EVERETT — Thirty-four years of coaching at five different schools have created a lot of memories to cherish for Archbishop Murphy head baseball coach Stan Taloff.
Tonight, the Wildcats have the opportunity to give Taloff yet another memory. A victory over Lakewood would be the 500th of his high-school head coaching career.
Always humble, Taloff downplayed the individual accomplishment, stressing the team comes first.
“The 500 wins is something great, but first and foremost really is the team championship,” he said. “It’s kind of like going after a Super Bowl ring. No matter how much a guy is making and no matter how many wins they have got and everything else, really everybody wants to get to that point.”
For those who have been near Taloff in his 34 years of coaching, his humility about 500 career victories is to be expected. Steve Suplin, who has coached alongside Taloff for 23 years at five different schools said that Taloff always has cherished the process of getting to a moment more than the moment itself.
“For him, it’s never been a destination like 400 wins or 500 wins or a state championship,” Suplin said. “It’s always been a process.”
Archbishop Murphy secured its fourth consecutive Cascade Conference championship on Wednesday with a 12-1 victory over Lakewood, but Taloff and the Wildcats have their sights set even higher. Districts regionals and the state tournament are still on the team’s radar.
In order to reach his current 499 total, Taloff’s teams have had to average between 14 and 15 victories per season. Not an easy feat to accomplish considering there are just 20 games in a regular season of high-school baseball.
“I think it’s perseverance and longevity,” Taloff said. “Being able to get through the highs and lows for a long period of time is really important. As I look back on it, I always take it just one year at a time and not really worry so much about the wins.
“As this approaches, it probably won’t settle in until I get out of baseball or something. But at this point I would have to say that I still feel my focus is being thankful for the 500 and being able to be in it long enough to have the talent and have guys that are willing to buy into what it is that allows them to be successful as a team.”
Taloff’s calling to baseball came long before he ever went into coaching. In high school, Taloff was an All-State player and played semi-pro ball for the Everett Giants by the time he was a junior. He later received a full scholarship to play baseball at Seattle University and continued to play semi-pro after college.
“I think it goes back to when I was younger, I just loved this game,” Taloff said. “I was blessed and talented enough to be able to succeed in it.
“I had a high school coach that told me, ‘whatever you put into this game it will come back 100 fold,’” Taloff said. “And it really has.
“The fact that the love of this game has allowed me to continue on and allowed me to get my education and my senior year at Seattle University I was the team captain and the school voted athlete of the year. So the game has really been a huge part of my life.”
Beyond the success that Taloff-coached teams have had on the field, those who have been around him say that success also translated to life after baseball.
“I think guys who played for him in 1983 could sit at a table and talk about how the success we have today is because of what he taught us on the baseball field,” said Jeff Smith, former player for Taloff at Shoreline High School.
“When we come together and talk about coach, we talk about how he taught us so many things that we use today. He didn’t just teach us baseball. He taught us life.”
That sentiment is shared by Suplin, who said he has grown as a person by being around Taloff.
“Beyond the baseball field, I realized after being his friend for a couple of decades that the relationship had made me a better man — a better father, a better person,” Suplin said.
Suplin won’t be on hand for tonight’s game against Lakewood because he is scouting two teams for Taloff, but he has been around for most of the 500 wins.
“I have been with him for about 420 of them, so it won’t be like I’m not really there,” Suplin said.
Former Shorecrest star Glendon Rusch, who went on to pitch 12 seasons in the major leagues with seven different teams, praised Taloff in an Feb. 2011 interview with the Examiner, a Los Angeles-based newspaper. Rusch credited Taloff with being one of the biggest influences on him.
“When I think of a guy who made a difference, it has to be Stan Taloff, my coach at Shorecrest High School in Seattle,” Rusch told the Examiner. “More than anything else, he taught me how to respect and love the game.”
It’s the shaping of his players’ lives that Taloff finds most rewarding.
“The greatest job that I think coaches have is to develop winners, which involve people and let winning take care of itself,” he said.
Taloff has had plenty of success as a coach. Three times his teams beat a No. 1-ranked team to get to the final four of the state tournament and three times his teams placed second at state (once at Shorecrest and twice at Cedar Park Christian). But his success has yet to include a state championship.
Does that bother Taloff?
“My wife would say yes,” Taloff said. “I think that’s always a goal that you want to have. I don’t start off any season saying, ‘this is going to be a building year.’ It’s always an opportunity to get to that one. The one thing I have learned is how difficult that is to do in high school because you don’t get to play like you do a World Series where you play seven games. You play one game and depending on who you have on the mound and who they have on the mound and depending on where you hit the ball and where their balls go when they hit them, that’s the difference.
“That’s one of those things that’s still out there that would be nice to get accomplished at the high school level.”
Taloff’s wife, Katie, has played a big role in his success. The two have been married for 43 years and she has supported him through his final years as a player and all of his years of coaching.
“We met in high school and so she has went through all those years of me playing,” Taloff said. “Playing semi-pro, that’s four to five nights a week. And then we got married and before we had kids I was playing four nights a week. We had to work through all of that part.
“I had to change and she had to realize my love for the game. She has just been extremely supportive. And now, at this point, she is more excited personally. I look at the team and I’m looking for the team to move on and she’s looking for the different opportunity that I’ve got.”
Taloff’s chance for a 500th victory is something that might not have been a possibility if it weren’t for a big push from Archbishop Murphy to bring him out of retirement.
He retired from Cedar Park Christian in 2006 with 420 career victories and was away from the game for two years. Then the Wildcats came calling. Taloff specifically credits Archbishop Murphy athletic consultant Roman Miller with the strongest push to bring him out of retirement.
“They just kept coming and saying, what would it take,’” Taloff said. “I said, well I don’t know, I just have to think about it.’ Then all of the sudden my juices started churning up again and I was only out of it for two years. I thought, OK, let’s go do this again.’ And it has been a great decision.”
It’s a decision Miller doesn’t regret either.
“I feel proud that I was able to have Stan take that job,” Miller said. “He’s always focused. It’s not just the X’s and the O’s and the baseball. He’s a master at getting these kids to buy in, and the camaraderie.”
Taloff’s love for baseball played a big role is his decision to return to coaching. For him, it really has been a love affair with a game that has endured more than 40 years.
“To win is great; to play the game is even greater, to love the game is the greatest,” Taloff said.
The impact he has had on his players is summed up just as easily by Smith.
“Besides my father, Stan has been the man in my life that helped me become a man,” Smith said. “I’m sure a lot of players that played for him would say the same.”