Towson baseball coach Mike Gottlieb, 'relentless in digging out local talent,' reaches milestone

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

Towson baseball coach Mike Gottlieb is shown after being doused with water by his team to celebrate his 700th career victory.

Mike Gottlieb's 700th career victory came with all the trimmings — postgame snapshots, congratulatory texts from former players and an icy Gatorade bath. After the final out, Colin Gimblet, a first baseman from Calvert Hall, got his coach but good.

"The Gatorade was freezing," said Gottlieb, the Tigers' boss for 29 years. "I guess Colin thought he could get away with it because he got three hits. Well, if he gets three hits every game, he can [douse] me every day."


Gottlieb, a Towson alumnus and its coach since 1988, ranks 39th in wins among active college baseball coaches with a record that now stands at 701-769-10. Two of his charges have reached the big leagues — Chris Nabholz, a pitcher who signed with the Montreal Expos in 1988 and Casper Wells, an outfielder drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2005.

Four times, Gottlieb's teams have reached the NCAA Regionals, most recently in 2013, a storybook season in which the Tigers' program, due to be axed at season's end by budget cuts, received parole and roared back to make the playoffs.


"To rise through that adversity [at Towson] is special," said John Jancuska, who coached UMBC for 34 years. "How Mike held that team together speaks volumes."

Win No. 700 came Saturday, 6-5, at Kennesaw State (Ga.).

Jancuska retired in 2011 with 673 victories and vied with Gottlieb for both victories and recruits. Neither came easy.

"Nobody knows more about the game than Mike, and he's relentless in digging out local talent," Jancuska said. "If I'd had a son, he could have played for that man."

A bachelor, Gottlieb, 59, is a self-described baseball junkie who grew up on Long Island, a fan of the New York Yankees. As Towson's coach, one of his first moves was to order uniforms with pinstripes.

"I wanted people to look at us and think 'Yankees,'" he said. "Even now, it's a rare day [at practice] when I don't make some reference to them, be it Babe Ruth, Frank Crosetti or a name my players have never heard. They just scratch their heads and laugh."

But the Tigers listen.

"Coach knows baseball like the back of his hand," outfielder Mark Grunberg said. "In working with hitters, he'll compare your swing to those of Miguel Cabrera or Albert Pujols or Mickey Mantle, and take parts from them to try and make you better."


These are tough times for Towson (8-16), which beat Delaware State on Tuesday and which hosts Mount St. Mary's on Wednesday at Schuerholz Park. In Gottlieb's milestone win, the Tigers started four freshmen. And though the state found funds to save the program three years ago, scholarships were trimmed from 10 to 6 1/2.

"We've got a young team which could, and should, get better over time," said the coach who, admittedly, has adopted a more patient style through the years.

"I'm calmer and more understanding," he said. "It's easy to rant and rave, but as coaches we have to show leadership when things don't go well, and pick kids up when they fail.

"I remember getting on a catcher who kept dropping the ball. When he came into the dugout he said, 'Coach, I know I need to do a better job of catching. I'm not stupid.'"

Gottlieb took those words to heart.

"The physical mistakes, I rarely talk about, though I may mutter to myself. What I harp on is when they swing at bad pitches. My predecessor [former Oriole and Yankee shortstop] Billy Hunter, once said, 'Mike, they're never going to be as good as you want them to be.'"


That, he discovered the hard way, during a game at Temple in 1991.

"Our pitcher walked the bases loaded and I was going berserk in the dugout, banging a fungo bat," Gottlieb said. "I brought in a guy from the bullpen and said, for everyone in the ballpark to hear, 'I don't care if this guy hits the ball 500 feet, just throw strikes!'

"On the second pitch, Bobby Higginson, a future Detroit Tigers outfielder, hit the ball 500 feet for a grand slam. Now I was really out of control and banging that bat, and I heard the kids snickering under their breath. So I said, 'Fellas, anyone who wants to laugh, feel free' — and the dugout erupted in laughter."

Though his teams have lost more than they've won, not all of Gottlieb's victories have come on the field. One player, who left in 2006, was always at odds with the coach.

"He was all-conference and a good talent, but a chronic class-cutter," said Gottlieb, who declined to name the player. "We butted heads, I suspended him and, toward the end, we barely spoke."

Fast-forward to 2013 when alumni and others rallied to help save Towson baseball. That same player with whom Gottlieb had sparred wrote to university officials, praising the coach and his program.


"He told them how it helped mold him as a young adult," Gottlieb said. "It was a beautiful letter that just came out of the blue."

Now, the two are talking again.

"Mike cares about his players, and he recruits kids with both talent and high morals," said Dean Albany, the Orioles' Mid-Atlantic Executive Scout. "He works as hard as any college coach in the country, though he doesn't get paid like one. You'll find him at a different game every night in summer, looking for players to recuit.

"If you see a guy sitting in a lawn chair behind the backstop and wearing a straw hat, chances are that beneath that hat is Mike Gottlieb."