When Joe Hayden showed up to watch his sons Jay and Bill play in a
Knothole baseball game back in 1961 he had no idea what he was
about to get himself into.
His sons’ team was blown out, 16-2, and Hayden made an off-hand remark
to his wife, Lois, that he could put together a better team even if he
coached only on weekends. That’s all Lois needed to hear. Seeing her
opening, she pounced.
Lois knew the coach was about to move to another city because of his
job, creating the very opening Hayden had talked about. Before he knew
what hit him, he became the coach of what would grow into the mighty Midland baseball program, one of the most respected amateur programs in the country, a program that Hayden built and coached for 51 years.
“It meant everything to him,” said Joe’s son, John. “He had three distinct areas of his life. He had his family, his professional life, where he was very successful, and his baseball life. All three of them were in lockstep.”
Family came first, but after that, John said, “I’m not sure which came next, his occupation or his avocation.”
Hayden passed away on Nov. 29 at the age of 85 from complications from cancer. He leaves an impressive legacy with Midland, a program that has produced 71 major leaguers. More than 500 Midland players have been drafted by major league teams and nearly 2,000 have received college scholarships.
One of those major leaguers was former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, who blossomed into a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but never forgot his roots with Midland and the debt he owes to Joe Hayden. It was Larkin who gave Hayden the nickname “Papa Joe,” when he played for Midland in the early 1980s.
“He was a fantastic guy,” Larkin said. “He was very open. He was a tough guy and he’d make the guys play hard. He was successful running the Midland program because I believe he set the kind of standard for how he expected his players to play and and how to act on and off the field.”
Hayden did not have a pedigree as a baseball person when he started out, but he applied himself and learned the game, just as he did in business.
“Dad knew people and he knew game strategy,” John said. “He had an incredible ability to know those who would rise to the challenge in a pinch from those who would shrink under the pressure of it.”
John Hayden said his father strongly believed that this country’s greatest asset was its young people and lived accordingly. In addition to coaching the Midland Redskins, who have won 13 Connie Mack national championships, he also sponsored teams in every age group from ages 8 to 18 – 11 teams overall.
“He was a guy who believed that winning was important and winning the right way was even more important,” John said. “If he was going to do something, he was going to be successful at it. He said a man who gives of himself and gives of his time to kids, who are this country’s greatest asset, that’s what it’s all about.”
As a businessman, Hayden transformed the Midland Company, whose roots were in automobile finance, into a Fortune 2000 company that specialized in insurance and the river transportation business. He was the longest tenured member of the Board of Directors of the First National Bank and served on many other boards of directors in Cincinnati.
But for thousands of kids who played on his Amelia-based Midland teams, he was a baseball man who helped launch professional careers for players such as Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr., Ron Oester, Chris Welsh, current New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, and Miami Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill, among many others.
“Who doesn’t have great things to say about Joe Hayden?” said Welsh, who played for the Reds and now is part of the club’s broadcasting team. “He enabled so many kids to follow a dream. When you’re 14 or 15 or 16 years old, a lot of kids want to play pro baseball. Joe’s organization enabled so many kids to follow that dream that would not have had a chance to do so otherwise.
“He ran a first-class program. He wanted you to play hard, keep your grades up, be a good citizen, and represent Midland the way it should be represented and he would take care of the rest.”
Mike Schweinfest, a coach on the the Midland Redskins’ first two Connie Mack national title teams in 1984 and 1985, said Hayden made a remarkable transformation from businessman to baseball man without missing a beat.
“Here’s this very successful businessman,” Schweinfest said, “who was an outstanding person in the community and in the world of business, who, in the summertime puts on a pair of (baseball) pants and a Midland shirt and coaches third base like he’s been there forever. He was a wealthy, successful person that just wanted to be around kids.”
Hayden was just as proud of his players who didn’t go on to play professionally as he was of the Larkins and Griffeys, according to his son.
“The guys who made it big in the big leagues, obviously you’re proud of them,” John Hayden said. “But what mattered more to him were the guys who went on to live productive, contributing lives of their own, guys who raised their own kids and coached their own kids.”
Hayden grew up in Mt. Lookout and attended Withrow High School. He later graduated from Miami University and from the University of Cincinnati College of Law. His name, along with a Midland Redskins uniform, is on display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for having won more Connie Mack national championships than any other program.
“People tend to focus on Dad’s professional success and his baseball success,” John said. “But they don’t tend to focus on the foundation behind it and that’s my mother. He adored her. Theirs was a lifelong love affair. She’s a principled person who knew her husband needed to be involved in her sons’ lives. He used to tell her, ‘You opened the Pandora’s box. You’re the one who got me into this.’ ”
Legions of former Midland players are glad she did.
(c/o The Cincinnati Enquirer)