Missing a Good Man by Thomas Shess

Joe Maiden (1939-2020) died last week.  To his family, friends and those in amateur senior baseball circles, he was a charismatic leader who didn’t seek the spotlight.  His satisfaction came from helping those he worked with and competed against to be better at what they did.

Joe was a financial advisor for retired pilots. His colleagues trusted Joe with their life savings.

He was an American Airlines pilot for 33 years and people trusted Joe with their lives getting from point a to point b safely.

He was U.S. Naval Academy grad (1961) and a combat pilot with the United States Marines serving under fire in Vietnam.  Our nation trusted Joe to keep us free.

To his baseball buddies (hardball not softball) he was a fair but unflinching competitor or team member. Playing America’s game, he arrived ready to play in his jet black Chevy Corvette.  What else would a Top Gun character drive?  But he didn’t speed around or be flashy.  Instead, his hustle on the baseball field spoke for him.  He ran the bases with skill and could be counted on to lay down a perfect bunt or line a shot into the outfield—anything to help the team.

As he wound down his career as a player, Joe began to umpire for local high schools and colleges.  He helped organize one of the more successful senior men’s’ baseball divisions for older players in the nation. His organizational skills aided in the creation of a 55+ division for the North (San Diego) County Men’s’ Senior Baseball League.  Despite the name, the leagues recognized women also wanted to play, and Joe and other managers welcomed them and their skills enthusiastically.  Joe loved working with others to get the show on the road.  His voice was heard and his actions led to countless older players to stay in the game we all love.

Joe also contributed to the success of senior men’s baseball nationwide.  He was an avid manager and player in Florida and Arizona World Series tournaments.

MSBL National and Roy Hobbs America have enshrined Joe in their respective tournament Halls of Fame.  And for good reason, Joe has played or managed teams to a combined 20 national tournament championship victories.  “Boys, that’s a ring for each finger and toe,” points out John Hopkins, a fellow MSBL player.

You could always tell a Joe Maiden coached team: uniforms were simple, there was camaraderie and unity and the players were told to form a circle in the outfield because Joe insisted on calisthenics before each game. No other teams did that.  Few other teams have as many championships as Joe Maiden.

Joe made his home in North County San Diego and he had a home by a wooded lake in Georgia.  Lately, he spent more time in Georgia, where his family resides and that’s where he passed away in a one-car accident May 13 near his home in Putnam County. Details are sketchy at this point; however, it appears he suffered a heart event while driving himself to the hospital, which led the traffic accident that took his life.

According to the State Police report, Joe was driving westbound on Georgia Highway 16 in his Toyota Tundra truck when approximately 2:50 pm on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, he lost control and crossed the centerline into the eastbound lane.  Three witnesses reported he overcorrected to the right and the action caused the vehicle to overturn several times.  Three passersby attempted to aid Joe but he was pronounced dead at the scene by Hancock County Coroner.

Fellow managers and players are deeply saddened by Joe’s passing, but all agree: Damn, he was fun to see on the baseball field.  Always a gentleman and always displayed a sense of humor and joie de vivre for life.

Doug Johnson, North Country Men’s’ Senior Baseball League President says, “I’m having trouble believing he’s gone. Joe was instrumental in the forming of the 55+ division in our league. Joe was an all-around great guy.  I know Joe will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”

John Ihrig, a San Diego senior baseball star, who is cut from the same mold as Joe Maiden, remembers Joe becoming a manager’s manager thanks to his great organizational skills and being incredibly baseball smart.  “He took many of his San Diego Padres teams on a 20 year victory lap through all the age brackets. Personally, Joe and I have played 15 games in twenty-three days on the World Tour of Baseball. Also played in china and Cuba. Sadly, the baseball field will never be the same without Ironman!”

Denny Brown, GM with Antiques Baseball from the Sacramento area adds “Joe was a joy to play against.  He embodied the principles of intense, fair, respected competition.  Quality competitors make us all better.  Joe did that for me.  I know I became a better manager by emulating him and trying to beat his teams.”

“Ray Andre, who played for and against Joe says, “Joe will be sorely missed. He was a pioneer in senior baseball circles and I sure hope he gets to drive his ‘Vette in heaven.”

Fellow manager and fellow U.S. Marine, Gil Rodriquez, offers, “another brother is in heaven guarding the gates.  God Bless him always.  Semper Fi Devil Dog you will be missed.”

The last time many San Diego area senior ball players saw Joe was in March at the last weekly practice session in Rancho Bernardo just before the pandemic hit.  Attorney Ray Wood, a regular on many teams, remembers “shagging baseballs in the out field with Joe.  He was a funny man.  I could have listened to him tell stories all day with that soft drawl of his, especially when he started recalling the hijinx he had back in the day with his Naval Academy buddy and college roommate Joe Bellino, an eventual Heisman Trophy winner.  No one could tell a better story.”

“Oh No, this isn’t right how can his life suddenly be cut short,” says Delos Eyer, a veteran and popular North County MSBL player. “It wasn’t so long ago Joe replied to an email I sent him, thanking him for the many baseball activities together.  He replied, a few months ago, saying anytime I wanted to play in the Ft. Myers annual tournament he would have a place on his team roster for me.  He had previously offered for me to come and play before, but I never went. I would probably now be the oldest player on his team’s roster.  I really appreciated his offer. Joe Maiden has left his quality brand on senior baseball across the USA.”

“I played on the San Diego based team that Joe managed to three straight national championships,” says Tom Shess, a long time senior men’s player/manager. “When we were standing on the baseline about to get our medals after winning our third World Series, which was a walk off come from behind World Series win, he whispered to me “I wish my Susan [his late wife] could be with me right now.”

Now she is.