FanDuel - WFBC

July 23, 2007

First Base Coach Killed by Line Drive: Former Major Leaguer Mike Coolbaugh, 35, was hit in the head by a foul ball in the ninth inning of the Tulsa Drillers' game Sunday in Little Rock, Ark. He was knocked out and stopped breathing en route to the hospital.

posted by rcade to baseball at 08:02 AM - 51 comments

Terrible. Once the shock of hearing that somebody had been killed on the field wore off, my first reaction was that I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often. Every time I go to a ballgame, invariably they play the All-Star Game moment on the scoreboard when Tommy Lasorda goes ass-over-tea-kettle after being struck by a bat. Everybody laughs at that play, but my reaction has always been if a bat can get there that fast without his being able to get out of the way, how do more coaches not get nailed by line drives. Here are guys who are as close to the batter as any infielder, and their job isn't necessarily to focus on the hitter. You see close calls all the time, guys just barely ducking or hopping out of the way. It's not a very safe occupation at all, and I'm kind of amazed that, as the game has evolved and line drives continue to scream ever louder off the bats of behemoths, these guys haven't started moving toward wearing protective armor -- at least helmets. Seems like egos getting in the way of good judgment. Hard to sort out all the people to feel bad for in this scenario: two young children, pregnant wife, scores of current and former teammates. I can't imagine being Tino Sanchez today, and I'm glad the article doesn't imply that there was even an attempt to interview him about the incident. Terrible story.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 08:24 AM on July 23

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posted by BornIcon at 08:24 AM on July 23

Terrible, absolutely terrible. I have seen this coming for a long time though. I am surprised it hasn't happened more often. I know that many "open" dugouts offer the chance for a team member, coach, or anyone else to be struck by a foul ball. I person sitting on the bench talking to their teamate (not paying attention) is at risk as are countless thousands of people that sit along the dugouts on either side of the base paths. I know that my son caught a ball (which was his purpose in going closer) in some vacated sideline seats. He had no glove, but caught it anyway. Bruised hands for awhile. But, won't let that happen again. That was also AAA club. My blessings go to the family.

posted by Mickster at 08:46 AM on July 23

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posted by tommytrump at 09:09 AM on July 23

One more sign. Always the joker, god works in mysterious ways. Condolences to his family.

posted by Atheist at 09:32 AM on July 23

I've sat close a few times at minor league games and had some close calls with scorching foul balls. You think you'd have time to react, but that's not always the case. In this incident, it sounds like he just had the tragic misfortune of getting hit in the temple while trying to dodge the batted ball. It may be a weird thought, but I wonder if his reaction would've been different if first and third base coaches wore fielding gloves.

posted by rcade at 10:03 AM on July 23

Absolutely terrible! I guess it was just a matter of time, unfortunately. With baseballs rocketing off bats into dugouts, the stands, and everywhere else, someone was going to be killed. The problem with base coaches sometimes is they don't always watch the batter, but what's going on with the runners, fielders, etc. A split second and now a widow is left with (soon to be) three young children. Many youth leagues now require base coaches to wear a helmet. I really don't envision this being mandated in the majors, but it probably would have saved this life.

posted by dyams at 10:16 AM on July 23

It may be a weird thought, but I wonder if his reaction would've been different if first and third base coaches wore fielding gloves. I don't think that's a weird thought at all. Ballplayers have better instincts for catching balls than getting out of the way of them, but you're not going to try to catch a line drive with no glove on. Of course, coaches aren't supposed to be touching batted balls anyway, and putting mitts on them has the potential of making things very confusing for the fielding team -- especially when the coach is inclined to bend the rules in his team's favor. Can you imagine A-Rod coaching first with a mitt on his hand? I wonder how it would work if you gave coaches something like a hockey glove -- it would allow them to shield themselves with their hand with a diminished risk of injury, yet perhaps still remove that instinct to catch the ball. It would make giving signs look a little odd, I guess...

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 10:18 AM on July 23

As the field umpire working in the 2-man system, with a runner on 1st, you are working inside the baseline, usually just on the 1st base side of a line from the plate to the edge of the mound. With a left-handed batter up, the feeling is one of staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. I've been hit, but never above the waist, and it scared the @#$& out of me. In HS baseball, the rule is that any offensive player on the field (baserunners, coaches) has to wear a batting helmet. This does not apply to adult coaches. Perhaps now it will.

posted by Howard_T at 11:03 AM on July 23

Isn't the glove idea a little ridiculous? How about just insisting that coaches wear helmets while on the field coaching? Problem solved. On second thought maybe a cup would be a higher priority.

