First base, quarterback, forward – the induction of Tony DiBiase into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame marks the arrival of one of the premier three-sport athletes of any era in the rich sports history of Westbrook, Maine.
Combining his natural athletic gifts with an intuitive feel for the game, Tony was instrumental in forging the Blue Blazes into a formidable championship contender in baseball, football and basketball in the early 1970’s.
Westbrook football coach Jack Dawson recall’s Tony’s impact on the team: “He was a dynamic physical force. Everything he did was powerful. He also had a great temperament and was intrigued by the structure and strategy of a football game, so it was only natural that he played quarterback and linebacker.”
Tony’s prolific basketball career was punctuated by a state championship in 1972 under coach Bill Folsom. Tony thrived under Folsom’s system and attributes his own basketball coaching philosophy to the principles acquired under Folsom’s tutelage.
Tony was a sure-handed first baseman, prodigious hitter and a 1971 All-Telegram and All-State choice for a talented Westbrook ball club under coach Roger (Mickey) Dolan. Tony also pastimed for the Manchester Post legion team managed by Luther Small and Jimmy Burrill. “Mickey Dolan was a great coach,” says Tony. “He taught me how baseball could be fun. Luther and Jimmy taught me how important, how serious, baseball was and how you had to focus on every game. All of them were right.” With teammates Larry Theriault, John Mullen, Jimmy Philbrick and Dana Dresser, the Paper City nine went 25-3 in 1972, only to lose the zone championship to a slightly more powerful Caldwell Post team which posted a 26-2 record and was spearheaded by the likes of Eddie Flaherty, Steve Conley, Gary Smith and Steve Merrill.
Tony continued his burgeoning baseball career at the University of Maine at Orono where he played football as a freshman (the first freshman to earn a varsity letter in 40 years) and four years of baseball, two seasons each under the legendary Jack Butterfield and John Winkin. Tony’s .350 career batting average is still among the elite numbers in Black Bear history but his senior year in 1976 was truly a dream season as the Winkin-led Black Bears rode Tony’s .361 average and stellar contributions from John Dumont, Bert Roberge, Jack Leggett, Eddie Flaherty and Brian Butterfield to the ECAC Championship and the school’s first trip to the College World Series in over 10 years. The individual awards piled up as Tony was named to the All-Yankee Conference, All-New England and All-East teams that spring. Coach Winkin fondly recalls the era. “Tony was one of my all-time favorite guys. I leaned on him to mold the spirit of the team,” says Winkin. “He made everything fun, he was a prime needler and umpire baiter, but he could get away with it. Most importantly, he would not let teammates be enemies.”
Tony continued playing baseball in the Portland Twilight League for 12 seasons, winning four batting titles, being named league MVP in 1975 and making nine All-Star teams over that period.
Considering the pedigree of all the coaches who influenced Tony throughout his playing career, it was a natural evolution for Tony to join the coaching ranks when his playing days were behind him. Tony has coached varsity basketball for 31 years, including the last 17 seasons at South Portland where he won a State Championship in 1992. He has also won Gold Balls in previous stints at Gorham and Portland. Tony has also been the varsity baseball coach at South Portland since 1998.
Tony credits his dad John for being the single most formative influence in his life. “Mom and Dad were the foundation of my career,” says Tony.
Camaraderie and life-long friendships with teammates and coaches are the blessings given to those who, like Tony, have made a productive life in sports. Those fortunate enough to have coached, played with or for Tony during this man’s remarkable career have been equally rewarded.
"More players from Maine's past were arriving. Tony DiBiase, the senior first baseman from Portland and leading hitter on the '76 team, spotted Leggett and Ed Flaherty, who has coached numerous University of Southern Maine teams to the NCAA playoffs and two NCAA Division III championships.
"Now there's baseball royalty," said DiBiase, raising his voice and smiling. He is still coaching high school baseball and has for some 40 years."