A highly regarded fixture on the Norwood baseball diamond, Pete Wall was known as an old-school, hard-nosed coach by his players and peers, but also one who taught others how to respect the game and handle wins and losses with class.
Wall coached Norwood High for 35 seasons from 1969-2003, compiling more than 500 career wins and earning a spot in the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. When the high school season ended, Wall would skipper the Norwood Post 70 American Legion team, where he became the first coach Massachusetts Legion history to capture three consecutive championships.
A lifelong Norwood resident, Wall died Thursday. He was 81.
“After the game, his teams were the most respectful, nicest kids whether they won or loss and that has to be a credit to him,” said former Newton North coach Joe Siciliano, who coached against Wall from 1991-2003, after North joined the newly-formed Bay State Conference.
“Coaching against him was like coaching against a legend. It was old school and he ran the kids through all the drills, but the big thing was the respect for the game. It was like Bill Belichick with the Patriots.”
Wall graduated from Norwood High in 1957 and was hired as the school’s baseball coach in 1969. On his first team, he coached Billy Travers, a fifth-round selection by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1970 draft who pitched nine seasons in the majors, earning a spot on the American League All-Star team in 1976.
In a 2004 interview with the Globe, Wall recalled the time he let Travers wear his jacket as he ran the bases during a Legion game.
‘Billy took off for second and slid,” Wall said. ‘’And everything in the jacket pockets came flying out: my bottle of Maalox, my lighter, and my pack of cigarettes. You should have seen the look on the face of the second-base umpire.”
In 1983, Paul Carchedi started his senior year on the Mustangs bench. But taking infield at first, alongside teammate Brian Drummey, with the skies brightening after a scheduled game had been postponed, he cracked, “This a great day for baseball.”
“Pete heard me say that, and noted, ‘That’s the kind of player I want in my lineup,‘” recalled Carchedi, who now resides in Mansfield. “The next day, I’m in the lineup, at first base [with Drummey shifting to second], and batting cleanup. I started the rest of the year.”
And that included a memorable at-bat against a juggernaut Natick squad featuring Paul Ghilani and Darren Flutie.
“First at-bat, first pitch, Ghilani throws a fastball right down the middle, and I took it,” Carchedi said. “Pete yelled, ‘Will you swing the [expletive] bat . . . Next pitch, same spot, and I hit a three-run homer over the left-field fence [at Norwood High]. I round second base, and Darren Flutie says, ‘nice hit.’ We lost to an unbeaten Natick team. He was a tough guy, but we played the game the right way.”
During his 35-year tenure, Wall became one of 12 coaches in state history to reach the 500-career win mark, and in 2000, he was inducted into the MBCA Hall of Fame. Even after his retirement in 2003, Wall remained close to both the high school and Legion programs, often watching games in his folding chair down the third-base line in his heavy blue coat.
Norwood’s home baseball field at Balch Elementary School, on Washington Street, is named Pete Wall Field. Less than a mile away is Frank P. Wall Field, named after his late brother, the former sports editor at the Norwood Bulletin and Daily Transcript who died of a heart attack in 1991 coaching his beloved Little League team, the Braves.
Wall joined Bill Tompkins (Walpole), John Carroll (Natick), John Freitas (Needham), Don Fredericks (Braintree), and Dan Avery (Framingham) as prominent, longtime Bay State Conference coaches during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ’90s who helped establish the league as one of the top baseball conferences in the state.
When Tompkins took the helm at Walpole in 1979, he aspired to build a successful program like Wall had in Norwood.
“The Walpole-Norwood game was always one of the highlight games in the state,” said Tompkins, who retired in 2015 after 37 years and 561 wins. “Peter was an excellent coach on the field and an excellent person off the field. He cared for his kids and we always had intense games but showed good sportsmanship. That was how Pete always wanted his teams to be.”
In his coaching tenure at Natick, John Brown recalled how the coach with the rugged exterior treated his two student managers who were special needs students, with care and interest.
“He made sure that he knew their names, and he didn’t forget,” said Brown, now the athletic director at Wellesley High. “I always had a great relationship with Pete. And for 10 years, I was the rookie coach in the [Bay State Conference], and he really helped me.”
Siciliano remembered a South sectional final in which a Norwood player made a game-ending error and Wall went over to the kid and put his arm around him.
“Despite him being old school and hard nosed, he really had a heart for his players,” said Siciliano, who retired this spring after 33 seasons at Newton North.
All services will be private, and arrangements are being made by the Kraw-Kornack Funeral Home in Norwood. In lieu of flowers, donations may also be made in Wall’s name to the Good Shepard Community Care Hospice in Newton.
Staff writer Craig Larson also contributed to this story.