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A Life in the Shadows
Alexander Wolff
February 14, 1994
Since 1947 Dick Baldwin has shunned the big time to coach small-college hoops in upstate New York
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February 14, 1994

A Life In The Shadows

Since 1947 Dick Baldwin has shunned the big time to coach small-college hoops in upstate New York

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By his junior year at Rochester, Baldwin had become a contributor on perhaps the greatest basketball team in the school's history, a squad that went 16-0. Baldwin was elected captain for the '42-43 season, but during the summer before that school year he was drafted into the Army. While serving with the Army Air Forces in England as a bomb-sight mechanic and autopilot technician, he kept in touch with his brother, whom everyone called Babe. He was on the Continent in the infantry. One day one of Dick's letters to Babe came back marked DECEASED.

Back in Olean, at 806 Main Street next door to the Baldwins, Janet Reitz was 15. She remembers a teacher telling students that Babe Baldwin, her brother's best friend, had stepped on a land mine at the Battle of the Bulge. Janet also remembers, from card games the Reitz and Baldwin families had played together, how furious Dick became when he got the Old Maid. "By the time I got back, she'd grown up," says Dick, who got not the Old Maid but the girl next door.

He finished up his last year at Rochester, then brought his bride to Binghamton, where he took a job at the State Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences, one of the first in a crop of two-year schools sprouting up after the war. Baldwin coached basketball, golf and baseball, served as athletic director, taught communications skills, even did a turn as the school's public-relations director. When the basketball team lost its first three games, some people wondered if the new man was stretched too thin.

"When I started out I told myself, We'll only play man-to-man," Baldwin says. "After those first three games I switched to a zone. The first thing I learned was that there are no certainties in coaching. Ever since then I've been very flexible."

No team better exemplifies Baldwin's resourcefulness than his 1961 regional champions. Like most of Baldwin's squads, this one had virtually no height. No player came from more than a couple of miles outside the Binghamton city limits. Baldwin found players in CYO leagues and YMCAs and even one behind a cash register at the A&P. Broome, as the institute had come to be named, won 30 games that season.

"There was no such thing as a rebuilding year," Baldwin says of coaching in junior college, where such talent as there was turned over every two years. "Offensively and defensively, we tried just about everything." One year Baldwin threw at the Cornell freshmen something he calls the orbit offense. He left a basket hanger at one end of the floor and played defense with a triangle zone and a chaser on the opposition's ball handler.

All over greater Binghamton, with its population of perhaps a quarter million, there are men aged 17 to 71 who have played basketball for Baldwin. Several sets of fathers and sons have played for him. His daughters Sandy and Debbie led cheers at Broome. During one blowout, Sandy passed a note down the bench: Dad. We have a new cheer. How about a timeout? Dad got Sandy her TO, baby.

In so circumscribed a world, Baldwin met the few big-time tests that happened along. He beat an undefeated, Boeheim-coached Syracuse freshman team in 1964. He beat the St. Bonaventure frosh twice during the 1966-67 season, when Bob Lanier was leaving size 24 footprints on everything in his path. "Upstate New York, Upstate New York" doesn't suggest a song, and there's no evidence that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. But surely Baldwin could have stood up to major-college pressure.

Baldwin won 10 NJCAA Region III titles but none after 1970. Minor league hockey came to Binghamton and gouged out a chunk of Broome's attendance. In the early '80s, when the Big Hast began keeping people in front of their TV sets several nights a week, the crowds at Broome games dwindled to a few hundred. On the floor Broome struggled too, with back-to-back losing seasons from 1981 to '83. By the mid-'80s other coaches who admired Baldwin quietly hoped he would retire. In 1987, the year of his 40th wedding anniversary and 40th season as a coach, he did.

No one took much notice at the time, but Baldwin said he wouldn't rule out coaching again.

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