|Organization:||University of San Diego (CA)|
The winner of the 2005 ABCA/Wilson Lefty Gomez Award was former San Diego head coach John Cunningham.
The 1998 season was long-time University of San Diego head baseball coach John "J.C." Cunningham's 35th and final year at the helm of the USD baseball program.
Cunningham began his USD career back in 1962 when he was hired to be head coach of the freshman basketball team, assistant varsity basketball coach, and director of intramural activities. In 1963 he assisted baseball coach Mike Morrow, who was in his final season, and in 1964 Cunningham was promoted to head baseball coach.
Cunningham, who finished with a career record of 843-839-18, led the Toreros to 16 winning seasons, including two World Series appearances in 1971 and 1978. His teams won 30 or more games seven times ('71, '78, '79, '80, '81, '87 and '93), with four of his squads advancing to post-season play. His 1971 and 1978 squads won regional titles and advanced to the NCAA Div. II College World Series, while his 1976 and 1966 squads advanced to regional play. He was named District VIII Coach of the Year in 1971.
In 1979, the Toreros moved into the Division I ranks and in his first year at that level, Cunningham guided the Toreros to a 32-19-1 record and fourth place finish in the Southern California Baseball Association. In 1985, USD joined the West Coast Conference and over the next 14 years in the league, Cunningham won 343 games. In 1993, he was named West Coast Conference Co-Coach of the Year after guiding the Toreros to a team record 36 wins (19-11 WCC). During parts of that '93 campaign the Toreros earned national rankings as high as 17th (Collegiate Baseball), 22nd (Baseball America) and 25th (USA Today).
Besides his 843 victories at USD, Cunningham collected over 300 victories coaching teams in the California Collegiate League. Eleven players he coached from those California Collegiate League teams went on to play in the major leagues including Brent Strom, Terry Forster and Tony Muser. Forty-seven of his USD Toreros signed professional contracts with seven making it to the Major Leagues - John Wathan, Kerry Dineen, Bill Pinkham, Jeff Grotewold, Mike Saipe, Brady Clark, and Bart Miadich. Eight of his players earned a total of ten All-America honors led by three-time All-American Kerry Dineen (1971-73).
It is because of Cunningham's vision and own hard work that USD today has one of the finest collegiate baseball facilities on the west coast. To show their appreciation for his 25 years of service to the University of San Diego, school officials named the baseball stadium after him in 1988: Cunningham Baseball Stadium. During his final season of coaching at USD in 1998, his players paid a special tribute to him by wearing his number "33" on their sleeve the entire season.
As a member of the ABCA, Cunningham has served on the Hall of Fame Committee and the Lefty Gomez Award Committee, including many years as chairman.
Cunningham received numerous other honors and awards during his tenure at USD. In 1993 he was honored by the City Club of San Diego and Junior Chamber of Commerce as 'Citizen of the Year' for the difference he made in young peoples lives. In 1998 the Board of Supervisors, County of Sacramento, State of California, honored JC with a Resolution for his commitment, dedication and excellent work as baseball coach at the University of San Diego. The San Diego Baseball Historical Society recognized Cunningham as one of the twenty-five most influential people in San Diego involved with the sport of baseball - that group also includes the likes of Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn.
In addition to being a member of the ABCA Hall of Fame (1991), Cunningham is also a member of the University of San Diego Athletics Hall of Fame.
Named after the great Lefty Gomez, this annual award is presented to an individual who has distinguished himself among his peers and has contributed significantly to the game of baseball locally, nationally and internationally. The Lefty Gomez Award is sponsored by Wilson Sporting Goods.