However, former St. Louis Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman wasn’t just happy to be there. He ran his way into baseball’s history books, and hopes youths today see the message he represents.
“God only knows how big your heart is and how big your body is going to grow. So don’t give up. That’s my message to all the young kids out there,” Coleman said. “Be prepared for your opportunity. You may have only one chance to showcase your skills.”
Coleman made the most of his chance, rocketing to No. 6 among baseball’s all-time steals list and becoming one of only four ever to steal 100 bases in a season. What a run it was, and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Coleman with the Class of 2017.
When he finished a 13-year big-league career in 1997, Coleman had swiped 752 bases. Only five others had more – Rickey Henderson (1,406), the Cardinals’ Lou Brock (938), long-ago Cincinnati Red Billy Hamilton (912), Ty Cobb (892) and Tim Raines (808).
For the Cardinals, Coleman’s wheels shined from 1985 to 1990, when he stole 549 bases, second-most in club history behind Brock. Eventually, Coleman finished with 660 stolen bases in the National League – the sixth-most in its history – and largely because he led the circuit in steals in each of his seasons with the Cardinals.
In fact, in his first three seasons with St. Louis, Coleman had seasons of 105, 107 and 109 steals – with his 1985 season leading to the NL Rookie of the Year award. 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.
And to think his career was nearly derailed early in high school.
“I didn’t take it personally,” Coleman said. “It motivated me that I had to get better. I had to be above par.”
Coleman found success at Raines High School in Jacksonville, Florida, although it wasn’t enough to earn a college scholarship, and so he headed off to Florida A&M as a two-way talent.
There, he earned a football scholarship as a punter and place kicker as a sophomore, a year after kicking 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. Despite Florida A&M’s outfield already including two roadblocks – the sons of home run king Hank Aaron and Bill Lucas, the first black general manager in baseball history (Atlanta, 1976 to 1979) – Coleman’s speed and ability to cover ground led to his installation in center field.
In two rain-shortened seasons there, Coleman stole 107 bases and, in 1981, earned a 20th-round draft selection of the Philadelphia Phillies. However, his mom talked him into returning to college.
Thanks to the delay, the Cardinals benefited. St. Louis selected Coleman in the 10th round in 1982 and then watched him fly. He set the single-season minor league steals record in 1983, with 145 in the Class A South Atlantic League. That record stood until 2012. He also stole 104 bases 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 big-leaguer who was a Cardinals roving instructor. “From their head to feet, to their pre-set rotation, if they had a flaw, I’d use it to my advantage.”
Coleman, who helped the Cardinals win NL pennants in 1985 and 1987, later played for the New York Mets, Kansas City Royals, 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 also finished with 346 RBI.
“I enjoy giving back to the game that made me the baseball player that I am today,” said Coleman, who has been a base-running coach in the farm systems of the Chicago White Sox (2015 & 2016) and the Houston Astros (2012 & 2013). “Coming from a guy that got cut from his ninth-grade team, they just don’t give (Hall of Fame) honors away. My hard work and dedication came to fruition.”
He’s got the story of perseverance. Of succeeding after being cut from his school’s ninth-grade baseball team. Of heading off to a little-known college without the safety net of an athletic scholarship. And of finding his way to the big leagues and becoming a star.