Wally Whitehurst Selected for Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame park
Wally Whitehurst, a star pitcher who led UNO to the first College World Series appearance for a Louisiana school, will be the third and final standout local athlete to be inducted into the Allstate Sugar Bowl's Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame this Saturday, August 8 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Each year's Hall of Fame class is selected by the Greater New Orleans Sports Selection Committee, a group of current and former media members who annually recognize a variety of award-winners, including the Corbett Awards and the Eddie Robinson Award. The group also selects the Greater New Orleans Amateur Athlete of the Month each month.
A total of 25 individuals, including this year's Hall of Fame class, and two teams will be honored at this year's banquet.
University of New Orleans Coach Ron Maestri still remembers the first game Whitehurst pitched for him.
The Privateers opened their season in 1983 against 1982 College World Series runner-up Wichita State, a team that had won 70 games the year before.
A thin freshman at the time who later was nicknamed "The Whip", Whitehurst was greeted rudely in the first inning.
"His freshman year we threw him in the mix and we're playing Wichita State and one of their guys hit one that, I think, went over Lake Pontchartrain," Maestri recalls of his young right-hander. "Everybody's yelling at him ‘Welcome to the big leagues'. He settled down and won that game."
It was the first of many wins and a college career for the record books for Whitehurst. He remains UNO's career leader in wins (37) and complete games (40) while ranking second in strikeouts (310). He pitched three seasons for the Privateers (1983-85) before being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the third round of the 1985 draft.
During each of his seasons on the lakefront, he was the anchor of a pitching staff on a team that went to three consecutive NCAA Regionals. As a sophomore in 1984, Whitehurst recorded 15 wins and a 3.46 ERA, helping UNO become the first school in Louisiana history to reach the College World Series.
Whitehurst also was selected as the 1984 AAABA Tournament Most Valuable Player on the national champion New Orleans team. He also led the 1984 USA Bronze medal Amateur World Series team in innings pitched and compiled a 2-2 record.
Whitehurst went on to pitch seven seasons in the Major Leagues with three teams, making 163 appearances. He made 20 starts and 36 appearances on the 1991 highly touted New York Mets staff that included David Cone, Frank Viola, Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling.
Maestri said "intensity and command of the strike zone" were Whitehurst trademarks.
"He wasn't going to blow you away with pitches at 95, 96 (MPH)," explained Maestri. "He had great movement on his fastball and he threw strikes. He could command his curve ball in any count."
Like Whitehurst's first game, Maestri has vivid memories of the 1984 regional win over Mississippi State. Whitehurst pitched a complete game 5-2 win, beating future Major Leaguer Jeff Brantley. In the ninth inning, Whitehurst had to work through hitters Rafael Palmiero, Will Clark and Bobby Thigpen (each a future major leaguer).
"I can still see that curve ball he threw Thigpen," said Maestri of the strike out pitch that sent UNO to Omaha.
"(UNO) played at a high level then and he performed at the highest level for three years. He won a lot of very big games for us."
After retiring from playing in 1996, Whitehurst served as pitching coach at Delgado Community College and then at UNO. He also coached in the farm systems of the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Whitehurst joins former New Orleans Saint Deuce McAllister and former pro tennis star Linda Tuero as part of the 2015 Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame class.
Story submitted by Will Peneguy of the Greater New Orleans Sports Selection Committee.