Joe Tremblay, a well-known Newport sports fan, who, for decades never missed a game at Cardines Field, had a remarkable record predicting sporting events and interviewed some of America’s greatest athletes including Ted Williams and Arthur Ashe, died Sunday at the age of 73. He had recently recovered from a serious fall when it was learned that he suffered from advanced pancreatic cancer.
Afflicted early in life with both Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy, Joe overcame his physical adversities and went on to great accomplishment thanks to the James L. Maher Center, where he thrived at summer camps as a child and learned the job skills that secured him employment at a number of Newport institutions over the next five decades, including the Sheraton Islander, now Gurney’s, The Treadway Resort & Marina, and the YMCA. He also worked for many years in the Ney Hall Galley at The Naval Health Clinic.
Joe’s love of sports came from his parents, the late Rita and Joseph Tremblay, who first lived on Congdon Avenue and coached a Little League team, “The Point Section,” for which Joe played shortstop at the age of eight in 1955. Two years later Joe also became a loyal member of “The Ancient Mariners,” fife and drum corps. Later, at Thompson Junior High he co-managed the football, basketball and baseball teams.
In 1961 at the age of 14, he was photographed with his mother Rita in a photo of President and Mrs. Kennedy leaving St. Mary’s Church. Shot by White House Photographer Robert Knudsen, it was featured in the brochure for “Return to Camelot,” the church’s permanent exhibit on the Kennedys created in 2017. During the exhibit’s opening ceremony Joe was interviewed by WJAR-TV for his memories of that day.
Over the years Joe became a fixture in every major Newport parade, often walking in the front line with mayors, congressmen, senators and governors.
In 1968, Joe was attending The Beacon Hill Day Camp for developmentally disabled youngsters. When legendary folk singer Joan Baez then performing at The Folk Festival, visited, she singled him out for a dance.
Joe enjoyed playing sports almost as much as he liked covering them. In a 1975 year-end highlights story in The Newport Daily News, he was cited for his two free throws with 20 seconds on the clock to help the Middletown Blue Raiders clinch a basketball game against The Sudbury (Mass.) Raiders in the fourth annual New England Handicapped Tournament in Laconia, New Hampshire.
In the spring of 1976 he dressed up as Flintstone character Barney Rubble to entertain children during the March of Dimes Walk-A-Thon at Freebody Park.
In 1986, the late Providence Journal sportswriter Bob Leddy did a piece on Joe which began, “Joe Tremblay is a sports buff who not only goes to games but predicts them as well. He’s been forecasting outcomes of Aquidneck Island sport events since the early 1970’s. By his own count Tremblay has made 13,363 predictions (and) of that 9,147 have been correct for a 68 percent accuracy rate.” When it came to predicting the outcome of college and professional competitions, Joe’s success average was in the low 70’s. “But being a sports prognosticator is only part of Joe’s story,” wrote Leddy, “he’s done interviews with dozens of subjects from Arthur Ashe to Rico Petrocelli.”
Using his own tape recorder, Joe would track down sports greats visiting the city. The highlight came in 1978 when he did an extensive interview with Ted William as “the Splendid Splinter” visited Crest Farms on Broadway, which was owned by friends. According to Leddy, “The first thing Ted said was, ‘Where is the young man who wanted to interview me?” When Joe, then 29, held up his mike. Williams told him how the greatest thrill of his career was his home run in the 1941 All Star Game in Detroit in the 9th inning with two out, two players on base and two runs down.
Joe was indefatigable. When he heard that Yogi Berra would be at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket to watch his son play, Tremblay got him on tape before any of the professional sportscasters.
He made the Journal-Bulletin again in 1989 when reporter Andrew Nash pointed out how Joe regularly passed the Donation Bucket at Cardines, campaigned to get lights for night games at the field and vigorously protested when the City considered paving the field for a parking lot.
Joe wasn’t afraid to voice his criticism at the media as well. That same year he chided The Journal for its reduced coverage of The Sunset League which he pointed out was “The oldest baseball League in America.” He was also outspoken when local football coaches began awarding “five points for tie games” and he criticized various football trades by The Patriots management.
When he finally got a sports cable subscription in 1987 Joe, who was becoming a curmudgeon even then, declared in a letter to The Daily News that he was now happy that he didn’t have to listen to Celtics play-by-play man Johnny Most, because “He never gives the other teams credit when they beat the Celtics.”
Calling balls and strikes and always commenting without fear or favor, Joe’s predictions and win-loss record on every sport from NCAA basketball to The America’s Cup were published for years in George Donnelly’s column in The Daily News. He was also a regular call-in guest on WADK’s talk shows. But in the late 1980’s, for unknown reasons, his predictions stopped showing up in the local media, prompting dozens of loyal fans to write letters-to-the-editor in Joe’s support. One in The Daily News from Gretchen Lendrum discussed how she mourned the loss authentic voices like Joe’s as Newport emerged more and more as a tourist destination. Commenting on his dedication she remembered a “bitterly cold November day” when she encountered Joe walking miles from his home to Gaudet Field for a game, then, when she offered him a ride, he accurately predicted Middletown’s win. “Newport has lost much in the way of progress,” she wrote, Must we now lose our Joe too?”
Joseph Francis Tremblay was born on July 29th, 1947. In 1960 he moved with his parents to 9 Calvert Street. Since his retirement eight years ago he made daily walks down Broadway where he was a devoted patron of several restaurants, particularly The Fifth Element, where he will be missed.
Calling hours will be Saturday, November 28th at Memorial Funeral Home, 375 Broadway, Newport, from 2:00 to 4:30 pm. Burial will be private. In Lieu of flowers, the family asks that Donations be made in Joe’s name to The Maher Center at mahercenter.org/donate