An era is most definitely coming to an end at Sunken Diamond.
Mark Marquess, the man synonymous with Stanford baseball, is retiring after 41 years as Stanford head coach.
Marquess will lead the Cardinal into its final regularly-scheduled series at home this weekend against Washington. Game times are 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Disbelief is the common reaction that anyone but Marquess, or '9' as he’s known by his uniform number around the Stanford baseball program, will be in charge of the Cardinal next season. It hasn’t quite sunk in for Marquess, either.
“It will kick in a couple weeks after this season is over,’’ the 70-year-old Marquess said. “I still have the energy, still like to go out to the field. I originally thought I’d go out after 2018. My contract runs through 2018. But by retiring now it gives my assistants another year to figure out what they want to do, gives (athletic director) Bernard Muir another year to figure out what to do. I thought I’d err on the side of a year early.’’
Marquess took over as head coach in 1977. He has guided the Cardinal to 39 winning seasons in his 41 years and made 14 College World Series appearances, winning the national championship in 1987 and 1988. He has won more than 1,600 games, fourth-most in NCAA Division I history.
“I’ve never been around a person more prepared, energetic and passionate about what they’re doing,’’ said Mark O’Brien, a former assistant to Marquess at Stanford who went on to serve as head coach at Santa Clara. “You’d better be the same. He expects it out of his coaches and players on a daily basis. He has a tremendous work ethic, could’ve been a CEO. A special person. I think he could still coach another 15 years.’’
The Stanford program was at its peak from 1999-2003 when it made five consecutive trips to the College World Series. But since its last trip to Omaha in 2008, the program has experienced a relative decline. In 2015 the Cardinal had its worst season under Marquess, going 24-32, and then went 25-21 last year.
But this season has been a pleasantly surprising upbeat one. His players seem determined to send their coach out on a positive note. The Cardinal is 34-14 heading into this weekend’s series against Washington, 15-9 in the Pac-12. Longtime supporters of the program can envision nothing better than a deep post-season run in Marquess’ final year.
But for all his success in making Stanford a national power in college baseball, Marquess doesn’t point to any one game or season as the pinnacle of his career.
“The highlight of my career came this February when they surprised me and honored me before we played Kansas,’’ Marquess said. “120 to 130 former players came back. You figure you have 10 new players a year. Over 40 years that’s 400 players. I had nearly a third come back. And Stanford is not a local school. Guys were coming in from New York, Florida …’’
Marquess played baseball and football at Stanford in the late 1960s. After a stint in professional baseball as a first baseman in the White Sox and Reds organizations he came back to Stanford to start his coaching career. So he is well-versed and comfortable with the unique emphasis placed on academics at the school.
“Obviously we won two national championships and had guys play in the big leagues,’’ Marquess said. “But that’s a small percentage. What’s most important is to never lose sight of our role as educators.’’
So it’s no surprise when he points to the graduation rate of his players as the achievement he’s most proud of.
‘’Most of the better college baseball players go into pro baseball,’’ Marquess said. “It’s very difficult for them to graduate with baseball taking up so much of their time. Starting 28 years ago I had every player take one extra class. After three years, when most would turn pro, they’d be one quarter ahead, making it a lot easier to graduate.’’
The end is rapidly approaching. After the home series against Washington, the Cardinal plays a three-game series at Washington State and then the NCAA Tournament begins.
How will Marquess spend his time once he no longer has the all-consuming task of guiding the Stanford baseball program?
“I don’t know, I’m not going to think about it until it’s over,’’ Marquess said. “I’ll have a lot of time to reflect. I’d like to remain in the game in some kind of educational setting, maybe mentoring coaches, definitely not at the professional level. I’d like to continue to combine that love I have for the sport with education.’’