NEW YORK — Jack Kaiser, a former St. John’s baseball player and coach who later guided the New York City university through a changing landscape in 22 years as athletic director, has died. He was 95.
St. John’s said Thursday that Kaiser died Wednesday. The school didn’t provide a cause of death.
Considered the patriarch of the Red Storm athletic department, Kaiser dedicated parts of nine decades to his alma mater, serving as the department’s athletic director emeritus from 1995 until his death.
“We live in thankfulness for everything that Jack was and his enduring impact on St. John’s and the Big East Conference,” said university president, the Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. “As a player, a coach, an athletic director, and especially as a supporter of St. John’s, Jack was a difference-maker. We celebrate his life well-lived.”
Kaiser was one of the seven athletic directors who banded together to create the Big East Conference in 1979, forever changing the history of college basketball.
“We are saddened to learn of the death of St. John’s legend Jack Kaiser, a Big East founding father who saw the potential in an Eastern-based basketball conference and helped bring our league into being 43 years ago,” commissioner Val Ackerman said.
During his time as athletic director, Kaiser also instituted women’s varsity athletics at St. John’s beginning in 1974. There are currently 10 Red Storm women’s teams.
Born in Brooklyn on Oct. 6, 1926, John Warren Kaiser attended St. John’s Prep and served in the Army in World War II. He enrolled at St. John’s after returning home in 1946 and became a three-sport star, particulary in baseball, leading St. John’s to its first College World Series appearance in 1949.
Kaiser signed a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox, playing three years in the organization from 1950-52. He returned to St. John’s and served three seasons as an assistant for Al DeStefano. He became coach in 1956 and led the school to a 367-133-2 record and 11 NCAA Tournaments. In 1960, Kaiser became the first man in NCAA history to lead his team to the College World Series as a player and a coach.
Saint John’s went to Omaha, Nebraska in 1966 and 1968.
Kaiser handed off the baseball program to Joe Russo and replaced the retired Walter McLaughlin in 1973-74.
After retiring from his athletic director post in 1995, Kaiser still came to the office many times well into his 90s, sharing a lifetime’s worth of wisdom with the department’s coaches, administrators and student-athletes.
Kaiser was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1979. He served as president of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) from 1973-88, and had the baseball stadium at St. John’s renamed in his honor in 2007.
Arrangements are pending, the school said.