In 1980, Rich Maloney went with his high school coach to see his first Michigan baseball game. Now that he has been named the next baseball coach, he will have the chance to see plenty more.
While attending Roseville High School, Maloney witnessed Michigan baseball in its prime. These years forever shaped Maloney’s perceptions of what Michigan baseball was and what it should be.
“I sat there – on occasion would see coach Schembechler – and was just in awe of the whole situation,” Maloney said. “At that time, Michigan was going to the College World Series on a fairly regular basis, so that’s how I picture Michigan baseball.”
Maloney, 37, was a shortstop in high school and part of Michigan’s success at that time was due to its All-American shortstop – Barry Larkin. With Larkin, the fourth overall pick in the 1985 Major League Baseball draft, on the squad, there was little opportunity for Maloney. As a result, he was not recruited by the Wolverines and headed across the state to Western Michigan instead.
With the Broncos, Maloney was a three-time letter winner (1984-86), two-time captain and a two-time All-MAC First Team selection. Maloney’s crowning achievement came in his senior season, when he was a third team All-American. But some of Maloney’s greatest games came against the team he loved though it failed to recruit him.
“Whenever we played Michigan, I had an extra sense of adrenaline to prove that I could play, and I had some great games against Michigan,” Maloney said. “I can still remember vividly hitting a homerun off of Casey Close to open up the game.”
As the leadoff batter, Maloney torched the Wolverines. He hit 10-for-18 against Michigan and drew five walks – some intentional after his longball – giving him a .652 on base percentage. His .556 batting average against the Wolverines was more than 200 points higher than his .362 average that earned him the team’s Most Valuable Player award in 1985.
After graduating, Maloney tried his hand at professional baseball for six years after being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 13th round of the 1986 draft. Maloney returned to his alma mater and served as an assistant coach for four years before moving on to the job that would bring his name to the forefront of young college baseball coaches.
In 1995, Maloney took over a struggling Ball State program and drastically turned the program around, winning at least 30 games in each of his seven seasons with the Cardinals. Maloney’s tenure at Ball State was highlighted by 40 wins in 1997 and 42 in 1999, a new school record. His success earned him a selection as one of the Top Five Rising Coaches in College Baseball as named by Baseball America in 2001.
Recruiting has always been one of Maloney’s strong points and earned him some recognition. When he was a player at Western Michigan, the NCAA allowed players to call possible recruits and help coaches with recruiting. As captain, Maloney did just that and almost stole one of Michigan’s greatest players, Jim Abbott, for the Broncos. At Ball State, Maloney also exercised his great recruiting skills and was able to bring high caliber talent to the small program in Muncie, Ind. Maloney not only relates to players and sells them on the idea of playing for him, but he also looks past a player’s current level.
“I think one of my gifts is I’m able to project on players,” Maloney said. “I’m able to look at players and see what he might develop in to.”
Maloney has a great eye for talent, and two of his pitchers – Bryan Bullington and Luke Hagerty – are projected to be first round picks in this year’s draft. Bullington was a highly sought after recruit who Maloney nabbed and who may be the first overall pick, while Haggerty was an undeveloped player who Maloney saw potential in and signed.
After Michigan’s dismal season (14-17 Big Ten, 21-32 overall), Maloney has his work cut out for him.
“Currently, the program is down a bit,” Maloney said. “There is no doubt about it, and it definitely needs a lift. We feel we need to be at the top of the Big Ten.
“I was able to do some pretty special things at Ball State University, and I expect that that experience will help us to restore the rich tradition of Michigan baseball.”
Maloney will not be able to recruit for next season, since most of the premier recruits have already been signed and Michigan has already offered scholarships to players. For now, Maloney will have to live with what he has.
“I think there are some very good players in the program,” Maloney said. “We are going to need to get quite a few more, but I’m optimistic that with a fresh attitude and an increase in positive energy, these kids will be able to make a positive contribution next year.”
Maloney told the Star Press of Muncie, Ind. that Rick Rembielak of Kent State, Tracy Smith of Miami and Notre Dame associate head coach Brian O’Connor were also candidates for the job. He also said that at Michigan his budget will extend from $52,969 at Ball State to $800,000 at Michigan.
Hopefully with the extra resources, Maloney can match how well he played against Michigan with how well the Wolverines can play for him.