Bagonzi’s World: Coach Opens Museum
Former Woodsville Mentor Celebrates School’s Athletic History
Old team and player photos adorn a wall above a stack of books containing news clippings and more photos in John Bagonzi's Golden Age Museum in the barn behind his home in Woodsville. (Valley News — Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
John Bagonzi laughs during an interview in the Golden Age Museum that he created in the barn behind his home in Woodsville, N.H. on July 24, 2013. Bagonzi, a retired pitcher and high school sports coach, is the winningest baseball coach in New Hampshire history (at Woodsville High), with a record 260 victories, 64 losses. Behind him are team photos of the baseball and basketball teams he coached over the years. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodsville — When semi-reclusive Sandy Koufax, the all-time great Dodger pitcher, does emerge, it’s usually to hold court on a subject that has eluded most mortals since the 19th century: The mysterious art of throwing a baseball successfully.
The left-hander’s audience listens, of course, often in rapt, open-mouthed attention. That includes other major league pitchers, past and present. This, after all, is a man who in his prime in the 1960s so confounded professional hitters that most readily conceded they had no chance on most nights he took the mound.
But none of that stopped John Bagonzi from speaking up.
Then again, no one has ever accused the longtime Woodsville High School baseball and basketball coach of shyness. Now retired — but far from retiring — Bagonzi, a former Boston Red Sox farmhand, collected his strong opinions based on his decades as a player, coach and pitching instructor and put them in a 2001 book.
His The Act of Pitching was the reason Cleveland Indians pitching great Bob Feller, then Koufax, called him: They both liked his book. Koufax just didn’t agree with Bagonzi’s theory that the ball came from the mound toward the hitter on a downward plane.
Bagonzi stuck to his guns.
“When Koufax was talking to Dodgers pitchers at Vero Beach (Fla.),” Bagonzi said last week at his Woodsville home, “he said there’s no downward plane. Well, a pitch does have a downward plane. His pitches did.”
Though the former minor league teammate of past-era Red Sox like Bill Monbouquette and Haywood Sullivan has no doubt of the veracity of his theory, the recollection of the phone call from Koufax — a three-time Cy Young Award winner and youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame — nevertheless continues to give him pause today.
“Well, I’ll tell you what; you have a hard time arguing with Sandy Koufax,” he said.
In fact, when the call came through, Bagonzi thought one of his friends was playing a prank on him.
“Heh, heh. Yeah, Sandy Koufax. Sure, OK,” he said, recalling his reaction.
Bagonzi is doing a lot of looking back these days. At age 82 and suffering from congestive heart failure, he’s losing weight, facing continued uncertain health and conferring with his wife, Dreamer.
They’re trying to decide whether to agree to what they both think sounds like scary — though supposedly less invasive — surgery than what’s been traditional for heart valve replacement.
“Severe aeortic stenosis. That’s what they’re telling me I have,” Bagonzi said,
The symptoms came on quickly. The old coach — who not long ago was a familiar sight around the village as he went for his brisk daily walks — suddenly found himself short of breath and laboring to move at even a measured pace.
But he’s also been collecting a lot more than his thoughts and opinions for all these years. Keeping busy has been a key to facing poor health, and Bagonzi certainly has been doing that. For months he gathered and organized the accumulated artifacts from a lifetime at all levels of sport. And it’s all on display now for the public to view in what was once his barn.
This summer, the Golden Age Museum drew an opening-night crowd of about 300.
“People were everywhere. A lot of my old players were here. People from throughout the years. It went over pretty well,” he said.
And as Dreamer pointed out last week, people have learned over the years to “just drop by” the family home on Pine Street in the heart of Woodsville, no appointment necessary.
Jim Walker, a longtime neighbor, auto dealer and avid sports fan, did just that last week to say hello as he was on his way to Baltimore for a Red Sox weekend series with the Orioles. He lingered a while to examine some of the numerous artifacts that adorn the walls and recall some of the area players of years past.
The museum has a definite Woodsville High flavor, with a focus on baseball and basketball as might be expected. It was there, just around the corner from his home, that Bagonzi became one of the most successful New Hampshire coaches ever. Between 1959 and 1977, he oversaw 13 combined championship teams and seven runners-up. There was even a cross-country title in 1972, with Bagonzi coaching.
“That was Class M. We played the meat back then. We consistently played teams above our class,” Bagonzi said.
“Ron Pierson might have been the best basketball player in the state when he was here. I’d say he was the best offensive player I ever had,” he said.
But the museum’s reach extends beyond Woodsville.
“Look at all these books!” he said. “That was my sister. She collected books all her life. Most of these are classics. There’s an upstairs you know. Have you been up there? Oh, hell! There’s another ton of stuff up there. C’mon!”
Worn out gloves and catcher’s mitts — Clete Boyer and Ted Simmons models — get a second act in the Bagonzi’s barn. And just because the proprietor and Sandy Koufax don’t think alike on the finer points of pitching — that doesn’t prevent him from displaying a Koufax-autographed baseball prominently.
Visitors can even relax on specially-made museum furniture.
“See that — I took the seat out of a Chrysler LeBaron, and it’s the most comfortable seat I have,” Bagonzi pointed out.
“I’ve interacted with an awful lot of people over the years, and there’s a lot of stuff here. The people who have come by have seemed to enjoy all this stuff.
“One guy was here for three hours, and he told me he’d have to come back; he didn’t have time to see everything.”