opponents in a series format. We’ve tried to do that for years, where you play a three game series the first two weekends. We’ve been to LSU, Texas A&M, TCU, Miami, Georgia Tech, Cal Poly, UC Irvine, Florida. That’s what kids remember, that’s what they want to do, they want to compete at the highest level.
From a coach’s perspective, you get find out where your holes are very quickly. We’re not going to play 56 games, so you want to find out what you have and what you need to work on once you start conference play.
Kyle Hendricks was the 2016 MLB ERA leader and a World Series champion. He had a great career for you at Dartmouth, yet struggled (4-6, 7.49 ERA) as a sophomore. What ultimately led to his turnaround (5-3, 2.47 ERA, 8th round pick) as a junior?
He would never make an excuse so I’m not going to make one for him. We opened up his sophomore year at UVA, who was number one. Kyle started and in the first inning, he came off the mound to field a bunt and caught his spike and rolled his ankle pretty badly. He never really was quite right his sophomore year before he got that strength and mobility back in his push off leg.
I saw Kyle at the end of his junior year in high school. He just wasn’t really a standout guy at that age, but you could project the body, the arm action, all of it. And with his makeup, I knew we were going to do whatever we had to do to get him.
I thought it was ironic because in the 2017 NLCS when he threw 7 1/3 innings scoreless, that’s almost exactly what he did his freshman year against Cornell (7 1/3 IP, no runs) to win our first Ivy championship since I’ve been here.
When you talk about Kyle, you start with the fact that he’s one of the greatest kids we’ve ever had, one of the most loyal and respectful people I’ve ever been around. That starts with his family. You can’t win at a high level without talented players, we all know that, but the thing that separates good teams from great is makeup.
Whalen will be a featured clinician at the 2018 ABCA Convention in Indianapolis