Jim Turner Sr., arguably the greatest coach in the history of Logansport athletics, died this week.
Turner coached the Berries to four state championships in baseball. He passed away on Thursday morning at the age of 90.
His accomplishments with the Logansport baseball program are legendary.
He went 582-188 in 28 seasons overall with a winning percentage of .756. He won 22 sectional titles (including 19 in a row), 11 regional titles and nine North Central Conference titles.
Logansport won state championships in 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1991, all in the single-class tournament days, which is an amazing achievement for a town the size of Logansport.
Turner might be the greatest Indiana high school baseball coach the state has ever seen. But the consensus among his former players was that he was even a better man.
“He’s done so much for so many people,” said current Logansport baseball coach Dan Frye, who played for great teams under Turner in the 1980s. “Of course it’s easy to look on the baseball field and remember everything that coach Turner’s done, but there’s a lot of us that he’s affected way more than just on the baseball field. He’s been a role model for husbands, he’s been a role model for fathers, he’s been a role model for coaches in general. You can’t even put into words how nice this man is and what he’s done for so many people. You can’t even fathom a number of people he’s affected over his 90 years.
“We will all remember him and appreciate everything he did as a baseball coach and for the program here, but I think we would be selling the man short if that’s all we remembered him by because he’s much more than that. It’s a tough day for Logansport baseball for sure, and we will figure out ways we can honor him by our play on the field, and I personally will try to be a better coach and see if we can start to be about half of what that man was to me. If I get that accomplished, I probably will be satisfied. But he will be remembered as Coach by thousands of people.”
Turner’s son, Jim Turner Jr., said his father had underlying heart conditions that led to a stroke in May, which started his recent decline in health. It was just last April that Turner held a “Talking Berry Baseball” at Black Dog in Logansport, which is available to watch on YouTube.
In an interview with the Pharos-Tribune prior to the event at the press box at Jim Turner Field, Turner looked back at his coaching career.
“You see all these pictures of these players up here? Those players and many more have blessed our lives. That’s what Logansport baseball has meant to me,” he said. “It’s been a very important part of my life and to Butch and Rich’s life, too. Just wonderful kids, wonderful players.”
Turner Jr. said his dad had a special relationship with his players.
“I don’t know how many guys texted me or put it on Facebook that he’s who inspired them to go into education or be a better dad or all kinds of things,” he said. “The thing about my dad is he never had anything negative to tell somebody. He was, ‘God, I’ll always try to stay positive.’ That was his legacy. He never got mad at people. He did, but he didn’t show it. They had a lot of respect for him because he didn’t embarrass them, always supported them.”
Turner Jr. said his dad was unique in many ways.
“I’m sure as a son I would be shielded from people criticizing him or saying negative things, but I can honestly say I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about the guy. I really haven’t. People that reached out, it’s just in the hundreds. It’s just unbelievable people that reached out to me and texted me and Facebooked things,” he said.
Turner first moved to Logansport in 1958 when he got a job with the local YMCA.
“I was lucky to get the opportunity to come over here, really,” he said in a 2020 interview. “I came over in Y work. I finished my student-teaching over at Illinois State mid-semester and I was looking for a job. I was working part time over at the Bloomington, Illinois, Y. They called him the youth work secretary in Bloomington who got the opportunity to take the Logansport job, and he asked me if I wanted to come over here with him to be the physical director. So I took the opportunity to get a job in mid-semester, didn’t start until June, but took the job in the middle of the semester and came over here and been here ever since.”
Turner said Logansport High School baseball was in good shape when he was hired to be the head coach in 1964.
“Logansport has always been a baseball community, long before I came to town they were a baseball community,” he said. “Rex Hunter, who was the coach before I coached the varsity, had some good teams. So we’ve always had good players.”
Becoming a baseball coach had long been in Turner’s plans.
“The reason I went to college in the first place is because I wanted to coach,” he recalled. “Those days, you had to have a college degree and be a teacher in order to coach at the high school level. I put in my application to teach and fortunately Carl Zimmerman, the superintendent of schools, hired me and I’ve been coaching ever since. The first five years I was here, I coached freshman basketball and the varsity baseball job opened up. In fact, I coached two years of the junior varsity, then the varsity job opened up in ‘64, and that’s when I started with the varsity.”
Turner’s legacy will always be tied in with his trusted assistant coaches, Butch Jones and Rich Wild.
“I don’t know if you could ever get three people that would put that much time into a program of coaching and teaching and stay together for that long and remain as a team,” Turner Jr. said. “There was never any jealousy, it was all about trying to win and doing the right things.
“He always told me, he said you don’t hire assistants to tell them what to do, you hire assistants and let them coach. That was kind of my philosophy too, let guys have responsibilities, and I just got out of their way and a little bit of guidance or suggestions and just let them do their thing.”
Turner was also always quick to credit Logansport’s youth baseball feeder system for the high school’s team’s success.
“My dad would be the first to say if it wasn’t for people like Dave Long and Dave Kinder — and I’m afraid I’m going to leave out somebody, Jim Smith — those people in the youth leagues that have done so much, he was really thankful and he really had a lot of respect for those people,” Turner Jr. said.
