By Benito Vila
The Brooklyn and Los Angles Dodgers had only two managers from 1954 to 1996; the Boston Red Sox had only three left fielders from 1939 to 1989. While the names of Hall-of-Fame managers Walter Alston and Tom Lasorda mean nothing to today’s high school players, the plaques of Ted Williams, Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice mean only a little more.
This coming spring the Pierson baseball Whalers will see a change on the field, one era ending and perhaps another beginning. On Monday night the Sag Harbor district school board accepted the appointment of middle school physical education instructor Jonathan Tortorella to the varsity baseball coaching position. That appointment leaves long-time Whaler coach Sean Crowley on the sidelines for the first time in 22 years.
Crowley came on to lead the baseball program for the first time in the spring of 1988, after joining the district as an elementary school physical education instructor in the fall of 1987. As the Pierson skipper, Crowley tallied 204 wins against 271 losses, leading his team to nine league and regional championships.
The most recent championship was posted this past spring, seniors Casey Crowley, Joe Mascali and Ryan Miller leading the Whalers to the county Class C title. That 2009 team put together a 12-6 regular season and swept two games from Port Jefferson for the crown.
Just as Alston had 23 consecutive one-year contracts before Dodger management made the move to Lasorda, Crowley has had 22 consecutive appointments to the varsity position, often without another district candidate applying for the assignment.
This year, Tortorella applied for the position, both he and Crowley interviewing before a committee made up Pierson Athletic Director Montgomery Granger, an administrator and a teacher. While there has been much speculation on why Tortorella was selected, it is fact that the committee made a unanimous recommendation to district superintendent Dr. John Gratto.
At the board meeting Monday, Crowley spoke on his own behalf, expressing well-worded disappointment but ultimately encouraging this year’s team to rally around their new coach. In closing, he mentioned the year 2032, 23 years from now, hoping his replacement has “as much success and fulfillment.”
Despite Crowley’s achievements, which include setting an all-time high for wins by any Pierson baseball coach, there are many who have not liked his managing style. He made mention of that in his remarks and cautioned that parental communication was a “slippery slope.”
An Awkward Moment
After Crowley’s speech and after the board stepped through its agenda, which included the acceptance of Tortorella’s nomination, board president Walter Wilcoxen opened the meeting to questions from the floor. In the course of that discourse, which covered many topics, Jeffrey Peters, Tom Gleeson and Walter Tice all spoke kindly of Coach Crowley and his contribution to the community.
Tice admonished the board for not making more of Crowley’s achievements, suggesting it should have amended its agenda to “include a motion of gratitude for the years of service given.”
That statement, preceded by a pointed assessment of how poor the relationship between the board and its employees has become [in the context of the teacher contract negotiations], caused board member Dan Hartnett to make a motion to do as Tice suggested.
The motion was immediately seconded by Ed Haye, but no one on the board spoke up or thanked Coach Crowley, leaving those assembled awkwardly waiting for something to be said and wondering aloud why nothing was done.
The long and short of Monday’s meeting remains that Pierson will have a new baseball coach for only the third time since 1969, Bob Vishno preceeding Crowley and staying through the 1987 season. That continuity is remarkable considering how much movement there has been in the district’s other academic and extra-curricular appointments in that time.
Still, Coach Tortorella is not new to the Pierson baseball program. He led a middle school team to a 9-1 mark last spring and coached much of this year’s varsity to a 13-3 mark at the JV level in 2008.
Coach Tortorella is a 1999 graduate of Southampton High School. He, like Crowley, is a graduate of Springfield College, earning his master’s degree there after undergraduate studies at the University of Massachusetts.
Jonathan Tortorella (top right) will be the new Pierson varsity baseball coach.
Sean Crowley (inset) led the Pierson Whalers baseball team for 22 years.