The area baseball community and California University of Pennsylvania was deeply saddened by the death of Chuck Gismondi on Saturday, Nov. 16 at the age of 77.
Gismondi was an icon at Cal U where he coached baseball for 24 years, including 17 as head coach. A 1960 graduate of North Union High School, Gismondi received his bachelor’s degree in 1964 from California University of Pa. and his master’s degree from West Virginia University in 1968. He was profiled in a Memory Lane column in 2012, here are some excerpts from that column.
Chuck Gismondi went to then California State College in 1960, and except for some graduate studies, he never left.
After graduating from North Union High School in 1960 Gismondi decided to attend California University of Pennsylvania.
“My aunt was a speech therapist, and she got me interested in the field and I went to California to study speech therapy,” Gismondi explained. “My sophomore year I decided to go out for the baseball team, and Mitch Bailey was the head coach. For two weeks we were in the old Herron Hall, and all he did was run us for two weeks. At the same time I was pledging a fraternity ‘AKL’ and after two weeks of running and not seeing a baseball I dropped out and concentrated on the fraternity, so I never did play at California.”
Bailey and Gismondi would cross paths a few years later. After graduating from California in 1964, Gismondi went to West Virginia and got a masters degree in 1968. His coaching career began in 1966 as a Uniontown Pony League mentor. Gismondi went on to coach a Colt team and the Uniontown American Legion team.
Gismondi had returned to Cal U in 1969 as a teacher in the speech pathology department.
“At California, they used to send out faculty notes every week,” Gismondi said. “I noticed in the notes that Mitch Bailey was looking for an assistant coach and I called him and we got together and I was hired as an assistant in 1973. After about a year, Bailey made me his pitching coach and I was an assistant coach for seven years.”
In 1979 Cal U won the PSAC championship and Bailey retired. Gismondi became the Vulcans’ head coach in 1980.
“I was hoping I would get the job,” Gismondi remembers. “I wanted a shot at it and there were other applicants for the job, but fortunately I was hired.”
Gismondi went on to build a very successful baseball program at Cal U, and he did it for the most part without the benefit of scholarship money.
“My team did everything, like selling hoagies and my summer baseball camp, all of that money went to the southern trip,” Gismondi said. “I had a good relationship with the scouts in the area and I would go places that nobody else knew about, into Ohio and northeastern Pennsylvania, and I was able to get some pretty good players. I had good kids, I had good players.”
Gismondi fashioned a career record of 393-295-7 with 14 winning seasons, six postseason appearances, five PSAC Final Four showings, three PSAC-West titles, three state runner-up finishes, and one NCAA Tournament appearance. Gismondi’s last nine Vulcan teams all produced winning records and 13 of his 17 Vulcan teams won 20 or more games.
His final nine teams all achieved winning seasons. Gismondi’s 1981, 1983, and 1990 teams were all state finalists while his 1985 and 1994 teams also advanced to the PSAC Final Four.
“I was very pleased with what I was able to accomplish and very fortunate,” Gismondi said. “Luck had a little bit to do with it too.”
Gismondi’s No. 29 jersey was officially retired in 1996. He was inducted into the California University Hall of Fame in 2003.
“Getting into the Hall of Fame was a surprise,” Gismondi said. “I told them I didn’t think I belonged. I was so pleased and so happy and proud.”
Gismondi retired after a 33-year teaching career from Cal U in January 2002. A distinguished emeritus faculty member, Gismondi established an endowed $10,000 scholarship to the Vulcan baseball program.
Eight Vulcans advanced to professional baseball under Gismondi, including All-American southpaw Rick Krivda, a 2000 U.S. Olympic gold medalist.
“There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your former players go out and make good in life,” Gismondi said.
His former players had some kinds words about their former coach.
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Coach Gismondi’s passing,” former Cal U star Randy Wadsworth said. “He is most remembered by me for his passion for education, competition and helping each of his players and students reach their personal goals.
“For myself he understood my desire to play baseball at the next level and he continually challenged me and provided me with opportunities to succeed. I remember him as a humble man who never spoke of his personal accomplishments. He stayed focused in the present and helped develop young productive student athletes. Many of them have gone on to have very good careers after college. May his family find comfort in knowing that he had such a positive impact on so many lives.”
“Coach Gismondi loved Cal U,” former Vulcan Skooter Roebuck said. “He gave that University a lot of his time, charitable work, a lot of his money. He was extremely proud, it was hard to find him even on off days without something Cal U on, without something red and black on.
“He loved baseball. If you played in the Mon Valley you were bound to see him because he was going to make his way to a ballgame. We have a group of alumni get together and we have a golf outing and we try to raise money for Cal U baseball and we call ourselves the 29ers Club and that was his number, 29. He had a big influence on all of us.”
“I fell in love with Cal U, the first time I saw it in 1959 in the fall when I went there to take my entrance exam,” Gismondi told me in 2012. “That love affair is still going on, I still love that university.”
Gismondi loved Cal U until the day he died. He will be missed.
George Von Benko’s “Memory Lane” column appears in the Monday editions of the Herald-Standard. He also hosts a sports talk show on WMBS-AM radio from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.