Cal Poly head baseball coach Larry Lee has elevated the Mustang baseball program to a level of play that has reached the upper echelon of the NCAA’s Division I West Region.
From 2012-19, Lee guided the Mustangs to 268 victories, the seventh-highest total among the 24 California schools with Division I baseball programs. Averaging 34 wins per season during those eight campaigns, the victory total is eighth among 46 schools in the NCAA’s West Region. In addition, from 2012-14, Cal Poly averaged 41 wins a year with 123 victories, more than any other Division I team in California.
Lee begins his 19th season at the helm in 2021, having led Cal Poly to nine 30-win campaigns, a 546-430-2 mark (55.9 winning percentage) and 15 top-four Big West finishes, including three consecutive second-place endings from 2017-19. Aside from the 2020 pandemic-shortened campaign, the Mustangs have averaged 32 victories per season under Lee’s guidance.
Cal Poly has finished first in the Big?West Conference once, second six times (2005, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019) and a third-place finish in 2011 with Lee at the helm. The Mustangs have earned 35 or more victories six times, claimed their first Big?West Conference championship in 2014 and have earned a trio of NCAA Division I playoff berths.
From 2011-19, Lee guided the Mustangs to wins in 54 of 81 Big West series, a 66.7 winning percentage. The Mustangs won seven of eight conference series in both 2014 and 2017.
An assistant coach on the 2017 USA?Baseball College National Team which won each of its series against Chinese Taipei, Cuba and Japan for the first time since 2002, Lee ranks No. 2 in the Big West in overall wins (546), one behind Fresno State’s Bob Bennett, and No. 1 in the Big West in conference victories (229). He has won 1,006 games overall in 34 seasons as a head coach.
The 2014 Big West Conference Coach of the Year arrived at Cal Poly in July 2002 after 16 highly successful seasons as head coach at nearby Cuesta College. Lee was inducted into the California Community College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Mustangs earned their first NCAA Division I regional playoff berth in 2009, returned to the postseason in 2013 at UCLA, giving the Bruins their toughest test of the postseason as UCLA overcame a 4-0 deficit in the second round en route to the 2013 College World Series championship, and qualified for the 2014 postseason, hosting the San Luis Obispo Regional and finishing 2-2.
The historic 2014 campaign saw Cal Poly shatter the school record with 47 wins, finishing 47-12. The Mustangs, ranked No. 1 for a week by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper after sweeping Cal State Fullerton in mid-April, claimed the Big West title with a 19-5 record, two games ahead of Long Beach State and four in front of UC?Irvine. The Mustangs have posted 12 winning seasons and ten 30-victory campaigns since 2000 and the 2014 squad’s 47 wins marked the second year in a row and fourth time in school history that Cal Poly won 40 or more games.
Despite a 34-man roster with 24 freshmen and sophomores, the 2016 squad posted a 32-25 mark, opening the year with 25 wins in 38 games and tied for first in the Big West before falling back. The Mustangs finished in the top 40 in NCAA Division I in numerous categories, including strikeout-to-walk ratio, strikeouts per nine innings, walks per nine innings and sacrifice flies. The 2017 squad battled back from a 2-9 start to finish even at 28-28 and claimed second place in the Big West at 16-8. The 2018 team won its last seven contests to finish 30-27 and another second-place conference finish while the 2019 squad earned the program’s third straight second-place Big West finish and took conference title aspirations into the final day of the season before falling to eventual champion UC Santa Barbara.
Last year, prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Cal Poly upset No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Vanderbilt in the MLB4 Tournament at Scottsdale, Ariz., and also defeated No. 5 Michigan.
Lee guided the Mustangs to a 38-23-1 mark in 2004, his second season at Cal Poly, to break the school record for wins in a season in the Division I era and the 2013 squad to 40 victories, one shy of what was the school’s all-time record for wins in a season (41 in 1977 and 1992).
In 2005, the Mustangs won 36 games and finished second in the Big West with wins over Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State. The 2006 squad won 11 of 17 three-game series while the 2007 Mustangs won 19 of their final 27 games en route to a 32-24 record.
