TAMPA — His tenure is a soft toss shy of a half-century. It has spanned the Travolta and Trump eras, touching six different decades.
No area coach — prep, college or pro — is believed to have remained at the same institution longer than King High icon/alumnus Jim Macaluso, on the back end of his 47th season as Lions baseball coach.
“I’ve had buddies that go, ‘You still put on that uniform? You’re 74 years old and you’re like a little kid,’” said Macaluso, 657-459 with 12 district titles, three Saladino Tournament titles and three state final four appearances in his career.
“And I go, ‘I know, and I put it on just like if I was in Little League.’ It becomes part of your life. I know the night before, I make sure it’s all washed and laid out. I start getting ready still, and I put it on and I feel good about myself. And again, the competition, I just love it.”
On Saturday, a throng of players, parents, peers, friends and loved ones will gather at the school’s ballpark to honor Macaluso, who is having the field formally named in his honor. On Monday afternoon, the dad of two and grandfather of three sat down to reflect on his career, his favorite (and least favorite) parts of the job, and how much longer he’ll go.
What sports did you play at King?
Ran track and played football. All those buddies ... they still get on me about, ‘You never hit nobody.’ I said, ‘I wasn’t out there for that, I was just running and catching the ball.’ But I loved playing football. ... Steve Garvey, that’s my big claim to fame. He was a heck of a football player at Chamberlain, same year. And I beat him, scored a touchdown at Chamberlain our senior year. You can see him in the background; he was defending me.
The old-timers say you had some of the fastest wheels in the county. How fast were you?
I ran a 9.6 (seconds). That was 100 yards, not meters. Finished second in the state my senior year and had a good career.
When you graduated from King (in 1966), what was your career aspiration?
Be a high school coach. ... I was at Franklin Junior High when we had seventh, eighth and ninth (grades), and back then junior high sports was a big deal. ... I had a coach named Jack Thompson, who just passed away a few years ago; and another coach, Manuel Lobato. I fell in love with those guys. They were like my first father images in my life, other than my father. And I just watched everything they did. They coached us in football, basketball, and we had a track in junior high, and I thought those guys were gods. I was like, ‘I’d love to be like this.’
What parts of this job make you want to keep coming every day?
All of it makes me want to come, and that’s why I’ve done 47 years. I enjoy the players, the kids. I’ve always tried to get close to them. That ‘76 team, there’s six or seven of those guys coming (Saturday), and I’m close to them. You can go through every one of those pictures (Macaluso has photos of all 47 of his teams on his office wall), and there’s one or two guys that once or twice a year ... they call, ‘Coach, how you doing? You need anything?’ So that’s a big part.
And the parents, believe it or not. I’ve got friends, lifelong friends from a lot of these teams that were here three years, or now they’re here four years. They got involved in the program, and that keeps you going. ... And just the competing, that’s a big part of it.
What parts of the job make you want to quit tomorrow?
(Macaluso believes facilities at inner-city schools such as King are being neglected, and game-day transportation is evolving into a huge headache, but he saved his best blasting for travel baseball.)
Travel ball has become a big problem for high school baseball. I won’t say that it’s bad or good or whatever, but it’s become a little bit of a problem. (Kids) go to a team ... and there’s kids from all over the state, and they show up on weekends and they play each other. They don’t see each other during the week, and they play.
And the game has been hurt. Bunting, stealing, hitting behind a runner — all the coaches all over the country will tell you that’s nowhere close to what it used to be because travel ball is the pitcher against the hitter. The pitcher wants to throw it as hard as he can throw it because the scouts are there with guns and college coaches are there. And the hitter — launch angle — wants to hit it as far as he can hit it. And that’s the game; there’s nothing else going on. And it’s affecting the game.
It’s been long enough now that I think you see it in the big leagues.
Ideally, what are the characteristics of a Macaluso-coached team?
I would really say just play hard, compete and play to the end. If you’re down by nine, it doesn’t matter, you’re still playing the same way. And I’ve felt good over the years that some coaches have told me, ‘When we get ready to play you, we tell them you’d better play to the last out, because they’re not going to quit.’ We try to teach that, and I think overall we’ve had teams that did that.
So what does it mean to have the field named in your honor (formal ceremony starts at 1 p.m. Saturday)?
It’s hard to put in words. Humbled, appreciative, awed, I could go on and on. We had to go to the school board, they had a little procedure, they had to vote and you had to be there, and it hit me that day — and the next day a little bit. It’s been six weeks or so, but it’s still just kind of sinking in. And I guess to try to put it into words, it’s a good feeling that you maybe did something for somebody or for some people, or you touched some lives. ... This naming, I love it, but it should be a lot of names up there because it took a lot of people.
So how much longer will you go?
It’s year to year. Going back six or eight years the question’s been coming up, and I’ve always answered it, ‘Hey, I’m not even thinking about it. As long as I have health and they will keep me without firing me, I’m going to be here. I like doing it.’ But the last couple of years at the end of the year, I’m a little tired, a little beat up. I told people close to me, ‘Tell me,’ because I don’t think it’s going to come from me. But I don’t want to make a mistake and hang around. So to answer, it’s year to year. ... We’re on one-year contracts.
More on Macaluso
Ten factoids on 74-year-old King High baseball coach Jim Macaluso, whose 47-season tenure at his alma mater is believed to be the longest at the same institution by any bay area coach:
• Three of his players (Tim Crews, Derek Bell, Calvin Pickering) have reached the major leagues
• Another former player, Ty Griffin, played on the U.S. national team that won an Olympic gold medal in 1988
• Former Blue Jays manager Carlos Tosca served as an assistant on Macaluso’s first King staff
• Fifty-one of Macaluso’s players have been drafted or played professionally; 163 have played college baseball
• His first coaching gigs were as a volunteer baseball assistant at Hillsborough, Brandon and Florida College, all under Oscar Gonzalez
• He was hired as Lions baseball coach on May 22, 1975, five months before the expansion Bucs hired John McKay as their inaugural coach
• Former Tampa mayor Pam Iorio was a junior at King when Macaluso’s first Lions team made its debut
• For 16 years, Macaluso also served as Lions JV football coach alongside current Hillsborough County School Board member Henry “Shake” Washington
• Macaluso retired as a teacher at King (P.E., driver education) more than a decade ago
• His tenure pre-dates the King baseball field, which didn’t open until 1984