NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Former Belmont University baseball head coach Dave Whitten passed away Wednesday at the age of 84.
One of the most revered figures within the Nashville sports community, Whitten and Belmont proved to be a perfect match: as the West Virginia native personified ideals of selflessness, loyalty and fair play.
An accomplished player in his own right, Whitten signed a pro contract with the Washington Senators in 1950. But he put his career on hold to serve in the United States Army during the Korean War. As fate would have it, Whitten was selected to pitch for the U.S. Armed Forces team, and holds the distinction of playing in the first game ever played in Norway (1951).
Upon his return to the states, Whitten played one final season in the Senators organization before answering his next calling: coaching.
Inheriting a Belmont program in its infancy stages - winning 28 games in its first four seasons - Whitten quickly molded the then-Rebels into a perennial power.
In an era before upwards of 50 regular season games, Whitten relied upon sound fundamentals and a team-first mentality to churn out winning campaign after winning campaign.
In 1975, Belmont won its first of three consecutive VSAC/TCAC titles - the first league titles for the university in any sport. After finishing 31-9 with a final No. 10 NAIA national ranking, Belmont backed it up in 1976 with a 31-11 season and a No. 7 final ranking.
Two more VSAC Western Division titles followed in 1978 and 1979, marking five consecutive division crowns.
Remarkably, in his 29 years as Belmont skipper, Whitten teams posted an under .500 record just four times.
Retiring after the 1997 season, Whitten posted a final career record of 674-452. Whitten would continue to serve the Bruin program through the 2000 season as an honorary assistant coach and pitching coach.
A five-time conference coach of the year, Whitten was elected into the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1998.
Whitten joined Larry Striplin and Betty Wiseman in the inaugural class of the Belmont Athletic Hall of Fame in 1980.
In January 2000, Whitten received the highest honor locally, named 'Mr. Baseball' by the Nashville Old Timers Association. He was also an integral caretaker of Shelby Park, home of Belmont Baseball through the move to E.S. Rose Park.
He is survived by wife, Martha, and three children.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, Sept. 23 at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville. A viewing will be held from 1-4 p.m., with a service thereafter. The burial will be held Monday, Sept. 24 at 11 a.m. at Woodlawn.
Memories of Coach Whitten
Belmont University Director of Athletics Mike Strickland
Coach Whitten was one of the kindest, most wonderful gentlemen you'd ever want to meet. His passion for baseball was unmistakable, and his love of Nashville and Belmont University was unquestioned. He was truly a first-class individual in every way. Coach Whitten enriched the lives of so many, and he will be missed greatly.
Belmont University Assistant Athletic Director and Senior Woman Admininstrator Betty Wiseman
I, along with countless others, am saddened to hear of Coach Whitten’s passing. Dave was a long-time treasured friend and colleague. He was truly a great man whose life made an eternal significance in this world. I’ll always remember Dave as a family man and a man of great faith whose calling in life was impacting the lives of young men through the game of baseball. He will always be Belmont’s “Mr. Baseball” and his legacy will live on at Belmont and in the lives of his players. My thoughts and prayers go out to Martha, the family, and the multitude of players who loved and respected him.
Belmont University baseball head coach Dave Jarvis
Dave Whitten was a very dear friend, and words cannot begin to express what he meant to me, our program, and this university. Simply put, he built this program. His grace and passion for the game remain the cornerstones of our program. So much of what Belmont Baseball has accomplished on and off the diamond can be traced back to Coach Whitten.
Belmont University men's basketball head coach Rick Byrd
Coach Whitten was one of the nicest, most decent men in all of collegiate athletics. I have never known a coach who was more respected and admired by his players and his peers than Dave Whitten. We need more coaches like him today.