Oct. 29, 2002
Today, The Ohio State University pays tribute to the life of a truly extraordinary human being, lifelong Penn State enthusiast and great friend of Ohio State athletics in former Cleveland Indians trainer, the late Jimmy Warfield. Warfield’s enduring dedication to the Cleveland Indians will be recognized today with the donations of endowed scholarship funds in the amount of $50,000, respectively, to the athletic training programs at both The Ohio State University and Penn State University.
Warfield, who served as an Indians athletic trainer for more than 32 years, passed away on July 16, a day after suffering a brain aneurysm prior to a game versus the Chicago White Sox. Warfield, who was 60, was not only a trainer but a friend of everyone he encountered.
“When I think of Jimmy Warfield three things come to mind – class, generosity and respect,” Bart Swain, the Indians’ media relations director and good friend of the Warfield family, said. “No man did more or gave more for the Cleveland Indians organization than Jimmy. He meant the world to a lot of people in and out of the organization. There is not a minute that goes by where I don’t smile inside thinking about Jimmy.”
Warfield, who was one of only four head trainers in the Indians 101-year history, dedicated more than half of his life to an organization that he infected day-in and day-out with his everlasting smile and joyous flare for life.
In a time in the world of professional sports where negativity commonly takes precedence, especially in Major League Baseball where the discussion of contracting franchises, alleged player steroid use and constant talk of a labor stoppage consumed the headlines in the 2002 season, Warfield stood as a constant beacon of optimism and love for those who participated in the profession he so dearly adored.
“Jimmy was such a great guy and wonderful human being,” Charles Nagy, a starting pitcher for the Tribe since 1990, said. “He was the first one in the clubhouse and the last guy out. He was always upbeat with a huge grin on his face. He would do anything for you in and out of the training room. He is just a guy that will never be replaced.”
Warfield’s relationships with those he encountered were not only warm but enduring. Nearly every player that passed through the Cleveland clubhouse during his tenure has stayed in touch with Warfield throughout their careers and after their playing days had come to an end.
“You should have seen the phonebook that Jimmy carried around,” Swain said of Warfield. “He must have kept in contact with every single player that passed through the organization in his time. And that’s over 600-plus players. There were phone calls, exchanging of letters and a lot of visits to the away clubhouse when we were on the road and a lot of former Indians dropped into our clubhouse in Jacobs Field. Jimmy was just a beautiful person that people wanted to stay in contact with.”
Cleveland first baseman Jim Thome, who set the club record for home runs in a single season with 52 this past campaign, held perhaps the closest relationship with Warfield among those in the Indians organization.
“Words cannot truly explain our relationship,” Thome, who would carve the initials “JW” into the dirt near first base following Warfield’s death, said. “I would say that it was very similar to father and son. It was both a fun relationship and a respectful one. He built so many great relationships and so many people in the game carried such great respect for him. He was a legacy. The word legend is the best way to describe him. I don’t think the Indians and the game of baseball, for that matter, will ever replace a guy like Jimmy.”
It could be said that Warfield’s passion for Penn State football was fueled by a fellow legend in 37th-year Nittany Lion head coach Joe Paterno. Warfield, a native of Hershey, Pa., had been an enthusiast of Penn State athletics his entire life and recently began to support the Buckeyes after his son, Jordan, enrolled at Ohio State in the fall of 2001.
Linda Warfield, Jimmy’s wife of more than 34 years, explains her husband’s love for both schools and their athletics programs.
“We grew up in Hershey and as a kid he followed Penn State. His father loved Penn State. He loved Penn State,” Linda Warfield said of her husband, who was the recipient of the 1992 Trainer of the Year award from Major League Baseball. “He developed a great admiration for Joe Paterno and his principals and his morals. He got to know Joe and Jimmy said that he was always going to be like Joe and do the work that he loved as long as he could and he did.”
Jordan Warfield has worked as a team manager on the Ohio State men’s basketball team since his freshman year. From that point on, his father found himself dividing his love for Penn State with a newfound affection for Buckeye athletics.
“When Jordan decided to attend Ohio State, Jimmy embraced it wholeheartedly,” Linda Warfield said. “He was very proud that Jordan was going to be a Buckeye. With his love for college football, Jimmy started following the Buckeyes and would call Jordan on Saturdays and ask him if the players were ready and prepared for that day’s game.”
Linda Warfield also expressed that her husband’s fondness for Ohio State athletics increased when Jim Tressel was hired as Ohio State’s 22nd head football coach.
“Jimmy was thrilled when Jim Tressel came on board,” Linda said. “He had known his father, Lee Tressel, and felt that Jim (Tressel) was a younger version of Joe Paterno, with his character, discipline and quality as a man. He was really getting into Ohio State football and starting to love that program as much as he loved Penn State.”
Warfield’s enthusiasm did not end with coach Tressel and the OSU football squad. He also admired the Ohio State men’s basketball staff, led by head coach Jim O’Brien.
“Jimmy also had great respect for Jim O’Brien and was very proud that Jordan had a mentor like Coach O’Brien, a figure that Jordan could look up to and that was there to help guide him,” Linda stated.
In fact, Warfield, along with Thome, would frequently visit the Jerome Schottenstein Center to watch Coach O’Brien’s Buckeyes in action.
“When Jordan started working basketball, Jimmy and Jim (Thome) would travel down for the games and would go over to the football facility,” Linda said. “They would get so excited. They would go and meet with coach Tressel and just loved being around the players. They just loved coming down to the campus.”
Thome expressed how important his offseason outings with Warfield were to their relationship, especially the trips to Columbus.
“Jimmy and I had a very special and open relationship in a sense that he would invite me to go to Ohio State with him to see his son during the offseason. We loved those trips and it was always great to see Jordan,” Thome said.
Linda Warfield explained how those visits to the Ohio State campus truly epitomized the relationship between her husband and the Indians’ all-time home run king.
“Jim (Thome) had said that Jimmy was like a second father to him. I think they enjoyed every minute they spent together. Jim (Thome) has been very close to us. He loves Jordan like a brother and is very concerned about him right now and wants to be there for him whenever he can. He’s just like another Jimmy Warfield. He has a very caring nature much like my husband had.”
Linda believes her husband and Thome served as diplomats who constructed a bridge between the Ohio State Department of Athletics and the Cleveland Indians baseball club that had failed to exist in the past.
“I think Jimmy Warfield and Jim Thome, along with Bart Swain, Pat Chun (Director of Ohio State’s Buckeye Club) and Randy Shrout (Ohio State men’s basketball Director of Basketball Operations) helped to build a close relationship between Ohio State and the Cleveland Indians, which I don’t think was there before,” Linda Warfield said. “For that reason, Jordan and I are deeply honored that the Indians elected to honor the life of Jimmy Warfield this way, with these scholarships and the foundations as a legacy to him. Ohio State and Penn State are both great schools and the organization knew how much Jimmy loved Penn State and how fond he was for Ohio State especially after Jordan decided to attend the university.”