Turner retired from coaching following winning his fourth state title in 1991 at the age of 60. But Frye said he remained a part of the program well past his retirement.
Frye recalled talking to Turner following a stressful win over Lafayette Jeff this past spring.
“I remember talking to coach Turner just last season. I passed him on the way up to talking to the radio and as coach Turner always did, he always made time for everybody. And he extended his hand, and I shook his hand, and I just said, ‘I’m not sure how you did it for so long.’ He just laughed in his Jim Turner laugh and off we went,” he said.
“He was there every game sitting up in the press box enjoying the game being a huge part of it. He gave coaching advice to all the coaches, and he would still be willing to sit down and talk to kids about things they needed to do or things that might help them.”
Following his retirement, Turner handed the keys of the program to Jones, who guided the Berries to the Final Four in 1996. Jones retired from coaching in 1997 and handed the keys to Turner Jr., who guided the Berries to the Class 4A Final Four in 2002. He retired from coaching in 2019 and handed the keys to Frye.
Although things change, Turner Jr. carried on many of his father’s traditions when he was the coach, such as the way the Berries practiced.
“I would say we did, but things really changed. He knew that too and we would talk. We would always follow his advice. He was always there. Just the way he practiced, he practiced different than everybody else. He had a little different philosophy on things and he insisted on certain behavior — not behavior on things like the way you carry yourself — but like the way you approached the swing and the way the pitchers should approach the hitters. Those types of behaviors, he insisted on certain things. The good thing about when he coached there was such competition, you had to do exactly the way it was taught to you or the next guy would.”
Wild has said Turner was the best pitching coach he had ever seen. Turner Jr., who was the winning pitcher in the 1975 state championship game, talked about his father’s pitching philosophies.
“It was all about the mental approach and being on balance. He worked with kids relentlessly,” he said. “He always told me, don’t ever let kids just go throw in a bullpen, always observe, always be with them, always give them a purpose for every pitch, and so that was his approach. He just spent all the time, he thought pitching was the key, so he spent 90% of his time with the pitchers and working with them.”
Another constant in the high school game is the best teams put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses.
“He insisted on kids taking the right kind of swing at the plate,” Turner Jr. said of his father. “According to him, his type of swing was trying to hit the ball on the ground and hit and run all the time, which is a little bit different than today. Today is drive the ball, throw the ball as hard as you can every pitch, that type of thing, so it’s a little bit different today.”
Trends always seem to come back around, and while power hitting is still in vogue, perhaps more emphasis will be added to contact hitting and hitting line drives through defensive shifts as the game continues to evolve at the Major League level.
“I hope it does,” Turner Jr. said. “I hope it comes down to guys wanting to bunt to get on, guys wanting to win, doing anything to win as opposed to showing up and collecting paychecks.”
Another one of his father’s philosophies was, “No strikeouts,” Turner Jr. added.
The Berries, of course, have had their fair share of boppers throughout the years as well.
Turner Jr. said his father knew when to let his players’ talent take over.
“He always said too, you’ve got a kid that can do that like a John Curl or someone, you just shut up. ‘Here’s the bat and here’s where you stand,’” he said.
Frye himself was a star player and a dead pull hitter. He recalled a story from his junior or senior year.
”I can still remember taking batting practice up there and him trying to get me to hit the ball to right field. He was standing behind the cage there and I hit a flare over the first-base dugout and I turned around and said ‘it can’t be done.’ And he never said another word. That was just it. But it’s one of those things that I learned how to hit the ball the opposite way at 22 years of age and some of our kids are better hitters than I was at their age because they can manipulate the plate a little bit and hit the ball to right, hit the ball to left, where I was strictly a pull hitter. But I do try to take that same mentality. I’m not trying to I try to get my guys to hit homers. I hit some home runs in high school. I try to get my guys to hit the ball hard, hit the ball on a line and obviously put pressure on the defense as well.”
Turner was always sure to mention the great teams that did not manage to win state championships as well.
“He included all of us all the time,” Frye said. “I think there were a lot of good teams and a lot of good baseball players and obviously we were well coached and fundamentally sound.
“I still remember and there are very vivid memories, and if you talk to all the baseball players that ever played and love this game like we do, they can replay these games and they can remember things that happened that we will never forget. We’ll never forget coming up short and for the four state champions, they’ll never forget winning it all.”
Frye said many of Turner’s traditions will carry on.
“I want to have that same mentality that I thought we were going to win every game, I want my kids to think we’re going to win every game and play aggressively running the bases, hit aggressively, but when it’s time to give yourself up you give yourself up for the betterment of the team,” he said. “I hope I can be thought of and do half of what I think of our coaches when I played. To the level I had them at, I didn’t think there was any better and I don’t think there’s any better today. It’d be hard for anybody ever to impress upon me that there was any better because I don’t think there is.
“The Logansport baseball coaches that I had I loved playing for them, I loved being around them, I respected them, I loved them. I miss those days and we’re going to miss JT forever.”