Lou Eckerl, Calvert Hall College
by Pat O’Malley
Despite living in this world of analytics and constantly changing technology, old school baseball still works and Calvert Hall’s veteran coach Lou Eckerl is proof of that.
Under Eckerl, Calvert Hall has annually been “the team to beat” or at worse, “one of the teams to beat,” and that is excellence and consistency at its utmost.
Eckerl, a graduate of nee Cardinal Gibbons School that was on the site of St. Mary’s Industrial School where a pretty good hitter and pitcher by the name of Babe Ruth once played, would later coach three seasons at Gibbons before moving onto Calvert Hall and making his mark there.
“Old school” is practicing hard, playing hard, always respecting the game and your fellow players, foe or teammates and always making the commitment, not promises. Being a winner and not accepting defeat.
Finishing his 39th year as the Calvert Hall athletic director and 20th as the Cardinals’ baseball coach, Eckerl, with three MIAA A Conference Titles, four VSN Top 20 #1 rankings, more total wins (201), seven 20-wins or more seasons, including a 30-6 log in 2012, than any other coach during the period of 2011-2020, is the VSN 10th Anniversary Baseball Coach of the Decade.
In 2019 in accepting his VSN Pitcher of the year plaque, Calvert Hall senior ace Pete Marchineck, who was 9-1 for Eckerl’s third championship of the decade, said of his coach, “Coach is old school, demand discipline and cares for us.”
Eckerl’s 2012 and 2013 teams won the other two championships of the decade.
Eckerl has never changed and neither has the winning at Calvert Hall. The Redbirds have won a record 28 MSA and MIAA combined championships since 1929, the last eight under the guidance of Eckerl. Mount St. Joseph is runner-up with 16 championships.
“Coaching at Calvert Hall has been rewarding in many ways,” said Eckerl, who is one of only four local coaches with 500 or more career wins, with all but 49 of those victories came at the Hall. Eckerl was also AD and baseball coach at Gibbons where he led the Crusaders to the 1982 MSA Championship with an overall 18-1 record and was named Baltimore Sun Metro coach of the year.
No other local coach has ever won MSA and MIAA A Conference baseball championships at two different schools.
“Our players play with passion and respect. We (coaches) stress playing the game the way it is supposed to be played. We treat people the way you would want to be treated. We’ve been fortunate to have good players and good coaches. Working hard and playing hard is what it’s all about.”
That is something Eckerl learned early at Gibbons under a genuine disciplinarian baseball/football coach, Dick Sands. Sands knew how to push athletes for their benefit honing them from boys to men. Eckerl was a pitcher/outfielder for Sands and his brother Tony was the catcher. Tony was as good as there was in the metro area and went on to play three years as a starting catcher or first baseman on some national power teams at Clemson University back in the 70’s.
Tony also played a couple summers with the late, legendary scout and coach Walter Youse on the Leone’s-Johnny’s national powerhouse teams during that era. He was named one of the catchers on the 1970-79 Team of the Decade chosen by this reporter and Keith Mills of WBAL.
The Eckerl brothers made the trek from Stoney Creek in Riviera Beach of Anne Arundel County everyday up to Gibbons in Baltimore for the education and athletics at the Catholic school. They were a key duo in baseball and football at Gibbons as the Crusaders became one of the top teams in the MSA under Sands, who also coached football.
Lou went from Gibbons as a pitcher/outfielder and a running back in football in 1970 to Division III Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa. Former NFL coach Chuck Knox is among the Eagles alumni with Eckerl.
Eckerl, who graduated in 1974 from the school, was inducted in the Juniata Hall of Fame in 1998 after a stellar four-year athletic career there. He was the Senior captain and MVP of the Mid-Atlantic Conference in 1973 after leading the Eagles to the prestigious D-III Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. Eckerl was the leading rusher and scorer for the Eagles who were 10-2 his final year and a D-III runner-up.
The sometimes feisty but always “hard nosed” Eckerl is still on Juniata’s Top 10 running back lists for single season rushing yards (763) in 1973 and career yards (1,431).
“Lou has always been very competitive and trusts the values and opinions of his assistant coaches,” said Brooks Kerr, the Calvert Hall third base coach who has been with Eckerl all 20 years as baseball coach at the Towson Catholic school.
“He gives us (assistants) incredible leeway. He respects the game and wants it played the way it should be played. Things have been really consistent in our program with no regime changes. That’s something that has contributed to our success. And also Lou as a person never forgets anyone, players or coaches. He’s always been willing to help players having tough times, the same for his coaches.”
Kerr was the Redbird JV coach while Eckerl was an assistant to Joe “Snooky” Binder for 15 years after moving from Gibbons to Calvert Hall taking, the reins of the Cardinals’ athletic department, a job he is finishing for the 39th year.
Eckerl succeeded Binder, who is the school’s all-time winningest baseball coach with 462 career victories. Binder retired after the 2001 season and Eckerl took over in 2002 and won his first MIAA title in 2005. That season began a record setting streak of five A Conference titles. During this past decade of 2011-2020 that marks the boundaries of our VSN 10-year Anniversary Team Eckerl has led the Cards to three more titles after the streak.
His first A Conference champion at the Hall came in 2005, Eckerl’s Redbirds lost the first game of the season, but then proceeded to reel off 31 in a row to finish 31-1. The next season the Redbirds repeated for another title and set the stage for one of the most incredible achievements ever in high school sports.
The entire Calvert Hall baseball program went undefeated at 75-0. The varsity set a record for most wins in a season at 33-0 and extended it to the record for most consecutive wins at 35 by winning the first two games in 2008. The 2007 team had lost six seniors (no problem) from the previous season and ended up ranked No. 1 locally, of course, and No. 2 in the nation by Baseball America.
The 2007 JV was 26-0 and the fresh-soph team was 16-0.
Archbishop Spalding began our decade with the first MIAA A conference title in 2011 under Jeff Palumbo, the father of current coach Joe Palumbo, who was a standout shortstop at DeMatha and the University of Maryland before giving coaching a try in 2013.
“When think about high school baseball in the Baltimore area, you think about Calvert Hall first and rightfully so,” said Coach Joe Palumbo, who led his Cavaliers to three A Conference crowns in succession (2014-15 and 2016), two short of the Hall’s record and is going after a fourth this week versus Gilman.
“It is a tough, tough battle with them no matter the year or players. We always know it’s going to a competitive, tough game. Our guys get up for them because they know what a great program it is.
“There is a mutual respect between us. That’s why kids come to play in this league that’s because of games like Spalding/Calvert Hall, the intensity and the rivalry.”
The Calvert Hall coaches – Kerr, Zach Rowe, Paul Swartz, Andy Bair, Mike Wineke, Tyler Birkmeier and Bob Friedel _ and players say ditto to that.
“Spalding has been our chief rival in recent years,” said Kerr, speaking for Eckerl and the team. “We respect each other’s program and players.”
Eckerl is closing in on Binder’s career record for wins at Calvert Hall and 2022 will be his 40th year as athletic director. He is not saying it will be his last year, but it looks to be time.
When Eckerl steps down, he will leave quite a legacy behind.
Jose Torres, the VSN No. 1 Infielder on our Anniversary Team, the VSN Player of the Year in 2019 after leading the Hall to the MIAA A Conference title and currently a standout at NC State and likely draft choice in the MLB July draft, described Eckerl perfectly when he said, “Coach Eckerl knows how to drive us and cares about us.”