In his 34 years at Penn, Bob Seddon says he never felt as though he actually had a job.
He never woke on a Monday morning and grumbled. He never watched the clock. And if it hadn’t been for his family and the dinner waiting for him at home, he says, he might have never left the office at night.
“I couldn’t wait to get to work,” Seddon says. “I wouldn’t even eat breakfast some days—I’d just grab something and run out of the house. I had to get into the office.”
When we sat down with Seddon for a conversation late last month, though, he was busy packing that office up.
With more than three decades of coaching excellence in the books, Seddon this year finally hung up his uniform for good—as of July 1, he was retired.
The coach who many addressed by his uniform number, “9,” leaves behind an astounding record of achievement. With more than 600 wins, he is the winningest baseball coach in both Penn and Ivy League history. He won five Ivy League championships and coached 50 first-team All Ivy players, four Ivy League Pitchers of the Year and three Ivy League Players of the Year. From 1968 until 1986, Seddon also coached the men’s soccer team and, remarkably, matched his baseball success: His record of 154-70-27 included three Ivy League championships.
“I worked all those years enjoying what I was doing,” Seddon says. “I was lucky. Not many people can say that.”
Q. So what have you been up to over the past several weeks?
A. The season finished up at the end of April, and I’ve been busy, to be honest with you. A lot of my time has been spent keeping up with my letters for the new coach, John Cole. And I’ve spent a lot of time moving out. You can’t imagine how long I’ve been doing that. I had both soccer and baseball all those years, and I had to go through all of that stuff. Some of it I kept, some of it I tossed, and some of it I left here. Some of the pictures I’ve put down in the new press box area. That took a lot of time. And then there was all of the other stuff I’ve had to move—the locker room and the coaches office. I’ve got stuff everywhere. I mean, it’s all over the place.
Q. Has it been emotional for you?
A. I’m fine, because I’m going out without being bitter. I’ve been working 47 years now, at the high school level and here, and I’m at an age where maybe I feel I should get out. I was lucky to work that long. My father always said to me and my brother, “Nothing is forever. Remember that.” And I want to do something else in baseball, on some part-time level, and I’ll do that.
Q. This must be a very different off-season for you though—with no new season coming up.
A. It’s a little bit of a transition. I was down at the field yesterday, watching a Carpenter Cup game, which is a tournament for high school teams. It’s a different feeling. You’re actually watching the game, but you’re not specifically recruiting somebody. But as for leaving, I think I’ll be fine, because I’ve accepted it. I’ve had a whole year to prepare for it. People say to me, “So are you counting the days?” And I say, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Did you know I never even thought I had a job?”
Q. Did coaching ever stress you out, especially when you were coaching both soccer and baseball?
A. People talk about burnout, but to me, it’s all in the mind. I think people create their own burnout. They get bored. Or they find they’re not doing what they want to do, or that they weren’t tested in life, or didn’t reach their expectations. I never felt that way. With this job, every day is a different day. You can’t get bored. You get to meet a lot of great people, and you’ve just got to love that—you’ve got to be willing to step off campus. That’s where recruiting begins.
Q. I imagine that recruiting process has changed in the years you’ve been here.
A. It’s changed from the standpoint that Penn is more difficult to get into. The scholarship schools are widening the gap, so it’s becoming more and more difficult for athletes—even true student-athletes—to be able to accept the higher education path, especially when they’re having a lot of money thrown in front of them. But that’s the player you’re looking for. The advantage, though, is that you’re able to go coast-to-coast for players, because your reputation at Penn helps you. It would be real tough if we were just local and had these academic restrictions.
Q. Obviously, despite the fact that Penn can’t offer scholarships, you’ve been able to attract some good players over the years. How did you do it?
A. With the big picture. The kid has to realize what’s ahead—the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s like the difference between leasing a car or buying a car. If you lease a car, you don’t pay anything up front, but at the end you don’t have anything. If you buy, that means you have cash up front and you’re paying for it, so it hurts. But at the end, you’ve got a product. It just depends where you stand. In all the years I’ve been coaching, I can count on my hands the number of kids we’ve had here who aren’t using their Penn degrees.
Q. When it comes to college baseball today, the power teams are all clustered in the South and West. Does that make things tough for Penn, being in the Northeast?
A. It’s definitely a disadvantage. The East is in big trouble. The Ivy League has a real problem. … They don’t want the East to win. They won’t admit that, but they don’t, because the East won’t bring any people [to the tournament]. The disadvantage and the gap are getting greater. It was always there to a point, but it’s getting even greater.
Q. Did you ever consider doing anything else with your career?
A. I coached in high school and then I got my Master’s degree in administration. I wanted to be an athletic director or an administrator.
Twice, here, I was interviewed for the assistant athletic director job … then as time went on, I figured, “Thank God I never got into administration.” It’s just not me. I think some coaches, they get up into their 40s, and they think, “I’m getting older. Maybe I should do something else.” But they shouldn’t think that way. You’re as old as you feel. At some point, I decided I wanted to stay here. It was what was best for my family. I didn’t have dreams of Arizona or the College World Series. I was very happy where I was. I had a few offers to go somewhere else, in the soccer days mainly, but I felt I made the right decision to stay here. The Northeast was where I wanted to be.
Q. What were some of your best moments here?
A. The winning teams. The early ’70s, in soccer, we had huge crowds and great teams. In baseball, we won the league in ’88, ’89 and ’90—those were great years. All the great teams. Even the teams that didn’t win.
Q. So what’s your plan for July 1, the first day of your new life?
A. I’m going to the Phillies game on July 1. This summer, I’ll be working camps—not my camps, but just working some. I’ve talked to a few major league teams, and I’m looking for something not too travel-heavy, but something that will get me involved with a major league team. I’m building a townhouse down in Tampa, purposely so I’ll be around those teams. I’ll rake dirt—I exaggerate, but I don’t want a desk job.