Michael Robert Coolbaugh
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 190 lb.
- High School Roosevelt High School (San Antonio)
- Debut July 16, 2001
- Final Game July 7, 2002
- Born June 5, 1972 in Binghamton, NY USA
- Died July 22, 2007 in North Little Rock, AR USA
Mike Coolbaugh spent most of his professional career playing minor league baseball, from 1990-2006, topping 29 home runs on three occasions and once leading his circuit. He hit 258 home runs in the minors, 10 in the Korea Baseball Organization and 2 in the majors. Primarily a third baseman, he played wherever needed on the diamond, logging time at every position including one game on the mound. He died as a result of an on-field accident while working as a coach.
1990-1995: Blue Jays farm system
Coolbaugh was homecoming king and the star quarterback of his high school team and played baseball and basketball. Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 16th round (433rd overall) of the 1990 amateur draft, he debuted with the Medicine Hat Blue Jays as a middle infielder and hit .190/~.237/.261 in 58 games. In 1991, he batted .230/~.278/.332 for the St. Catharines Blue Jays while moving to first base as Sharnol Adriana held shortstop and Joe Lis Jr. played second base. In 1992, the 20-year-old saw limited time with St. Catharines, hitting .286/~.327/.347 while moving to third base with D.J. Boston at first. Back at second and third in 1993 with the Hagerstown Suns, Coolbaugh smacked 16 homers in his first look at a full season minor league. He hit .244/~.302/.432 and tied Pat Bryant for 8th in the South Atlantic League in home runs.
Coolbaugh's batting line for the 1994 Dunedin Blue Jays was .263/.313/.454 with 33 doubles and 16 home runs. He tied Matt Luke for sixth in the Florida State League in homers, five behind leader Karim Garcia. He settled in at third base by this year. In 1995, Mike made it to Double A with the Knoxville Smokies and hit .240/~.292/.366 in a rough year. He scored 71 runs but struck out 110 times and was caught stealing in 11 of 18 tries. His 9 home runs would be his fewest for any full year in the minors.
1996-2000: Moving around the minors; almost in the Olympics
Coolbaugh was selected by the Texas Rangers in the minor league phase of the 1995 Rule V Draft. He went 8-for-23 with 17 total bases for the Tulsa Drillers but spent most of the year back in A ball with the Charlotte Rangers, for whom he hit .287/~.348/.479 with 76 runs scored, 33 doubles, 15 homers and 75 RBI. He played at least 28 games for Charlotte at first base, third base and shortstop and made the Florida State League All-Star team at short. He just missed the top 10 in the FSL in average, was 3 doubles behind leaders Ricky Freeman and Doug Mientkiewicz and trailed home run king John Curl by 3. A free agent, Coolbaugh signed with the Oakland Athletics.
Arguably his best season came in 1997 as a member of the Huntsville Stars in the Southern League. He led the league with 30 home runs (tied with Luis Raven and Kevin Witt) and 132 RBI, adding 37 doubles and 100 runs scored while batting .308/~.367/.542. He finished third in the affiliated minors in RBI, trailing Mike Stoner and Ben Grieve and just ahead of Kevin Millar and Paul Konerko. He tied Pete Rose Jr. for tenth in the SL in batting average and also led the league in total bases (303), extra base hits (69), games (139) and at bats (559). He led the SL's third basemen in fielding percentage (.943), putouts (94), assists (302) and double plays (35), making the All-Star team at third base. He lost the slugging title to Raven by a good distance (70 points) and teammate Grieve was named league MVP. Coolbaugh joined Grieve and D.T. Cromer to drive in 361 runs, a Southern League record for a trio of teammates.
Mike switched organizations again that offseason, moving to the Colorado Rockies as a free agent. He reached Triple A for the first time, batting .277/~.332/.503 with 35 doubles, 16 home runs and 75 RBI for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox of the Pacific Coast League. He signed with the New York Yankees organization for 1999 and batted .276/~.340/.481 with 15 homers and 31 doubles for the Columbus Clippers. Returning to Columbus for his 11th year in organized baseball, Coolbaugh produced at a .271/.380/.522 clip with 23 home runs, tying ex-big leaguer Ryan Thompson for most by a Yankees farmhand. Mike was on the 28-man roster of Team USA for the 2000 Olympics but was one of the final cuts before they sent 24 players to the Games in Sydney, Australia. That was the first (and through 2020, only) US baseball team to take home gold at the Olympics. Mike Kinkade, Sean Burroughs and Adam Everett made the team over Coolbaugh.
