On Thursday, the National College Baseball Hall of Fame announced the members of the Class of 2021. For the first time in history, a Michigan State Spartan was on the list. His name is Danny Litwhiler, and he is a Spartan legend whose name may not be familiar to many fans of the Green and White.
Coach Litwhiler, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 95, led the Michigan State baseball team from 1964 to 1982 after a highly successful stint at Florida State, which included three appearances in the College World Series. While in East Lansing. Coach Litwhiler mentored Spartan greats such as Rick Miller, Steve Garvey and Kirk Gibson. The Spartans won the Big Ten twice under his leadership (1971 and 1979) and made the NCAA Tournament three times (1971, 1978 and 1979).
In total, Coach Litwhiler, who was referred to as “Skip” by his players, amassed a total record of 489-362-8 (.574) with the Spartans. His 489 wins is the most by any Spartan baseball coach in history.
Litwhiler was a native of Pennsylvania and graduated from Bloomsburg University in 1939. The baseball facility at Bloomsburg is named in his honor (Danny Litwhiler Field). He entered the Major Leagues in 1940 as a left fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Over his 11-year career in the Majors, Litwhiler played for four different teams. He was named an All-Star in 1942 with the Phillies and won a World Series Championship with the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1944, before wrapping up his career with the Boston Braves and the Cincinnati Reds.
In addition to his accomplishments as a player and coach, Litwhiler has been referred to as “the greatest inventor in baseball history.“ In total, Litwhiler is credited with over 100 baseball related inventions, including an unbreakable mirror for pitchers to view their deliveries, a sawed-off bat to teach bunting, and the clay-based materials “Diamond Dust” and “Diamond Grit,” which are used to dry both wet baseballs and infields, respectively.
But, Litwhiler’s most notable invention is the baseball radar gun to measure pitch speed. This innovation was invented while Litwhiler was at MSU, and the first prototype is currently housed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. It is said that Litwhiler was inspired after reading a 1974 article in the State News about campus police using a new radar device to catch speeding cars.
Current Michigan State head baseball coach Jake Boss had this to say about Litwhiler, via msuspartans.com:
“We’re extremely thrilled for not only Danny Litwhiler, but the entire Litwhiler family, for this honor. Skip was a pioneer in all facets of college baseball. The impact that Skip left on Michigan State is certainly far reaching, and he was an even better human being than he was a coach, and we’re proud to have our program forever associated with Danny Litwhiler. We’re very happy for this most deserving honor for him and his family.”
Coach Litwhiler’s other career accomplishments include:
- Two-time Gold Glove winner in the Major Leagues (1942-43)
- A member of the Army’s Special Services during World War II instead of playing during the 1945 season.
- Led the United States to a gold medal at a post-Olympic international tournament as a coach in Mexico City in 1968.
- International President for the U.S. Baseball Federation from 1978-83
- Induction into the American Association of College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1980.
- Induction into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1994.
- Named MSU’s Distinguished Baseball Alumnus of the Year in 2003.
- One of only three members in Spartan baseball history to have his number (1) retired.
- A member of the technical committee of the International Association of Amateur Baseball
- A member of the board of directors of the American Baseball Coaches Association.
- Recipient of the “Lefty Gomez Award” for outstanding contributions and distinguished service to college baseball.