For Coppin State’s baseball team, the NCAA tournament was never the goal.
After an offseason that featured its head coach resigning mid-summer to pursue a different career and all but three players quitting because of an alleged letter that Guy Robertson, the resigned coach, sent to convince the players to quit too, to an athletic budget that makes it a burden to purchase baseballs, the NCAA tournament was more than that clichéd dream from occurring. And no, they didn’t make the tournament, because you would have heard the story by now if they had.No, with an 11 player makeshift team and a stadium that is 17 miles from campus and a new coach who wasn’t even introduced until the end of October, Coppin State’s baseball team did the opposite: it went winless.
0-44, with 18 losses in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and 18 losses coming by shutout. Against West Virginia on April 3 in the second game of a double-header, they were no hit. But as they gave up only 10 runs, that game could almost be considered one of the high points of the season.
Overall, the team was outscored 615-59, an average loss of more than 10 runs per game, batting .161 while having an ERA of 16.67 on the way to becoming what is believed to be the first school in history to go winless over a full Division I baseball schedule.
Only five games were decided by five runs or less, and three of those came over the final four games of the season.
The Eagles’ quite possibly would have won one game had the rains stayed away for two more outs.
On April 25, Coppin State was leading 4-3 at Lehigh with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning before the game was called. The non-victory left Coppin State at 0-36.
The only other time they were close to winning was in their second-to-last game, when they had a 3-1 lead until North Carolina A&T scored four in the bottom of the fifth inning.
They would lose 5-3.
With only 11 players, everyone has taken a turn pitching and playing basically every other position on the diamond. However, things look to improve.
Head coach Harvey Lee said that the hardest part about this season was that he could not discipline players because there wouldn’t be anyone left to take their spot.
“If I had 20 guys and all of them never played,” Lee said, “at least I can switch some guys in and out that were trying. That would be different.”
However, he has already signed 20 recruits for 2008.
“I want to write ESPN and see if they’ll do a documentary on us from never winning a game to coming back and winning everything,” he said, although winning everything might be pushing it.
But it is impossible to feel bad for Coppin State without knowing how they got into this position in the first place.
2003 was Guy Robertson’s first season at Coppin and the team was not much better than it was in 2007, having only 12 players on the roster. But by 2005, Coppin State set school records with 21 wins and a four seed to the MEAC tournament.
While they digressed to 13-41 in 2006, they moved up to third in the MEAC, falling three wins shy of the NCAA tournament.
In the middle of the summer, Robertson received an offer to deal with baseball players who are seniors in high school to help prepare them before they entered college, so he resigned as head coach of Coppin State.
Shortly thereafter, he sent a letter to every player on his team, stating that he left because he felt that the administration did not care about the baseball team.
The school had just cut the 2007 budget in half, to $120,000 from $240,000 in 2006. Additionally, they decided not to build an on-campus stadium.
“Part of my job as a coach was to recruit student-athletes, and when I did that I promised their parents I would look out for their children,” Robertson said. “I felt I owed them an explanation as to why I was leaving. I didn’t advise anyone to leave, but I told them to look out for their best interests.”
The team was playing its home games 17 miles from campus on a public field in Baltimore and was practicing in a cemetery that was purchased by the school.
Within a few days of Robertson’s letter all but three players had left the team, transferring or giving up the game. Those left at Coppin believed that Robertson had sabotaged the season.
“I respect Guy as a person, but — this is just me speaking — I don’t respect him as a coach,” Lee said. “If I’m the captain of a ship and my dying day is tomorrow, I’m going to jump off ship and tell everyone to come with me? That’s not right.”
“I feel like it was undermined,” said a parent of one of the players. “If he made a commitment to the institution and the boys, he shouldn’t leave.”
In defending himself, Robertson made no sense.
“You can say what you want, but when kids that have been there for three years decide to go somewhere else for their senior season, you read between the lines,” Robertson said. “It certainly has nothing to do with me.”
Huh? If a player leaves because you leave and you sent him a letter explaining why you left, how does that have nothing to do with you?
But Lee couldn’t do anything about it except try to find people to fill out the roster.
By taking players that other colleges had rejected, Lee was able to “fill out” a roster with 11 players, with his ace pitcher being an outfielder who hadn’t pitched since middle school.
And with no depth and many players who just were not qualified to play Division I baseball, Coppin State embarrassed itself, almost every night, going 0-44 and usually not even having a prayer.
All because a former coach sabotaged the program.
Yet these guys cried and gutted through the season, taking that lead against Lehigh until the rains came just two outs from victory, just a few minutes after they subbed one outfielder for another on the pitching mound.
0-44 after all that.
Guy Robertson may have deserted the team, they might still not have an on-campus stadium or a reasonable place to practice, and they might have to struggle to raise $50,000 to rent that reasonable place to practice, but they have a lineup. Next year, they’ll have a bench too.
And hopefully a coach. Harvey Lee may not be the next Vince Lombardi, but he probably isn’t the next Guy Robertson either. Lee is not going to desert these players, not after he stuck with them through an 0-44 season.
Lee is a leader, a leader that Robertson never was. That’s why I’m writing this article.
I don’t want to make fun of Coppin State for it’s 0-44 season like I did for Savannah State in basketball; Savannah State didn’t have an excuse like this.
Savannah State was never sabotaged by the outgoing head coach.
Coppin State, with no money, no true home stadium, and just a couple months before the season started, no coach and no players, put together a makeshift team for a year and ended up with no wins.
Mother nature would have it no other way.
They might have the worst record ever, but definitely not the worst team. Unlike their MLB brethren, they are a team.
What else can they be after a year like that? I’m not sure there is anything else.
What more can they become? Everything.