In 18 seasons with the Mustangs, Lee has produced 46 first-team All-Big West players, nine All-Americans and seven freshman All-Americans. A total of 74 Cal Poly players coached by Lee have signed professional baseball contracts, including 72 in the last 16 years.
During Lee’s tenure, 33 Mustangs have been drafted in the top 10 rounds, led by outfielder Mitch Haniger, a first-round compensatory pick (38th overall) by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012. Southpaw Garrett Olson was chosen in the first round (compensatory) in 2005 (48th overall) and right-handed pitcher Jimmy Shull was picked twice (fourth round in 2005, eighth round in 2004). Cal Poly had just eight draftees in the top 10 rounds prior to Lee’s arrival. Ten of Lee’s Cal Poly players have reached the Major Leagues, compared to nine Mustangs who played in the Majors from the 1930s through the early 2000s.
Southpaw Matt Imhof was a second-round pick of Philadelphia in 2014, right-hander Spencer Howard was a second-round selection by the Phillies in 2017, second baseman Mark Mathias was chosen by the Cleveland Indians in the third round of the 2015 draft and pitcher Erich Uelmen went in the fourth round in 2017, taken by the Chicago Cubs. In 2018, Alex McKenna was taken in the fourth round by the Houston Astros and Nick Meyer was selected in the sixth round by the New York Mets. Right-hander Bobby Ay, a ninth-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was the lone Mustang drafted in 2019 while Taylor Dollard, another right-hander, was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the fifth round following the 2020 campaign.
Lee led Cuesta to the California Community College State Final Four on four occasions, all in the last 11 years of his 16-year tenure. The Cougars reached the state’s Final Four in 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2002 and qualified for the Southern California Regionals each of the last six years, including a No. 1 seed in 1999 and No. 2 in 2002.
Lee’s overall record at Cuesta was 460-241-3, including a state-leading 44 wins in 1997. His teams qualified for the regionals 11 times in his last 13 years and Lee was No. 15 on the state’s community college baseball coaches’ list for career wins prior to being hired at Cal Poly. He was inducted into the California Community College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.
Under Lee’s leadership, Cuesta claimed nine Western State Conference titles, including six in a row (1997-2002), and averaged 38 wins during that six-year stretch. His teams produced a 267-119 record in conference games and Lee earned conference coach of the year honors eight times.
During Lee’s tenure at Cuesta from 1987-2002, he produced 26 all-state players, three Southern California Players of the Year and numerous professionals. Thirteen of his 16 teams finished above the .500 mark overall, including the last seven.
Lee led his 2002 team to a school-record 24 consecutive wins en route to a 43-9 mark and a third-place state finish.
In 11 postseason appearances, Lee’s teams at Cuesta compiled a 34-28 win-loss record.
A 1979 San Luis Obispo High School graduate, Lee was a standout baseball and football player for the Tigers before going on to play baseball at Santa Barbara City College (1980), Orange Coast College (1981) and Pepperdine University (1982-83).
Inducted into the San Luis Obispo High School Athletics Hall of Fame, Lee was a first-team All-South Coast Conference selection at Orange Coast College as well as a second-team All-Southern California pick.
At Pepperdine, Lee was a career .304 hitter and, as a junior, earned first-team All-Southern California Baseball Association and second-team All-District 8 honors as the Waves posted a 46-21-1 record and earned a berth in the NCAA West Regional at Fresno State.
Lee hit 13 sacrifice flies for Pepperdine in 1982, at the time an NCAA record. He is currently tied for No. 2 with two other players for sacrifice flies in a season.
He enjoyed a brief professional baseball career, playing one year for the Utica Bluesox (1983) and hitting .316 for the New York-Penn League team. He ended his career in the Seattle Mariners’ organization.
Before becoming head coach at Cuesta College in 1987, Lee served as an assistant coach for the Cougars for two seasons (1984-85) and at Cal Poly for one year (1986).
Lee earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education/kinesiology from Pepperdine in 1983 and a master’s degree in physical education from Cal Poly in 1985 as well as an adaptive physical education credential from Cal Poly in 1988.
Lee and his wife, Liz, reside in San Luis Obispo with their two children, Jenna and Brooks, a freshman shortstop with the Mustangs.