Hall to induct Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman

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Photo courtesy of St. Louis Cardinals

Photo courtesy of St. Louis Cardinals

He was among baseball’s best speed demons, leading the National League in stolen bases for six consecutive seasons and is one of only four big-leaguers ever to steal 100 bases in a season. Next year, he will be running to our house.

In an announcement unprecedented for its timing, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to announce the upcoming induction of former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Vince Coleman, whose 752 career steals are sixth all-time in baseball history. His induction will be among the many highlights of the 2017 Enshrinement Ceremonies presented by Killian Construction, set for January 29 in Springfield.

Usually, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame announces the Enshrinement class in early December.

“However, we couldn’t wait to offer a sneak peek of our Class of 2017, which features one of the key figures of the ‘Whitey Ball’ era of the 1980s,” President and Executive Director Jerald Andrews said.

Hall of Famer magazine

Coleman, who was cut from his ninth-grade baseball team and was a college walk-on because he wasn’t offered a scholarship out of high school, expressed appreciation to coaches and teammates for making the honor possible, especially former manager Whitey Herzog and the Cardinals.

“God only knows how big your heart is and how big your body is going to grow. So don’t give up,” Coleman said. “That’s my message to all the young kids out there. Be prepared for your opportunity. You may have only one chance to showcase your skills.”

Coleman carved out quite a career. He played in 1,371 career games over 13 years in the big leagues, including from 1985 to 1990 with the Cardinals.

Of his 752 stolen bases, 549 came during his time in St. Louis as Coleman led the NL in steals each of his six seasons with the Redbirds. The first three years of that stretch featured seasons of 105, 107 and 109 steals – with his 1985 season leading to the NL Rookie of the Year award.

The all-time steals list features Rickey Henderson (1,406), the Cardinals’ Lou Brock (938), long-ago Cincinnati Red Billy Hamilton (912), Ty Cobb (892), Tim Raines (808) and Coleman, who also owns the sixth-most steals (660) in National League history. In the World Series era beginning in 1903, baseball has seen only four players steal 100 bases in a season: Maury Wills (104 in 1962), Brock (118 in 1974), Henderson (100 in 1980, 130 in 1982, and 108 in 1983) and then Coleman.

Coleman’s 549 steals also are second all-time in Cardinals history behind Brock’s 888.

Between 1991 and 1997, Coleman played for the New York Mets, Kansas City Royals (1994, part of 1995), Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers. Overall, he batted .264 with 1,425 hits, including 176 doubles, 89 triples and 28 home runs. He finished with 346 RBI.

That he even reached the big leagues was remarkable.  Coleman became a key player at Raines High School in Jacksonville, Florida and then walked on at Florida A&M in Tallahassee. He actually earned a football scholarship as a punter and place kicker as a sophomore, a year after Coleman kicked the game-winning field goal that beat the Howard Schnellenberger-coached Miami Hurricanes, 16-13, in 1979.

Coleman also walked on to the baseball team as a freshman when Florida A&M’s outfield included the sons of Hank Aaron and Bill Lucas, the first black general manager in baseball history, with the Atlanta Braves from 1976 to 1979. But Coleman’s speed and ability to cover ground led to his installation in center field. According to the Florida A&M sports information department, Coleman stole 65 of 69 bases during his junior season and 42 the next, when Florida A&M played only 27 games because of rain cancellations. In the 1981 season, he had the same number of doubles as triples (9) and hit .374 and then had three triples and two doubles in 1982, when he batted .407.

He went on to become a 10th-round draft pick of the Cardinals in 1982, a year after the Philadelphia Phillies drafted him in the 20th round before Coleman’s mother asked that he return to school. Coleman set the single-season minor league steals record in 1983, with 145 in the Class A South Atlantic League. That record stood until 2012. Coleman also stole 101 bases in 1984 for Triple-A Louisville.

“Don Blasingame assured me that every pitcher has his flaws and it was my job to recognize them,” Coleman said of the former 12-year big-leaguer who was a Cardinals minor league roving instructor. “From their head to feet, to their pre-set rotation, if they had a flaw, I’d use it to my advantage.”

These days, Coleman is giving back to the game. He is in his second year as a base running instructor for the Chicago White Sox. He previously coached in the Houston Astros system from 2012 to 2013.

“I enjoy giving back to the game that made me the baseball player that I am today,” Coleman said, adding that he regrouped the right way after being cut his freshman year in high school. “I didn’t take it personally. It motivated me that I had to get better. I had to be above-par.”

He did. And all these years later, in January 2017, he will be inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

“Coming from a guy that got cut from his ninth-grade team, they just don’t give these away. You have to earn it,” Coleman said. “It’s great to be recognized as a great baseball player. My hard work and dedication came to fruition.”