Billy Fitzgerald – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Jesuit High School/Tulane University/Isidore Newman School
Billy Fitzgerald established one of the greatest baseball/basketball players in New Orleans history during his years at Jesuit High School in the 1960s. An elite catcher on the diamond and a relentless defender and efficient scorer on the hardwood, the stories of his intensity have become the basis of legends.
He led Jesuit to back-to-back state basketball championships. In 1964, the Blue Jays posted a 30-2 overall record with the state tile and in 1965, Fitzgerald’s senior year, Jesuit was 28-1 as he averaged 15.7 points per game and was selected the Class 3A All-State Most Valuable Player.
Photo by the Times-Picayune
Fitzgerald then went on to play basketball and baseball at Tulane. On the hardwood, he averaged 13.3 and 13.7 points per game, respectively, in two basketball seasons. As a catcher on the diamond, he was selected in the 15th-round in 1968 by the San Francisco Giants and in the first round in 1969 by the Oakland A’s. He remained in the Oakland organization for five years, reaching Class 2A.
Also a member of the Tulane Hall of Fame, Fitzgerald was the head coach of two sports at Newman High for a combined 60 years — 34 in baseball and 26 in basketball. He went on to compile a basketball coaching record of 551-221, with five state titles and a winning percentage of .715. Newman was a state champion in 1977, ‘78, ‘91, ‘92 and ‘93.
Hired as the baseball coach in 1975, Fitzgerald’s Greenies claimed state titles in 2000 and 2003 before his retirement following the 2007 season. Although exact figures on his baseball record are unavailable, Fitzgerald probably coached approximately 1,500 games in two sports at Newman. He also served as the Newman Director of Athletics until his retirement in 2014.
His intensity throughout his coaching years rubbed some the wrong way, especially in the latter years of his coaching career, but he was beloved by many of his students and players. Renowned author Michael Lewis (The Blind Side, Money Ball) wrote a book focused on Fitzgerald and the lessons he taught. One memorable excerpt from Lewis which captures what many learned from the venerable coach:
”We listened to the man because he had something to tell us, and us alone. Not how to play baseball, though he did that better than anyone. Not how to win, though winning was wonderful. Not even how to sacrifice. He was teaching us something far more important: how to cope with the two greatest enemies of a well-lived life, fear and failure. To make the lesson stick, he made sure we encountered enough of both. I never could have explained at the time what he had done for me, but I felt it in my bones all the same. When I came home one day during my senior year and found the letter saying that, somewhat improbably, I had been admitted to Princeton University, I ran right back to school to tell Coach Fitz. Then I grew up.”
MORE READING: Coach Fitz’s Management Theory (2004 New York Times Magazine story by Michael Lewis)