Bill Wilhelm; coached baseball at Clemson

Associated Press / December 25, 2010

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Bill Wilhelm, the man widely credited for building Clemson into a national college baseball power, died yesterday at the age of 81.

Mr. Wilhelm died at Oconee Memorial Hospital, according to the school.

Mr. Wilhelm coached the Tigers from 1958 to 1993 and never had a losing season, finishing with a record of 1,161-536-10. He won 11 Atlantic Coast Conference titles and appeared in the College World Series six times.

“He was what Clemson is all about. He was tough, he was honest, he was competitive, and he took pride in everything he did,’’ said current Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett.

Leggett took over for Mr. Wilhelm in 1994 and said he enjoyed meeting with his predecessor.

“He set that foundation certainly in what he accomplished on the field, but he also set that foundation in the way he ran the program,’’ Leggett said. “He did things the right way and he was a great example to me.’’

Mr. Wilhelm’s 1991 team set the school record with 60 wins, while his 1993 team won the ACC title in his final season. But Mr. Wilhelm’s favorite team was his first squad in 1958, which followed an ACC title with a run to the College World Series that included beating Florida twice in a day, first with a 15-14 comeback win, followed by a 3-1 victory.

Mr. Wilhelm’s players also remembered his honesty. Neil Simons, who played for two of Mr. Wilhelm’s College World Series teams, said he will never forget a home run he hit in 1980 against Virginia. When he crossed home, Simons couldn’t believe his coach was arguing with the umpire.

“The ball curled about the foul pole and the ump called it a home run,’’ Simons said. “He told me in the dugout that he didn’t want Clemson to get a reputation that we were a bunch of homers and that Clemson would be a place where you would get a fair shake.’’

The umpire didn’t overturn the call, but Simons learned a lesson he will carry with him the rest of his life.