Mr. Kannerstein's Opus

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In a 1956 episode of "The Phil Silvers Show", master sergeant Ernest G. Bilko tried to get even with a bookie by placing a football bet on tiny Schmill College. In its 12 previous games with Notre Dame, Schmill had not scored, and the Fighting Irish had not scored less than 100 points. Bilko wagered that Schmill could beat the 100-point spread. And after he taught Schmill's players a demoralizing hum to chant in the huddle, they "held" Notre Dame to 99 points.

That same year in real-life college sports, Haverford defeated archrival Swarthmore in tennis by a score of 5-4. The result turned out to be equally historic in that the Fords would not beat the Garnet again until 2008. Last year's 5-4 victory -- in the first round of the Centennial Conference playoffs -- was the sporting highlight of Greg Kannerstein's five-decade career at Haverford

Kannerstein, who entered the Main Line college as a freshman in 1959, died last month at 67 of complications from mesothelioma. A gentleman of exquisite sensibility, he worked at the college in almost every capacity -- teacher, dean, baseball coach, director of athletics, historian -- earning the title "Mr. Haverford." The beloved and benevolent Kannerstein had reached that enviable state in life in which one can do pretty much as he pleases. Even more happily, what he wanted to do had worth. And, perhaps best of all, he was very good at what he did. I've never known anyone more devoted to Haverford, its mission and its students. Over the last half-century Kannerstein touched thousands of students' lives -- not in a superficial way, but in an enduring one.

In his 1993 book, The Man In the Dugout, baseball historian Leonard Koppett proposed the "family tree analysis" of major-league managers. All modern skippers, he argued, are descended from three epic figures -- John McGraw, Connie Mack and Branch Rickey. At Haverford, a school more known for its Quaker values than its athletics department, Kannerstein was at the center of the sporting nexus. Like the great North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, he involved himself in all aspects of his students' lives, offering counsel and support. He was fascinated with the careers of alumni, and kept tabs on as many graduates as he could.

The ideals Kannerstein espoused continue to be reflected in his disciples, of whom I, class of 1976, am just one of many. Among the others: Josh Byrnes '92, the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks; Thad Levine '94, the assistant GM of the Texas Rangers; San Diego Padres executive Ryan Isaac '98; sports agent Ron Shapiro '64; and MLB Network president Tony Petitti '83. All six of us will be wheeling and dealing this week at baseball's Winter Meetings in Indianapolis. Shapiro will explore a long-term extension for his client Joe Mauer with the Minnesota Twins. I'll field offers for 12 of my clients, including Randy Wolf, Hideki Matsui and Rich Harden. Byrnes, Levine and Isaacs will talk trades and free agency, while Petitti's cable channel will broadcast shows on the proceedings. We owe our success, at least in part, to our education at Haverford. Considering the size of the school, its impact on the business of baseball is truly astonishing.

Baseball was always the second love of Mr. Haverford. After graduating with an English degree in 1963, Kannerstein found work as a rewrite man for the now defunct Philadelphia Bulletin. His tenure was curtailed by a headline he wrote for a dispatch about some late-inning heroics by Jesus Alou, an outfielder for the San Francisco Giants. It read: JESUS SAVES GIANTS. "Apparently," Kannerstein once told me, "some readers didn't think the headline was as funny as I did." After quitting the paper, he went back to the classroom, earning a master's degree from Penn in English and folklore, and a doctorate from Harvard's Graduate School of Education, where he wrote his thesis on the desegregation of black and white colleges in several cities. In 1968, Haverford named Kannerstein an assistant dean of students. He never left.

A decade ago ago, Phillies' owner Dave Montgomery and I inaugurated an annual event in Philadelphia that benefited Philly Futures, an organization that helps inner-city youth attend college. Kannerstein was a huge supporter, and championed a partnership with Haverford. He recognized that the Haverford community extended beyond its suburban campus, and that the school had a responsibility to provide opportunities for Philadelphia teens. Over the last 10 years, a dozen kids from the program have enrolled at Haverford. Nine have graduated and two are currently matriculating. One even took a class with Kannerstein this semester.

Somehow -- while lecturing, watching every Haverford sporting event and every Phillies telecast -- he found time to teach his four-year-old granddaughter, Edie, how to hit a baseball. His "crazy dream" was that she would be the first female big-leaguer. To Kannerstein -- who had waited 52 years to see Haverford beat Swarthmore in tennis -- nothing was impossible.