In 18 years as the head baseball coach at Cal Poly, Larry Lee has led the Mustangs to 541 wins, including Cal Poly’s first Big West Championship in 2014. The Mustangs have had nine 30-win seasons and have placed second in the Big West in the last three years. Although his numbers seem to have cemented him as one of the premier coaches in the NCAA, Lee’s success seems to fly under the radar in terms of national recognition.
Baseball America surveyed 90 head baseball coaches across the nation in an effort to find out who is the most underrated head coach in the NCAA. Cal Poly’s Lee received enough votes to make it into the top 20 in a list of 301 coaches.
When asked about his appearance on the list, Lee felt like there were other aspects of his coaching that are more important than being considered “underrated”.
“I think that it’s honestly just a list that doesn’t mean much,” Lee said. “I just want to be respected by other coaches and my players.”
Junior outfielder Cole Cabrera gave Lee high praise when asked about his success, saying Lee is “by far the smartest and most knowledgeable coach I’ve played for”.
“He has been around the game for such a long time that he has developed a great feel for the game and knows what must happen to be successful,” Cabrera said.
Cal Poly is one of nine schools that compete in the Big West Conference. Despite the Big West being a Division I conference with historically successful teams, many believe that it does not hold the same status as the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC). As a result, Cal Poly Baseball and Lee receive less national coverage. Junior infielder Tate Samuelson said Lee would be looked at much differently if Cal Poly were in a more esteemed conference.
“Being in the Big West, we don’t get as much recognition as other teams on the West Coast,” Samuelson said. “This allows the rest of the country to overlook Coach Lee. If he were in a Power 5 conference, he would be one of the country’s most well-known coaches.”
In order to become highly regarded at the collegiate level, coaches must have good track records in terms of sending their players to the next level. Lee has done just that in his 18 seasons as head coach for the Mustangs. From Seattle Mariner and MLB All Star Mitch Haniger to MLB veteran Bud Norris, over 70 baseball players have signed professional contracts under Lee’s leadership.
“I think that, as a team, we get more out of our players,” Lee said. “We have had a successful track record for preparing our players for the professional level and eventually the majors.”
Being successful on the field isn’t the only aspect of Lee that makes him an underrated baseball coach. According to his players, Lee has a much different demeanor off of the field compared to when he is coaching a game. When asked about coach Lee’s personality in the clubhouse, Samuelson said that he is “funny when he needs to be and serious when he needs to be.”
“Coach Lee likes to joke around with his players and has friendly banter here and there, but for the most part he is serious,” Cabrera said. “He lives and breathes the game. He’s a baseball geek.”
Thanks to Lee’s work for the past two decades, Cal Poly has evolved into a highly respected baseball program that consistently sends its athletes to the big leagues. Although he may be underrated at the national level, Lee has left an immense impact on the history of Cal Poly Baseball.
“He is perfectly fine not drawing praise to himself or his respected program,” Cabrera said about Lee’s coaching personality. “A humble old school coach who was sure to make a name for himself in his tenure of coaching in San Luis Obispo has flown under the radar for years.”