Baseball: Former University of St. Francis coach Tony Delgado dies at 80

JOLIET – Tony Delgado, one of only five individuals to have their number retired in the 51-year history of the University of St. Francis athletics program, has died.

The university made the announcement late Wednesday after the former baseball coach’s unexpected death after an accident at his home earlier in the day.

Delgado, who celebrated his 80th birthday only one day earlier, was the co-architect of seven NAIA World Series teams alongside head coach Gordie Gillespie for 15 years at St. Francis, including the 1993 national championship team. The two worked together on the diamond for 20 years in all, including five seasons at nearby Lewis University, where they won two NAIA titles together.

“We are devastated to hear the news of Tony’s passing and offer our deepest condolences to his wife JoAnn, his children, Joelle and Jerred, and the rest of Tony’s large extended family,” USF director of athletics Dave Laketa said in a statement. “Bring up Tony’s name to anyone and you will get the same response, a great man and mentor and an absolute gentleman whose kindness and sincerity were unmatched. He was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone.”

Delgado came to St. Francis in 1980 as an assistant coach in baseball and women’s basketball, while also serving as the school’s intramural director. He became only the third head coach in the history of the baseball program in 1996 and led the Fighting Saints to 296 wins, two Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles, three league tournament titles and eight winning seasons during his 10-year run. Delgado retired in 2005 and was inducted into the athletic department’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

“Tony was an extraordinary man,” said former USF athletic chairman and director of athletics Pat Sullivan, who also was a teammate of Delgado’s at Lewis. “How blessed we all have been to have had Tony in our lives. He was as solid and as principled a man as you will ever meet.”

A 1961 graduate of Harrison High School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Delgado was the starting shortstop for the 1959 team that captured runner-up honors in the IHSA Baseball State Tournament. He also was selected to play in the City vs. Suburban All-Star Baseball Game in 1961, not to mention competing in basketball for four seasons. Gillespie actually was recruiting a player on the opposing team when he came across Delgado and his hustling play on the basketball court at Harrison.

He went on to star in basketball and baseball at Lewis from 1961 to ‘65. During that time, Delgado played shortstop on two World Series qualifiers (1962, 1963) for the Flyers and was the point guard for Gillespie’s only NAIA national tournament team in the 1964-65 season. That same year, he was named a second-team NAIA All-American after averaging 17 points per game. He also twice was selected to the NAIA All-District 20 Team in baseball. Delgado was inducted into Lewis’ Hall of Fame in 1982. He also was the 2019 recipient of the Robert E. Smith Achievement Award, which is given annually to a coach or administrator who has given oneself in an unselfish manner to the promotion of NAIA baseball.

Besides coaching at St. Francis and Lewis, where he also coached basketball and tennis, Delgado had brief stints at Roncalli High School (now Aurora Central Catholic High School), Loras College and Illinois Institute of Technology.

Upon retiring, Delgado gained his greatest joy in teaching the game of baseball and giving lessons, which he still was doing until his death.

“Everyone loved Tony’s summer baseball camps and would sign up for every session every year starting in kindergarten and going through eighth grade,” Laketa said. “There weren’t too many young kids, both boys and girls, in the Joliet and surrounding areas that weren’t a part of his baseball camps growing up each summer.

“Tony had an unbelievable love for kids, St. Francis and all of our programs. We will miss seeing him at all of our home events and giving baseball lessons in the Sullivan Center.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.