Dennis Denning was a two-time National Coach of the Year at St. Thomas
Tributes are coming in after news that Hall of Famer and former Tommie Baseball head coach Dennis Denning passed away Nov. 16 at age 76 after a series of health issues.
A St. Paul native, Denning was known as an overachiever early in his baseball playing days. He was cut from many teams early in his Cretin High career, and later played sparingly as a freshman at St. Thomas. But he worked himself into a college starting role and rose to become a major league draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles.
His minor league baseball career with Baltimore was eventually halted by injuries as he reached the Class AAA level, but Denning gave back to baseball and his hometown in a big way as a coach and teacher of the game.
At the University of St. Thomas (1995-2009) and Cretin-Derham Hall (1978-94), Denning combined to win 80% of his games with 901 victories.
Denning took the Tommie baseball program to new heights during his 15-year era here. His Tommie teams won NCAA Division III championships in 2001 and 2009 and claimed national runner-up finishes in 1999 and 2000.
Twice named NCAA Division III National Coach of the Year at St. Thomas, Denning’s 522-157 overall record (.769 win percentage) was the best mark over his 15-year era among all NCAA Division III coaches. He had 12 players named Division III All-Americans, and four voted CoSIDA Academic All-Americans. Four of his players were selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft – Jake Mauer, Buzz Hannahan, Chris Olean, and Tony Fischer.
In each of his last 14 seasons, the Tommies won either the regular-season or postseason title in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). His 1999 Tommie team was the first in conference history to make the D-III College World Series.
Prior to his Tommie coaching chapter, he was head coach for 17 seasons at nearby Cretin-Derham Hall High School. His Raider teams won six Minnesota state large-class championships, 15 St. Paul City Conference titles, and amassed a 379-76 record (.833).
Denning took St. Thomas baseball on an historic trip to Havana, Cuba, in January 2000 – only the third American professional or collegiate team to play in Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power nearly 40 years earlier. St. Thomas played two exhibition games against the University of Havana and hosted a return trip by a Cuban team in May 2000 that featured a game at Minneapolis’ Metrodome.
Denning was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2012, and previously was inducted into the St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame for his undergraduate playing career in the mid-1960s. He was also a member of the Mancini’s Hall of Fame in St. Paul.
Denning was head coach of the Gold Medal winning North Squad in the 1989 Summer Olympic Festival.
He was a Dick Siebert Award winner and a past president of the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association. He was Minnesota High School Coach of the Year four times, Region 3AA Coach of the Year seven times, and was a National High School Coach of the Year finalist three times.