Cardinals Where Have You Gone? – Vince Coleman

Birdhouse readers selected the ex-players from Rob Rains' new book Cardinals Where Have You Gone? to be featured each of the next six weeks.

Editor's note: As voted by you, the Birdhouse readers, this is the second highest-voted and therefore, second installment of Rob Rains' new book, Cardinals Where HaveYou Gone? to be featured at The Birdhouse. Five more player stories will be published here each Friday exclusively for Birdhouse subscribers, so join now!

The schedule:
May 6 Ted Simmons
May 20 John Tudor
May 27 Ernie Broglio
June 3 Tom Pagnozzi
June 10 Garry Templeton
June 17 Todd Worrell

Purchase Cardinals Where Are You Now? from your local independent bookstore, the major chains such as Borders and Barnes and Noble, or from the publisher, for just $19.95. With Father's Day coming, what better gift could one select for their special Cardinals fan Dad? – Brian Walton

When Vince Coleman reached first base, he could feel and hear the electricity that flowed through the crowd at Busch Stadium in anticipation of one thing: a stolen base.

"Somebody used to say that they shut down the concession stands whenever I got on base," Coleman said. "That was my biggest thrill in a Cardinal uniform, getting on base and hearing the crowd."

The art of the stolen base has been lost for the most part in major league baseball these days, with the game so focused on home runs. Coleman believes that is a mistake, and he is doing his part to try to keep the stolen base and the importance of good baserunning alive.

In the fall of 2003, he was having dinner with former teammate Terry Pendleton, now a coach for the Braves, when the Braves were playing the Diamondbacks in Phoenix, where Coleman lives. Pendleton asked him if he had any interest in becoming a coach. That conversation led Pendleton to discuss the matter with Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz, who proceeded to offer Coleman a job working in the team's fall instructional league in Florida.

"I wanted to see if I liked it," Coleman said. "It turned out I loved it. I loved working with the young kids, giving them instruction. They seemed to respond pretty well to what I said. I was just providing basic concepts, the things a runner should look for when they get on base."

Coleman knows more than most about what makes a smart baserunner tick. After all, he led the National League in stolen bases all six seasons he was with the Cardinals, averaging 91.5 steals per season over that span.

"All of their lives kids are told how not to run the bases," Coleman said. "‘Don't get picked off. Don't get too big a lead. Don't get thrown out going from first to third. Don't make the first or last out at third base.' Because of that they run defensively. I was telling them how to run offensively, giving them tips and things to look for from the pitcher that would give them an advantage."

Cubs' manager Dusty Baker found out what Coleman was doing and called to offer him a similar job, working throughout the season in the Cubs' system. When Coleman found out the Cardinals were not interested in his services, Coleman went to work for the Cubs in spring training 2004.

"I work in spring training, which is great because I get to stay at home, and then I make my own schedule during the season. I spend 15 days each month going to the different minor league clubs and I also work with the major league team. I am home for 10 days every month."

The flexibility of making his own schedule was important for Coleman. Since he moved to Arizona, he has become an avid golfer. He competes regularly on the Celebrity Players Tour with several other former Cardinals and former major leaguers.

Coleman met with great success in his first season with the Cubs. Two of his projects, Dwaine Bacon of Double A West Tennessee and Chris Walker of Class A Lansing, each led their league with 60 stolen bases.

Coleman, 43, gets upset when he sees the lack of emphasis on the stolen base in today's game because it was such a critical component of the Runnin' Redbirds' success in the 1980s. He stole 110 bases as a rookie and followed that season with stolen base totals of 107, 109, 81, 65 and 77. His speed, and that of his teammates, kept the pressure on the opponents and forced them into many mistakes.

He knows the game is different now, but he still maintains players should be stealing more bases.

"There are people hitting .230 and they can't run," Coleman said. "I could leg out .250 even today. People say you can't steal bases today because all of the pitchers use the slide step. There are still ways to steal. A pitcher always gives off tips before he starts his delivery to the plate. You have to study film and read the pitcher.

"I learned it from Don Blasingame when I was in the minors with the Cardinals. There is homework you have to do to be successful. It's not just pure speed."

During Coleman's day, the Cardinals had a camera in their dugout near first base which focused on the opposing pitcher. If Coleman or the other runners were having a difficult time figuring out his move to first, they would go in the video room and watch the tape during the game. That was one of the advantages to having the home team dugout along the first base line, Coleman said.

"Not many people knew about it, but we used it all the time," he said.

If Coleman has any regrets about his career, it was that he chose to accept a higher contract and leave St. Louis after the 1990 season as a free agent, signing with the Mets. The move was not based entirely on money, but a desire to win, Coleman said. He thought the Cardinals had lost so many players through free agency, and that the Mets, especially with their deeper starting rotation, had a greater chance to be successful. It didn't work out that way, of course, and when Coleman struggled with the Mets and got involved in some off-field troubles, he was vilified by the New York media.

"I was used to winning," Coleman said. "Going to the World Series was the only thing I could relate to. I thought the Mets would win. It didn't happen. I got hurt, other guys got hurt and we finished last. Nothing worked out. It snowballed into a bad apple, and I didn't recover from it.

"I was getting ripped in the papers every day, and because I was the highest paid player on the team, when we didn't win it was my fault."

Coleman spent three unhappy years in New York before he was traded to Kansas City in 1994. He finished his career by bouncing from the Royals, to Seattle, to Cincinnati and to Detroit, retiring in 1997. Coleman finished his career with 752 stolen bases, but never stole more than 50 in a season after leaving St. Louis.

Life these days is good for Coleman, who moved to the Phoenix area in 1988 out of his friendship with former football Cardinals' receiver Roy Green and his desire to play golf every day in the winter. His two sons, Vincent and Lance, are in high school. Vincent, a 16-year-old junior, is developing into a good football prospect, scoring 10 touchdowns as a running back this season. Lance is a 15-year-old sophomore and was the team's kicker this year. Both boys also play baseball.

Coleman also re-married in November 2004 and spent part of his winter traveling to the Bahamas to participate in Michael Jordan's golf tournament and to the Dominican Republic, where he helped run a week-long youth baseball clinic.

"I knew when I got out of baseball raising my two boys was going to be my full-time job, and I have been fortunate to be around them every day as they are growing up. Now that they are in high school I don't have to coach them every day, and I can move on to some other things I want to do.

"They say you should do what you know best, and for me that is talking about stealing bases and running the bases, and with the Cubs I have somebody that wants me to do that. Things could not be any better."

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