2001-2002: Making it to the Major Leagues
Coolbaugh signed with the Milwaukee Brewers in the offseason to join his sixth organization. He hit .268/.347/.441 in 94 games for the Indianapolis Indians. After almost twelve seasons in the minor leagues, Mike was called up to the majors for the first time by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2001. He made his debut on July 16, 2001 and collected his first hit, a single off Jon Garland, in his first plate appearance (pinch hitting for Will Cunnane). He hit his first home run the following night in his third career plate appearance; Garland was again the pitcher. He ended the season with a .200/.271/.371 batting line in 39 games, with 2 home runs and 7 RBI in 70 at bats in the majors.
He became a free agent after the season and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Mike wore uniform number 14 for the Brewers and number 28 in 2002 when he played 5 games for the Cardinals. He primarily played third base during his major league looks, but also saw a little action at shortstop. Spending most of 2002 with the Memphis Redbirds, Coolbaugh hit .243/.338/.509 with 29 home runs, 75 RBI and 126 strikeouts. His .965 fielding percentage was the best of any third baseman in the Pacific Coast League. He tied Michael Restovich for 4th in the PCL in homers, trailing Ivan Cruz, Julio Zuleta and Michael Ryan.
2003-2006: South Korea and more minor league stops
Coolbaugh began 2003 with the Doosan Bears of the KBO, replacing Tyrone Woods as the foreign bat in their lineup. Unlike Woods, Coolbaugh struggled, only hitting .215/.278/.456, showing some pop with 10 home runs and 24 RBI in 149 at bats before being let go. As his brother, Scott, had played in the KBO in 1998, they became the first set of brothers to have played in both the major leagues and the KBO. Returning to the US, Coolbaugh signed with the Houston Astros and hit .259/.349/.442 in 42 games for the Round Rock Express.
In 2004, Mike had his best seasons in terms of OPS - he hit .295/.368/.592 for the New Orleans Zephyrs with 30 doubles, 30 home runs and 82 RBI. He led Astros minor leaguers in slugging percentage and tied Phil Hiatt for most homers by a Houston minor leaguer. He tied Hiatt and Joe Dillon for 8th in the PCL in home runs, six behind leader Kevin Witt in a closely packed top 10. He led PCL third basemen in assists (211) and fielding percentage (.967). Coolbaugh began his third year in the Houston system in 2005, the longest he had been with one franchise since the Blue Jays a decade earlier. He hit .281/.344/.512 with 88 runs scored, 30 doubles, 27 homers, 101 RBI and 111 strikeouts for Round Rock. Despite his age, he was stealing bases more effectively than in his youth, going 10-for-10 in steal attempts. He led Astros minor leaguers in RBI and led PCL third basemen in putouts (98) and fielding percentage (.968), making his third postseason minor league All-Star team as the top third baseman in the league.
Coolbaugh joined his 10th organization in 2006 when he signed with the Kansas City Royals. He slipped to .223/.336/.391 for the Omaha Royals in 57 games, though he still hit .292 against southpaws with 8 homers in 197 at bats. With the AZL Royals on a rehab stint, Coolbaugh hit .333/.517/.381 in six games, scoring six and driving in six. He retired with 270 homers as a pro baseball player, 258 of them in the minor leagues.
On July 3, 2007, Mike was hired by the Tulsa Drillers of the Double A Texas League as their hitting and first base coach following the resignation of Orlando Merced. Almost three weeks later, he was tragically killed on July 22 at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, AR while coaching first base. A line drive off the bat of Tino Sanchez struck him in the head during the top of the 9th inning. Coolbaugh was pronounced dead at 10:47 PM after being rushed to a local hospital; the game between the Drillers and the Arkansas Travelers was suspended.
His death sent shockwaves throughout baseball. A rule was soon adopted forcing all coaches to wear helmets when coaching at first base or third base. Mike's wife and children were invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a game of the 2007 World Series, in which the Colorado Rockies, parent team of the Tulsa Drillers, were hosting the Boston Red Sox. Later, Minor League Baseball created the Mike Coolbaugh Award in Mike's memory. The award is given every year to "a person who has shown outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game and skill in mentoring young players on the field". A book about Mike's life and death, Heart of the Game: Life, Death and Mercy in Minor League America by S.L. Price, was published in 2009.
Mike's brother, Scott also played in the major leagues. As of 2019, Scott was the hitting coach for the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Mike was survived by his two young sons, Joseph and Jacob, and his wife, Mandy, who gave birth to a daughter in November 2007.
- S.L. Price: Heart of the Game: Life, Death and Mercy in Minor League America, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2009.
- Mike Coolbaugh's incomplete minor league statistics
- 2000 USA Baseball Olympic roster profile of Mike Coolbaugh
- Article about the Olympic team
- Article about Mike Coolbaugh being hired by Tulsa
- KTHV-TV Little Rock story on the death of Mike Coolbaugh
- ESPN.com story on the death of Mike Coolbaugh
- Sports Illustrated article that mentions Mike Coolbaugh's family
- Round Rock Express tribute