Top 100 Mets: #98 - Vince Coleman

Without a doubt, Vince Coleman was one of the most controversial figures in Mets history. With most of the members of the strong Mets teams of the late 1980's having gone the way of the dodo, management attempted to patch up the deficiencies. The acquisition of Coleman was one of those flimsy "quick fixes". However, Vince brought with him a reputation (and the stats to prove it) as one of the greatest base runners of his time. For this reason, he earns our nod as Greatest Met #98 (Free Preview).

Vince had been an exciting player for the champion St. Louis Cardinal of Whitey Herzog fame. One of the "White Rat's" designated Jackrabbits who could run like the wind and steal oodles of bases, Vince was perfect on the turf in St. Louis; he hit down on the ball, beat on a infield roller, stole second, most times third and scored on most any fly ball or wild pitch. Whitey played "Little Ball" far better than any manager of the 80's, and Vince was a a main cog in that machine.

Mets management made a myriad of strange moves in the early 90's. They either gave up on winning players or let them go without a whimper. Then there were the attempts to try and smooth over the rough edges from all those bad moves. The dipping into the free agent pool often only made things worse. Coleman was a classic example.

Year

Team

AVG.

AB

Hits

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

K

OBP

SLG

1991

Mets

.255

278

71

1

17

45

37

39

47

.347

.327

1992

Mets

.275

229

63

2

21

37

24

27

41

.355

.358

1993

Mets

.279

373

104

2

25

64

38

21

58

.316

.375



As was said, Vince had made his living on the St. Louis turf. He came to the Cards in 1985, when the team was shipping out Lonnie Smith. Vince had recently swiped an unbelievable 145 bags in the South Atlantic League, despite missing time with a hand injury. Herzog knew he had to shape his team to fit the vastness of Busch Stadium, and he did this expertly. For the latter part of the 80's the Cards would usually contend (with the Mets) for the NL East title. The Cards line-up which featured Coleman, Willie Magee, Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr would literally rob the other teams blind. They could not be stopped on the base paths. Coleman would also prove to be a defensive plus, whereas Smith had been a liability in the field.

Vince set the baseball world on fire in 1985 after replacing the departed Smith. He would go on to steal 110 bases, for a new rookie mark, breaking the record set by Juan Samuel just the previous year. Probably on the strength of that record alone he was voted the NL Rookie of the Year for 1985 unanimously. He would go on to set unheard of baseball records for stealing bags. He swiped over 100 bases in each of his first three big league campaigns, and he reached both the 400 and 600 steal plateaus faster than anyone in baseball history.

It goes without saying, that he was a significant contributor to both the 1985 and 1987 St. Louis World Series teams. In 1985, a freak accident which saw him getting his leg caught in a tarpaulin roller, took him out of most of the postseason action that year. He did contribute in 1987 by stealing six bases in the World Series.

"Vincent Van Go" in fact led the league in thefts in all of his St. Louis seasons 1985-90. After those six consecutive steals titles, he became a free agent and the Mets were looking to restructure their offense for the 1991 season. Darryl Strawberry signed as a free agent with Los Angeles in the winter of 1990-91, so New York's main power source was gone. The Mets now wanted to become a team jump started by speed, and what better place to start than with the greatest base stealer available?
D. Henson
Vince Coleman: Coleman stole 100 bases per year from 1985-1987, but only stole a combined 99 in his three years with the Mets.
Vince signed a lucrative contract ($12 million for four years) and the Mets had a legitimate leadoff man, although Coleman didn't walk particularly much. Consequently, his On Base Percentage was not one usually looked for in a leadoff hitter. His top career mark for OBP (.363) came in 1987, and he never really came close to that mark again.

Still the Mets had the roadrunner they felt they needed to intimidate opposing hurlers and catchers alike. Also it was hoped that Vince would be one exciting hombre' on the base paths and draw fans to Shea as well. But it seemed as soon as he became a Met, his hamstrings became tender, and in his three seasons as a Met he played in only a total of 235 games. Ironically, after playing in only 143 of 324 games in the 1991-1992 seasons he was off to his greatest start as a Met in 1993. He had stolen a total of 61 bases in his first two Met seasons, but had 38 swipes in 92 contests (and was well on his way to breaking Mookie Wilson's then club record of 58 steals), when he abruptly ended his Mets career himself.

Through all the frustrations from his injuries, Coleman had become surly and rapidly acquired a reputation as a malcontent and a clubhouse cancer. He even went as far as to babble nonsensically that the natural turf at Shea Stadium would be responsible for keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. But the worse was yet to come.

The Mets were on the West Coast, suffering through yet another poor coast tour, when following a game at Dodger Stadium, Vince decided to let his personal frustrations out by tossing a firecracker at some unsuspecting fans. Although the fans suffered minor injuries, the irresponsible action irreparably damaged Coleman's career. He was finished as a Met. Owner Fred Wilpon ordered him banished to the bench for the remainder of the season, and the following winter he was dealt to the Kansas City Royals for former Met Kevin McReynolds.

The Mets 1993 season went into the gutter after the Los Angeles incident. The team was unable to replace Vince's fast start, and the offense suffered greatly, resulting in a final record of 59-103. While Vince certainly wasn't the lone culprit contributing to the Mets worst season since 1965, the absence of his speed for most of the second half of the season definitely took its toll on the offense.

Sadly Vince's New York career becomes a foot note in club history as to what might have been, as it really appeared that in 1993 his injury problems were behind him. He seemed destined to destroy a couple of club marks. In addition to the aforementioned club mark of 58 steals, he also had eight triples at the time of the firecracker incident, and probably would have surpassed another record of Mookie's (10 triples, since obliterated by Lance Johnson). Incidentally, statistically Coleman belongs to the Mets Class of 99…which includes George Foster, Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez as well: Vince had 99 Met steals, Foster 99 Met homers, Darling and Fernandez each 99 Met wins.

Following his trade to Kansas City, Vince had one more decent season in which he stole 50 bases for the 1994 Royals….after that he bounced around for a few seasons, playing with various teams: the Mariner, Reds, and finished with the Tigers in 1997, before his 36th birthday.

For his career, Coleman batted .264 overall (the high water marks coming with the Cardinals; .289 in '87 and .292 in '90), and stole 752 bases in 929 attempts for an outstanding success rate of 81%. Unfortunately, Met fans were only able to witness a small amount of this ability. He was batting his Met high of .279 when he was shut down in 1993. However, following Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines, Vince was probably the third greatest base stealer of his generation, and is worthy of our #98 Greatest Met accolade.

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