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Dr. Miles McAfee: A Commentary by Tom Brown, Saint Mary’s College (CA)

2010 Saint Mary’s College Baseball Banquet

February 13

It’s always good to be back at Saint Mary’s.  I spent most of my life on this campus as an Assistant Dean of Students, Associate Dean of Studies and Dean of Advising Services.  I had many responsibilities during my 27 year career; however, there were few things I enjoyed more than working with the young women and men who competed for Saint Mary’s College as members of the Gaels athletic teams. In fact, I was faculty moderator of the Women’s Basketball team my last 10 years, and I helped create the academic advising and support program in the Department of Athletics.


Dr Miles McAfee, Saint Mary’s College, Head Baseball Coach, 1973-80.

I came to Saint Mary’s after having graduated from the University of Southern California—the real SC.  However, at some point during my career here, I knew I had been transformed into a Gael, when my loathing of Santa Clara and Gonzaga came to be even greater than my disdain for all things related to UCLA and Notre Dame.
We are here tonight to meet the members of the 2010 Saint Mary’s baseball team and to celebrate the young men who will represent the college this season.  At the same time, we are here to celebrate former Gaels, like Mark Teahen, who have gone on to successful careers after being St. Mary’s student athletes.

I have always believed that you must know where you came from in order to know who you are.  So, I want to share some of my experiences with the Saint Mary’s baseball program.  Most especially, I want to introduce the members of the current Gaels team to the one of the greatest coaches and people in the long and storied history of Saint Mary’s College—Dr. Miles McAfee, who coached the Saint Mary’s baseball team from 1973 through 1980. This seems particularly appropriate as we recognize Black History Month.

During my early years at the College, the Gaels’ baseball program was the only successful Saint Mary’s athletic team.  There was no real football team at the time, no women’s athletic teams, and the basketball program was a perennial loser.  The man responsible for baseball’s success was Dr. Miles McAfee.  Coach Mac came to Saint Mary’s in the summer of 1973. 

He graduated from Tuskegee University in Alabama, where he had been a super star baseball player during a time of racial segregation. In fact, he was inducted into the Tuskegee Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987.  After playing professionally with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Miles became a scout and eventually decided to pursue a career as a coach.

In being named the coach at Saint Mary’s, Miles McAfee became the first African-American to lead an NCAA Division 1 baseball program not at a historically Black college or university.

In his 2003 autobiography, Four Generations of Color, Coach Mac recalled competing against and learning from some of the greatest coaches of that era, including Jackie Jensen at Berkeley, Bob Bennett at Fresno Sate, and Rod Dedeaux at USC.  He wrote that one of the things he learned was how few Black kids who got the opportunity to earn athletic scholarships to play intercollegiate baseball. 

Miles always sought the very best players, regardless of race or color, and he was especially committed to giving more Black kids the chance to play and earn a college education.  Many white coaches at the time couldn’t really understand or relate to Black players.  For example, Miles’ predecessor at Saint Mary’s had cut a kid named Xavier Dixon, who came to me to express concern that he wasn’t being treated fairly.  Under Coach Mac, Xavier became an all conference selection.

Coach Mac was a great motivator and an amazing recruiter. He landed many great players, like Broderick Perkins, who went on to play with the Padres; Tom Candiotti, who pitched for Cleveland, the Dodgers and won a World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays; and Von Hayes, who had an All-Star career with the Phillies.  Miles also served as coach a role model to future coaches, like Dan McDermott of Regis University and Mike Adami of Hayward’s Moreau High School.

I think the only folks who could out-recruit Miles were professional baseball teams….

Coach Mac also brought many kids to my office who wanted to play for Saint Mary’s, including a youngster named Ricky Henderson, who played at Oakland Tech. However, Ricky signed with the Oakland A’s, where he set a new major league record for stolen bases, leadoff homers and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last summer. The A’s also out-recruited Miles for another Oakland kid—Dave Stewart of St. Elizabeth High in Oakland; a future Hall of Famer, who was 20-game winner for 4 consecutive years with the A’s and a World Series MVP.

