One of baseball’s greatest base stealers finished his career as a Tiger


In his brief time with the Detroit Tigers in 1997, Vince Coleman wore #29.

Wait, he was a Tiger?

How many times have we said that as Detroit Tigers fans? There have been plenty of players just play a short time with Detroit as their only stint in the big leagues.

But there have been plenty of stars that have played for other teams only to make a stop in Detroit. Guys like Frank Howard, Jim Perry and Eric Davis.

Vince Coleman was one of those players. Still No. 6 on the all-time stolen bases list, Coleman was an All-Star and Rookie of the Year with the St. Louis Cardinals. But many fans forget that he finished his career with the Tigers.

Coleman was signed as a free agent by the Tigers in 1997 and looked to be a regular in the lineup in spring training, but the Tigers were building a team around young talent and released Coleman in April after playing just six games in Detroit.

“I was able to play 13 years and in 1997 I was with Detroit, and it was a very short stay,” Coleman said at the West Michigan Whitecaps Tiger Friday Series on Aug. 19. “They were going through a youth movement and Brian Hunter was the center fielder that was brought over. I enjoyed working with the young kids like Bobby Higginson and Tony Clark. At that time, speed was sort of obsolete and I was kind of being pushed out of the game because every team was magnified for its power.”

His time with the Tigers went quick, but that isn’t the quickness his is remembered for.

In 1985 as a rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals, Coleman stole 110 bases to lead the National League. He went on to become the only player in major league history to steal 100 bases in his first three seasons.

Coleman’s first big league season was special for several reasons. He played 151 games, swiped 110 bases in 135 tries, and touched home plate 107 times for the Redbirds, who won the division crown. Coleman’s 110 steals accounted for more than a third of his team’s amazing total of 317 steals. Then in the playoffs, one of the most bizarre incidents in baseball history ended Coleman’s season.

Prior to Game Four of the ’85 NLCS at St. Louis, Coleman was leaving the field when he stopped to toss a glove to a teammate, at that same time, the grounds crew pressed the button to release the tarp and send it onto the field via its motorizes system. Coleman didn’t notice and within seconds the tarp had enveloped him to his knee, leaving him writhing in pain beneath the large device. Teammates rescued him, but the damage was done to his knee and Coleman could not play the rest of the playoffs. It was a strange and embarrassing way for a fleet-footed player to be felled.

Coleman, who earned the nickname “Vincent Van Go,” led the National League in stolen bases in his first six major league seasons, all with St. Louis. His next stop was New York where he signed a free agent deal with the Mets. But his time in the Big Apple was disappointing as he suffered from injuries and didn’t adjust well to being moved from left to center. He had a resurgence in 1994 with the Royals, staling 50 bases in 104 games. He was still a threat on the base paths.

Today, most players don’t steal very often, taking away an element that drove baseball for decades, especially the 1980s. Coleman hates that the element that made him a star has dwindled so much in baseball.

“Pretty much, there is no more excitement in the game,” Coleman said. “When you came in to Busch Stadium, you knew you were going to see Vince Coleman run. The analytics now show the risk doesn’t pan out as far as the reward.”

In Coleman’s brief six-game stint with the Tigers he reached base just two times and never had a chance to steal a base. In that regard, Detroit fans missed an opportunity to see one of the all-time greats in his area of expertise.

Coleman went on to total 752 steals in his 13-year career, a mark that ranks sixth in the history of baseball behind Rickey Henderson (1,406), Lou Brock (938), Billy Hamilton (914), Ty Cobb (897) and Tim Raines (808).