Gene Olive, baseball coach at Richfield

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2007 - 9:32 PM

He never made the major leagues, but he was there for the kids as teacher, coach and administrator.

Gene Olive of Minneapolis, a former Richfield High School coach, teacher and administrator, helped students excel on and off the field.

The former minor-league first baseman, who coached Richfield baseball teams that won state championships in 1962 and 1965, died of heart disease on Aug. 18 in Edina.

The Minneapolis native and former Richfield resident was 83.

Olive, who began teaching physical education at Richfield High in the mid-1950s, coached the school's baseball team to 146 victories and 34 losses from 1955 to 1965.

Mike Karnas, Richfield High's assistant athletic director, said Olive simply taught the fundamentals and gave his students the credit. The Richfield baseball team still uses the old-fashioned system of poles and strings to outline the strike zone for practicing pitchers that Olive used decades ago.

Karnas said there was more to Olive's success than his coaching skill and the school's pool of talented players. "He was tough but fair," Karnas said. "He gave the credit to the kids. Guys like that are priceless."

As Richfield's hockey coach, Olive took three teams to the state tournament.

In 1972, as administrative principal at Richfield, he let students on the student council run with the ball. They wanted more responsibility for school management, so Olive gave it to them, according to a Nov. 14, 1972, article in the Minneapolis Tribune.

"If you give these kids an opportunity to be responsible, they'll show you that they're concerned about their school," Olive said then.

After serving with the Coast Guard during World War II, including membership on a military baseball team, he played a few seasons with the Memphis Chicks, the Chicago White Sox's top minor-league team.

Playing against the stars

He played in exhibition games against the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, getting to play against Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Ted Williams. Olive, a lefty first baseman, once told Karnas why he didn't make it to the major leagues: "I couldn't hit the curve ball."

In 1951, he earned his bachelor's degree in education at St. Paul's College of St. Thomas. In the late 1950s, he earned a master's in education at St. Thomas.

One of his Richfield athletes, Bill Davis of Richfield, played in the majors for Cleveland and San Diego after starring at the University of Minnesota in the 1960s.

"He was innovative, and did a lot of little things that made it fun," Davis said. "What really tied it all together was that he really cared for his players."

He worked as a Richfield School District administrator, from 1980 to 1985. The Minnesota State Coaches Association is expected to induct him into its Hall of Fame this year.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Arla, of Minneapolis; sons, Mark of Minneapolis, Tom of Nederland, Colo., Nick of Eden Prairie, Andrew of Minneapolis, and Joe of Eagan; daughters, Gigi and Cathleen Aubart, both of Minneapolis; brother, Milan of Venice, Fla.; sister, Marian Scott of North Fort Myers, Fla., and 10 grandchildren.

A memorial Mass will be said at 11 a.m. today at the Church of the Annunciation, 509 W. 54 St., Minneapolis, with visitation at 10 a.m. at the church.

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