posted by Atheist at 11:09 AM on July 23

How about just insisting that coaches wear helmets Actually, that's not a bad idea. I'm still amazed more fans aren't hurt by foul balls. Coaches are normally former players and forced to pay attention to the game. The stands have children, the elderly, those not paying attention. The few times I've taken someone to their first game (normally a minor league game with close seats) other than answering baseball questions I'm constantly repeating "pay attention to the pitch". If someone is killed in the stands all hell is going to break loose.

posted by justgary at 11:18 AM on July 23

Sympathies extended to Mr. Coolbaugh's family and friends. I agree that it would be a great idea for base coaches to wear helmets, but I wouldn't want to see special measures taken at ballparks other than what is already in place. One of the reasons I don't sit behind home plate is because I don't like looking through the netting. I realize that having that particular netting in place is important, but if you have seats down either line, the impetus should be on the fan to pay attention to what is going on. And if you take children or elderly folks to the game, you should probably make sure that they are kept aware of what's going on and keep them out of the line of fire as much as possible. I like the feeling of being in contact with the game and just personally feel that erecting netting or glass would take something away from the experience. Curious to know just what the statistics are for serious injury/deaths caused by foul balls?

posted by THX-1138 at 12:06 PM on July 23

Isn't the glove idea a little ridiculous? Isn't it ridiculous to have to mention that a guy who was killed by a blow to the head might have been well served to wear a helmet? I read rcade's post as suggesting that a former ballplayer's ability to react to a ball whizzing at him might be influenced by his instincts and the tools given him to defend himself -- he may even have gone so far as suggesting that these instincts hurt his ability to react in a way that someone who is more routinely accustomed to getting the heck out of the way of a hurtling object might react. I have a hard time believing that the idea of some sort of protective headwear totally escaped him. In my follow-up, suggesting something like a well-padded goalie glove, I had in mind the whole gamut of injury prevention -- not just those areas covered by a helmet or a cup. As far as fans go, I've seen some pretty ugly injuries at the ballpark. Every time a line drive ricochets in the stands I sit there just hoping it hit a chair and not a head. I echo that I can't believe there aren't more fan injuries, especially in Gary Sheffield's home parks, and I can't help but wonder if some of the minor league clubs are a single lawsuit away from dissolving. But I'm with THX, too -- I don't want anything between me and the field. I don't know what the numbers are, but I'm willing to take my chances.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 12:27 PM on July 23

Isn't the glove idea a little ridiculous? I wasn't putting it forward as an idea to implement, but I don't think it's any more ridiculous than seeing coaches in uniforms. And any coach who was a player would feel completely at home wearing one. I read rcade's post as suggesting that a former ballplayer's ability to react to a ball whizzing at him might be influenced by his instincts and the tools given him to defend himself Yup. I think the instinct's totally different when you have a glove on your hand. Putting the glove in front of the ball is hardwired into your brain after you've played for a while.

posted by rcade at 12:27 PM on July 23

The few times I've taken someone to their first game (normally a minor league game with close seats) other than answering baseball questions I'm constantly repeating "pay attention to the pitch". If someone is killed in the stands all hell is going to break loose. We've taken our young son to a few baseball games, and I am always super-cautious and alert with him in the stands, considering our seats are typically in an area down the third base line that's a magnet for foul balls from left-handed batters. A few summers ago, a toddler took a Pujol's screamer square in the forehead a bit further down the line. He was fortunate to come away with only a skull fracture.

posted by holden at 12:44 PM on July 23

The Crafty Sousepaw put it first and best. My contribution is this excerpt from an article regarding fan injuries and fatalities at the ballpark that unfortunately requires a subscription to read: "The authors confirmed at least thirty-five fatalities since 1900 in Major and Minor League ballparks. Interestingly only five are ball related, and only two of these are from being struck by a foul ball (table 1). The remaining thirty deaths are due to either fan behavior (table 2) or stadium infrastructure (table 3). " - published 2003. Please try your own search for Foul Play: Fan Fatalities in Twentieth-Century Organized Baseball to see if your Google is friendlier than mine. A full article would indeed be interesting.

posted by gradys_kitchen at 12:44 PM on July 23

I personally understand the safety concerns by some of you. I don't want to disrespect the deseased coach, but do we know if he was even paying attention? Out of all the millions (yes, millions) of line drives that have been hit throughout the century (in majors, minors, college, and high school), how many base coaches have been killed by a line drive? Sounds like only one. A much, much greater number of pitchers have been hit since they're a lot closer to the batter. I do agree that some sort of safety device must be used. How about a skull cap or a protective mask (like catchers and umpires use?) My guess is that he didn't follow the ball's trajectory as it left the bat. It was a freak accident. My condolences to his family

posted by jman at 01:07 PM on July 23

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posted by texasred at 01:11 PM on July 23

Thanks for the reminder texasred. I know I forgot to put a period.

