Kevin Herlihy, master of the game. A tribute from Trevor Rowse.
Kevin Herlihy changed the history of softball, much as Brian Wareham (Auckland) had done in the 1950s and Bill Massey (Hutt Valley) in the 1960s.
Kevin went even further, winning gold medals in the world championships of 1976 and 1984 and US national titles, like his pitching colleagues Michael White and Owen "The Fog" Walford.
The big man was special. He could have won earlier world titles if New Zealand had developed the batting as it had the fielding. Leading the pitching statistics meant nothing with the team scoreless.
National softball history was also changed when Kevins witched from the champion Miramar and Wellington sides to Waikato. Hutt Valley and Railways had totally dominated the domestic game for eightyears when Massey was the champion.
Miramar and Wellington would have had an even longer reignand the game would have suffered. There were national titles forCambridge and Waikato, but neither side could match the brilliance oftheir pitcher. At some times there was not even a catcher who could copewith the speed and control.
If he had been in Wellington the domination would have lefteven Hutt Valley in the cold.
At one stage in the Waikato, a top player suffered injuries when catching to Kevin, even when he was told where the ball would be delivered. It is not easy, or natural, to hold your glove by your knees when the ball is moving right at your throat. It took the ever-reliable Barry Bone to keep his nerve and learn the job, but the years without someone like his Miramar catcher Peter Priddey were not so productive.
Players would return from the nationals with tales of woe, but "I got a hit off Kevin Herlihy" was a common cry. It was a badge of honour, even if it was sometimes a matter of the ball hitting the bat.
Kevin loved the gruff US catchers, capable of telling him what to do. Most of his career in New Zealand saw him making the calls.
"If batters concentrated on the first and second strikes as much as they do the third, my life would be much harder," Kevin said. "Only a few manage it, but the US players are always dangerous."
He was a droll comedian, a slow mover going on the diamond, and coming off, but once there something transformed him. The batter became the adversary and he played his games of control, rising and dropping pitches, swerving the ball near the bat and out again, varying pace and pitching action. It was all designed to un-nerve even the noted hitters.
But there was no derision, no boasting, no hint of "gotcha" in his play. He respected the game and those who wereplaying.
One of his complaints, and there were few, was that others were given credit for good works, hospital visiting and school talks, but he did not. It was not his style to call the television station, or even the radio. He also knew that it he had done the same feats for the AllBlacks or the cricket team that he would have been a hero.
I was pleased when he told me that my articles about him had given him the greatest pleasure, even though we hardly ever talked. He pitched and I watched.
The credit and the applause came from softball people allover the world. They knew that they had seen a master craftsman inaction, someone who worked harder and harder to be perfect. And, if theywere batters, they mixed that with frustration.
Kevin Herlihy was a legend, a genius and a great competitor who did more than most to take New Zealand to the top of the softballworld.
His name will live in New Zealand sporting annals as theBabe Ruth of our game.
Well done big fella.
It is with a feeling of deep regret and sorrow that notice is given today of the passing of Kevin Herlihy MBE in Waikato Hospital. Kevin suffered a major heart attack just over a week ago and underwent surgeryas a result of this. Sadly Kevin was not able to recover and he passed away during the night.
On behalf of all softballers - within New Zealand and around the World -condolences are extended to Sandra, Michelle and Chris. Details of Kevin's funeral service are - Monday 10 July, 2006 at 11.00am, at St Mary'sCathedral, Hamilton East. A contact address for messages to thefamily will be circulated once this is confirmed. For those wishing to have a message passed on to the family until those details areavailable please make contact with Softball New Zealand atmailto:email@example.com
Softball remembers one of the sport’s greats
Thursday July 6th 2006
Kevin Herlihy, a man who was recognised during his playing days as one ofthe best softball pitchers in the world passed away last night in WaikatoHospital following a heart attack.
Herlihy was a pitching legend with an international playing career thatstretched three decades culminating in 1984 when he captained the New Zealand team to the world title. He also won world championship gold in1976 when New Zealand shared the title with USA and Canada and won gold again in 1996 as pitching coach with the title winning New Zealand team.
He began his international softball career as a teenager with the New Zealand team in 1966 at the inaugural men’s world championships. He remained on the mound dominating the best hitters in the world through to his retirement in 1984.
Following his playing career Herlihy was a selector with the New Zealandmen’s team during the early 1990’s, pitching coach with the Black Sox in1996 and attended the 2000 Olympics with the White Sox.
Former Black Sox coach Mike Walsh remembers Herlihy as not only a greatsoftball player but also as a true friend.
“In 1984 when we won he was captain and all the guys in the team showedimmense respect for him. I always remember after the final I took thematch ball and had all the guys sign it and I presented it to Kevin andall the guys in the team stood as one when I made the presentation,” said Walsh.
Looking back Walsh says what made Herlihy such a great pitcher was his work ethic and his desire to always strive to improve.
“I rate Kevin along with Michael White as two of the best pitchers New Zealand has ever produced. In the early days the New Zealand team didn’thave the big hitting skills but he kept New Zealand in every game. New Zealand was a tough team to beat because of his outstanding pitching.”
New Zealand Softball chief executive Dale Eagar describes Herlihy as a true sporting legend and one of the faces of the sport recognised aroundthe world.
“In terms of pitching ability he was the best in world and he was acknowledged as such by all those who played against him. As a man he was one of the funniest guys you could ever meet. He was a personality in his own right and a very talented sportsman,” said Eagar.
Herlihy was born and raised in Wellington and played for the province before moving to the Waikato in the 1970’s.
He was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990 and the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Softball New ZealandHall of fame in 1995.
Herlihy passed away aged 58 leaving behind his wife Sandra and childrenMichelle and Chris.
By SNZ Media Liaison: Kelly Mitchell