Coach Considered Radar Gun Inventor…
Former Florida State and Michigan State baseball coach and major league all-star Danny Litwhiler, considered to be one of the greatest innovators in the history of the sport, passed away Friday (September 23) morning in Clearwater, Fla. He was 95.
In 28 years of coaching Division I collegiate baseball at both Florida State and Michigan State, Litwhiler had a combined record of 678-445-9 (.603) and guided his teams to nine appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Litwhiler was inducted into the American Association of College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1980 and was a recipient of the “Lefty Gomez Award” for outstanding contributions and distinguished service to college baseball.
Litwhiler’s head coaching career began in Tallahassee as he led the Seminole baseball team for nine seasons compiling a record of 190-83-1 (.695) from 1955-63. He led Florida State to seven NCAA Tournament and three College World Series appearances (1957, 1962, 1963) before taking over as head coach at Michigan State.
Under his direction at Florida State, Litwhiler never had a losing season and is credited for making the Seminoles a national powerhouse. In fact, Litwhiler was the first coach at FSU to lead the Seminoles to the College World Series taking the Garnet & Gold in 1957 after guiding the team to a 22-9 record. He also produced FSU’s first All-American players including three first team All-Americans in Dick Howser (1957-58), Buddy Teagle (192) and Mike Augustine (1963).
During his 19 seasons at Michigan State, Litwhiler, who was known to his players as “Skip,” amassed a record of 488-362-8 (.573), captured Big Ten Championships in 1971 and 1979, and led the Spartans to NCAA Tournament berths in 1978 and 1979.
Not only were his players successful at both Florida State and Michigan State, but 16 of Litwhiler’s players progressed to the major leagues, including Dick Howser (for whom FSU’s home stadium is now named), Ken Suarez and Woody Woodward at FSU, and Kirk Gibson (current Arizona Diamondbacks manager), Rick Miller, Steve Garvey and Mel Behney at MSU.
Litwhiler compiled a nine-year record of 190-83-1 (.695) from 1955-63 at Florida State and led the Seminoles to seven NCAA Tournament and three College World Series appearances (1957, 1962, 1963) before coming to MSU.
A great player and coach, Litwhiler also served as an ambassador and innovator. He was the International President for the U.S. Baseball Federation from 1978-83, 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, and conducted clinics in over 10 countries. Perhaps his greatest innovation and the most widely-known was the development of the radar speed gun, with the first prototype used at Michigan State now residing in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Other innovations included an unbreakable mirror for pitchers to check their deliveries and employment of a bat sawed in half to teach bunting. While at Florida State, Litwhiler developed “diamond dust,” which could be used to dry baseballs, and also “diamond grit,” which could be spread over wet spots in the infield, causing them to dry faster. All told, Litwhiler produced more than 100 inventions for the game.
In Litwhiler’s own 11-year major league career from 1940-51, he spent time with the Phillies, Cardinals, Braves and Reds. He was named an all-star in 1942 while playing for the Phillies. A member of the Cardinals’ 1944 World Championship team, Litwhiler was also with St. Louis when it lost in the 1943 World Series to New York.
Litwhiler, who entered the Army’s Special Services during World War II, did not play during the 1945 season but returned to the major leagues in 1946 with the Cardinals following his discharge. During his time in the service, Litwhiler helped organize recreation activities for thousands of troops and credited that time for preparing him for coaching.