posted by jman at 01:20 PM on July 23

The reason I felt the glove was a ridiculous idea is 1. If the coach is not looking the glove won't help. Besides the only thing a glove protects is the hand. I'm sure if he saw the ball coming he would have got a hand up. A broken hand trumps death on my scorecard. 2. The helmet is a totally passive defense, doesn't interfere with his duties and provides adequate protection, especially for coaches looking at runners and fielders or instructions from the bench.

posted by Atheist at 01:34 PM on July 23

Thanks for the reminder texasred. I know I forgot to put a period. That's not what he was doing. It's convention here and in some other places to use "." to express your condolences in reaction to a tragic event. It means "I'm speechless but sad."

posted by rcade at 01:42 PM on July 23

The reason I felt the glove was a ridiculous idea is 1. If the coach is not looking the glove won't help. Besides the only thing a glove protects is the hand. I'm sure if he saw the ball coming he would have got a hand up. A broken hand trumps death on my scorecard. 2. The helmet is a totally passive defense, doesn't interfere with his duties and provides adequate protection, especially for coaches looking at runners and fielders or instructions from the bench. posted by Atheist at 1:34 PM CDT on July 23 QFE

posted by jman at 01:47 PM on July 23

The Fox affiliate in Little Rock has more coverage, which includes the macabre radio call. A reporter for Fox who witnessed the accident made it sound like he was watching the runner at first instead of the batter.

Coolbaugh only had been working as a coach since since July 3, when the Drillers hired him as interim hitting coach.

posted by rcade at 02:10 PM on July 23

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posted by irunfromclones at 02:15 PM on July 23

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posted by opel70 at 04:06 PM on July 23

How about nobody sells a ticket to Mr. Death and then nobody will die at games?

posted by kokaku at 05:04 PM on July 23

I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I know, have heard, and understand, family sections (as in players' wife/kids/parent area) are always located behind the screen behind home plate. This should tell us something about the possible danger involved in sitting close to the action.

posted by tommytrump at 06:12 PM on July 23

I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I know, have heard, and understand, family sections (as in players' wife/kids/parent area) are always located behind the screen behind home plate. for the most part, i think you're right tommy. they may not be directly behind the plate, but i believe they're usually out of harms way. didn't a player's wife get hit with a foul ball last year because that particular park didn't have a screen on top, only a vertical one? i remember that the team had been complaining about the safety issues in regards to their families (although i can't remember which team it was).

posted by goddam at 07:20 PM on July 23

Was it Baltimore? Wasn't the player her husband? I'm not sure, but that's what is popping into my head.

posted by tommytrump at 07:32 PM on July 23

Someone remind me...are aluminum bats used at this level? I've played slow pitch softball, and seen pitchers drilled by balls they "never saw". Saw Mike play in St Louis...not a standout, but, hey, the bigs are the bigs. An unimpressibe appearance will now stay in my mind. Peace, Michael........

posted by wolfdad at 09:29 PM on July 23

are aluminum bats used at this level? No, they use wood bats in the minors.

posted by justgary at 10:13 PM on July 23

This is horrible. My thoughts are with his family as well as with the hitter.

posted by geekyguy at 10:30 PM on July 23

Was it Baltimore? Wasn't the player her husband? you're right.

posted by goddam at 10:48 PM on July 23

We even had a thread about it. Wow. Was that awful.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 11:08 PM on July 23

I saw that too. The league should mandate protective headgear of some kind for base coaches, like they did for improved catching gear after Steve Yeager's gruesome throat injury in the '80s. After reading all the quotes from other coaches about near-misses and the amount of time their focus is on runners instead of the plate, it seems like the right response. Another thing about this tragedy: Coolbaugh knew everybody. Local papers all over the country are running stories about players and coaches he spent time with.

posted by rcade at 08:46 AM on July 25

Glenallen Hill, shouldn't he be more concerned with spiders?

posted by tommytrump at 09:29 AM on July 25

I applaud Hill for being the one to actually do this. I'm sure there were coaches around who thought about, and really wanted to wear a helmet after this incident, but were afraid of being ridiculed. Hopefully others will follow suit. Like Torre said, so many coaches don't even watch the hitter in a lot of situations. He said there's been countless times that he's been coaching first and hears the smack of the bat on the ball and never sees it. "The first baseman will ask, 'Did you see that ball?' I didn't," Hill said. Reflexes don't account for everything.

posted by dyams at 10:21 AM on July 25

Good for Hill for wearing a helmet. While it's true that wearing a helment won't magically protect the wearer from all harm it is still a protective measure that helps a whole lot more than nothing. What I wonder is if Coolbaugh had been wearing a helment would he have survived?

