Baseball team honors 34-year assistant coach

Jim Schortemeyer

Herb “Ike” Isakson began his coaching tenure with the Gophers baseball team in 1964 — a time when high socks were not merely a fashion statement and the designated hitter rule did not exist.
On Sunday, Isakson became only the fifth Gopher ever to have his jersey retired on Sunday at the pro-alumni baseball game. He retired during the off-season, after 34 years of working as a volunteer coach. He was the team’s first base coach at the time he retired, and never earned a penny during his tenure.
His list of alumni is impressive: Terry Steinbach, Dan Wilson, Brent Gates, Denny Neagle, Paul Molitor and present coach John Anderson all played or coached under Isakson.
“Herb was tremendous,” Steinbach said. “There was never a time Herb didn’t want to hit fungos. We made a joke as infielders about trying to wear him out.”
All the players at the game said that Isakson had been a positive influence on them.
Isakson worked with the city of Minneapolis until he retired at age 48 and became a full-time volunteer with Minnesota. That was 22 years ago.
Simply stated, Isakson knew it was time to retire as a coach. Now 70 years old, he made the decision to hang up his cleats at the end of last season.
“It’s going to be different in the dugout without him,” head coach John Anderson said.
Isakson made huge time contributions to Minnesota. Whether it was doing laundry at 6 a.m. or hitting fungos, he was always there for his Gophers.
“I think the thing we’re going to miss the most is his love for the game of baseball,” Anderson said.
Present players were also saddened by the departure of Isakson.
“He was a great guy to have around,” said junior outfielder Rob Quinlan. “He was the first one here every day, and the last to leave.”
Isakson’s record as a coach is impressive. He never coached a losing team in his 34 years of service, and produced some of the greatest players in professional baseball. In that span, the Gophers won 11 Big Ten Championships and one NCAA Championship. Still, Isakson remains humble about the game he loves.
“You learn everyday in baseball,” Isakson said.
Part of the reason for his departure was the emergence of a new coach. Former Gopher and Minnesota Twin J.T. Bruett has joined the Gophers’ staff.
“He wants to get into coaching, and that’s part of it,” Isakson said. “But after the number of years I’ve been here, I think it’s time.”
Isakson was presented with a plaque and a framed jersey before the Sunday’s game. During that time, he paid homage to Dick Siebert, whom Isakson considers his mentor and an innovator in the game of baseball.
Fittingly, Isakson’s old-school class defeated the new team. The final score was 10-8, with the alumni benefitting from a six-run fourth inning. However, Isakson declined to take sides on the game.
“I’m neutral,” he said.
Perhaps the plaque awarded to Isakson near the pitcher’s mound summed up his career at Minnesota best:
“You have been, and always will be a Golden Gopher.”