Coach Mac was always concerned about his players’ lives after baseball, so when a young Lloyd Moseby decided at the last minute to sign with Toronto rather than Saint Mary’s, he advised him to get the Blue Jays to promise that they would pay for four years of college.

Miles always insisted that his players take care of business in the classroom, as well as on the field, because he understood that you don’t just turn commitment, focus and excellence off and on.  Chris Major, who is among Miles’ former players who are here tonight, was the last player Coach Mac recruited.  Chris recalls that Coach opened the door of opportunity for him—as a baseball player, and a student, and Miles helped him become the man he is today.

When Coach Mac first came to Saint Mary’s, he received viciously racist letters because he, a Black man, had been named to coach the Gaels.  The parents of several white players also complained to Athletics Director Don McKillip, that Miles was playing black players over their sons.  Coach pointed out to the AD and those parents that he had a specific coaching philosophy—his goal was to win rather than satisfy players or their parents.  He quickly earned the respect of all the players, and his long time colleague and friend, Skip Naler, recalls, “After awhile, we were no longer black, white, brown, or yellow; we were all just Gaels.”

Dr. Miles McAfee was not just a great player, coach, scout and agent; he was also a very good man.  In his autobiography, The Measure of a Man, the Oscar winning actor, Sidney Poitier, wrote that the true measure of a man is how he cares for his family.  Miles dedicated his own autobiography to his son, Miles Jr. and his daughter Karen, who he hoped would understand and learn from the trials and tribulations of his life. He also dedicated the book to his wonderful wife Lynn, who is here tonight, whom he wrote, “Lynn supported me during the endeavors and dilemmas that occurred during our lives together.”

Sidney Poitier wrote that love and work and family are the legacy we leave behind when our little moment in the sun is gone.  Coach Mac left behind a wonderful family and I want to close with a few more thoughts about his work.

I especially want to challenge and support Saint Mary’s College to honor Miles McAfee’s work by naming him to the Gael Hall of Fame and retiring his jersey number.

Dr. Miles McAfee and I grew up in an era when Black kids were told by their parents that we would always have to be twice as good to go half as far in this world.  When Miles died last year, The Contra Costa Times carried a front page story in the Sports section recalling his brilliant career.  The title of the story captures a sad reality.  It read, “McAfee Was a Pioneer That Too Few Knew.”

The opening lines, written by longtime columnist Monte Poole, read:

“Like life in general, sport is teeming with accomplished individuals who walk silently; giants whose footprints are best measured not by sheer size but by the depth of their character and influence.  People like Miles McAfee, whose name may not be familiar unless you hold a microscope to local sports history….The shame of it is these that these immense contributors to the lives and families of others all too often get overlooked….”

Former baseball great, Willie McGee said, “I honestly can say that Miles was underrated.  What he did, what he stood for, his legacy; it’s all grossly underappreciated.”

Poole concluded,  “McAfee was a pioneer, a man of sound reason, insistent fairness. He stood up for those around him, no matter their age race or stature.”

While it may be understandable for Coach Miles McAfee to go unrecognized beyond Moraga’s Hills, what he accomplished for the Saint Mary’s Gaels baseball program is without question deserving of Hall Fame status:

  • Three thirty win seasons including a 41-13 record in 1977—which still stands as a St. Mary’s record for wins.
  • 220 wins over his seven year career, making him the winningest coach in the history of Saint Mary’s College.

As the 2010 version of the St. Mary’s Gaels prepares to go forward, I encourage you look back to where the roots of the success of the modern era of winning  baseball began—with Coach Miles McAfee.  I also urge you to honor the present by acknowledging the past and support the induction of Coach Mac to the Gael Hall of Fame, retire his number, and put it on the outfield wall to inspire and remind all past, present, and future Gaels of their eternal legacy!   Doing so will be a reminder that you recognize and appreciate Dr. Miles McAfee and all he did for Saint Mary’s, for young men, and for the Gael Baseball program.  It’s the right thing to do and the time has come to do it!

Thank you for listening. I wish you all the best.  Keep the faith, and keepin’ on, and Go Gaels!

Tom Brown

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