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 12:25 PM on July 25

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posted by Newbie Walker at 12:29 PM on July 25

They're now reporting Coolbaugh was actually hit in the back of the neck by the baseball, which ruptured an artery thus cutting off the blood supply to his brain.

posted by dyams at 12:59 PM on July 25

A helmet wouldn't have done much good then.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 01:20 PM on July 25

I'm not a fan of coaches with gloves. It would do them little good if not paying attention, they'd still have to catch/block the ball, it sets up possible problems, and it comes off as silly to me. The helmet seems to be the best answer. However, with the news now that he was hit in the back of the neck it shows that it would be possible to not be paying attention to the pitch, have a glove and helmet and still have no protection. When it's your time, it's your time. Very sad.

posted by justgary at 01:43 PM on July 25

However, with the news now that he was hit in the back of the neck it shows that it would be possible to not be paying attention to the pitch, have a glove and helmet and still have no protection. When it's your time, it's your time. Very sad. Even worse, even if you were paying attention and could react, I think the tendency would be to cover your head and turn away from the ball, which could very well expose you to this exact injury.

posted by holden at 01:58 PM on July 25

I'm not convinced a helmet still wouldn't have helped. Not the helmets that cover the skull above the ears (like Olerud used to wear in the field), but the fuller batting helmets which come down lower across the back of the head. A couple of years ago I was playing in a game, and I was on second against a hard-throwing and wild pitcher. He turned to pick me off and I went back into the bag standing with my back to him. The throw hit me in the back of the neck, but it caught the bottom edge of the helmet as well. I went down in a heap, having lost all feeling from the neck down like my whole body had "fallen asleep." 30 seconds later, pins and needles but I started to get the feeling back. Within a couple of minutes I was fine (notwithstanding a little burning sensation in the vertebral area). I credit the helmet with doing just enough to keep that injury from being much, much more severe. With those kinds of helmets, it's pretty hard to catch the back of the neck flush with a baseball. And you're a quick shoulder shrug away from getting reasonably good coverage back there. I don't think coaches will ever wear those kinds of helmets because they would look ridiculous. But as someone who's had a close call, I would be inclined to wear a righty helmet at first or a lefty at third, earflaps and all.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 02:06 PM on July 25

I'm not convinced a helmet still wouldn't have helped. True. I guess it depends where on the neck he was hit.

posted by justgary at 02:35 PM on July 25

Hopefully this terrible incident might be the needed incentive for base coaches to put aside their sense of appearance and embrace the logic of safety. As this story came out, more examples of the hazards of being struck by baseballs on the base paths and down the foul lines has come to light than I was even remotely aware of. Flying bats at the ball park are kind of dangerous, too. At Mariners games I have seen broken bats hit pitchers, fans down the left field foul line, and Tommy Lasorda. It seemed like almost once a week Edgar Martinez would lose his grip on the bat and send it careening into the stands. Amazing that more people weren't seriously injured. Like the way a hard hit ball seems to find a third baseman who's just come into a game, it was amazing how the bat would seem to miss fans as it tumbled around the seats.

posted by THX-1138 at 02:44 PM on July 25

True. I guess it depends where on the neck he was hit. Right, and I had intended to add that while precautions are good, I still see that we can have a slippery slope to absurdity here. If Coolbaugh had been hit in the rib cage and his heart got punctured, we might be talking about chest protectors or bullet proof vests. At some point, you do have to allow for acceptable risk along with the possibility of freak accidents. I just wanted to make that point about the helmets because I never would have thought about their neck coverage if I hadn't had that experience.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 02:47 PM on July 25

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posted by dviking at 04:55 PM on July 25

This is tragic to say the least. My son plays competitive baseball, they played 55 games this year. Most of the fields they played on are very tight compared to major league standards. The on-deck circle being literally just feet off the foul line. So many kids get hit with foul balls it's scary. Yes, they have helmets on, but from 20 feet a ball in the back does not feel good. These are 15 year old players that can smack a ball, and are using aluminum bats. It takes someone getting killed to cause any changes. That unfortuately, happened here in Dallas this year. A boy my son's age took a hit in a batting cage. The ball somehow made it through the net. Myabe jman was right, in that since it doesn't happen very often we overlook the danger. Sad, none the less.

posted by dviking at 05:01 PM on July 25

Some in this thread have opined that Coolbauhg might not have been paying attention. I think it is possible that he was indeed paying attention, but just could not see the swing. If the batter was left-handed, then Coolbaugh, standing in the 1st base coach's box, might have had his view of the ball blocked by the batter's body. In that case, he would have lost a precious few milliseconds of reaction time, and he might not have been able to pick up the ball off of the bat at all. I agree with dviking about the hazards of being in the on-deck circle. The only saving grace here is that usually, at that angle, the ball is not coming off the bat as hard as it would on a line drive just foul. It's still best to be "heads up" at all times.

posted by Howard_T at 05:19 PM on July 25

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