Vince Coleman – 1996 Topps

January 20, 2011

That Don’t Look Right, Vol. 1

Baseball is full of surprises.

Collecting cards after a long hiatus is full of surprises as well.

As in above…

Vince Coleman, Mariner?

While not as totally insane as Snooki, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, it’s still strange to see.

Kind of like Harmon Killebrew as a Royal, Franco Harris as a Seahawk, Michael Jordan as a Wizard, or Newt Gingrich as electable.

Coleman was one of my least favorite players for several reasons:

1. He was a Cardinal, and I was a Cubs fan. OK, he was a Cardinal that wasn’t on my APBA team. I had Ozzie and Tommy Herr, so they were OK by me.

2. He was overrated. Way overrated. Yes he stole bases but I was absorbing Bill James and knew the value of OBP. I also knew that even though he stole over 100 bases in 1986 while gathering 670 plate appearances, the fact that he didn’t score 100 runs was indictment enough about the true value of a ‘slappy’ that can’t get on base.

3. He was kind of a prick. Of course, that didn’t manifest itself until he was a Met, but it kind of scars his career – much like it does for Bonilla, Cone and Saberhagen.

4. He was fast, but was a minus fielder. Lonnie Smith had the rep, because he made it look comical, but Lonnie was a plus fielder for his career. Coleman was extremely bad in CF (-12 runs for his career).

Coleman was 33 when he was a Mariner. He came over in mid-season 1995 for Jim Converse. The man who spearheaded the Cardinals infamous running attack was traded for a pitcher who went 2-11, 7.21 for his career. And he was ‘only’ 33. But the M’s were in a race, and you do odd things in pennant races.

Just the year before, there was a semi-blockbuster when the Mets dumped Coleman onto the Royals for Kevin McReynolds. Now McReynolds was a productive player, but angered Mets fans for his attitude, or lack of noticeable effort, or something, I don’t know. Did he poison the water supply in Flushing? But the Mets were glad to have him back for his last hurrah if it meant dumping Coleman.

The wheezing Royals were withing striking distance of the AL Central when the strike hit in 1994 (64-51, 4 games back). But it was due to pitching more than anything. That team of creaky vets had three regulars (Lind, Coleman, Gagne) plus three top reserves (Dave Henderson, Shumpert, Mayne) under 80 OPS+. And somehow they were winning by batting Coleman lead-off 92 of the first 98 games. Brian McRae hit second for most of that time, so Hal allowed a .285 OBP hitter to start that offense, instead of a .359 OBP.

Vince did rebound a bit in 1995, but the Royals had a bundle of young OFs that were up-and-coming (Damon (yes, he’s that old), Tucker, Nunnally, Dye) and the Royals wisely cut bait and found a willing taker in a pennant race.

Thus, this card with the Mariners.

Strangely, it kind of worked for the Mariners. Left field was a total mess that year with 11 different starters out there including Doug Strange, Mike Blowers, Luis Sojo and Chris Widger. Griffey missed two months and was replaced, kinda, by Rich Amaral and Alex Diaz. But thanks to a absolute insane year from Edgar Martinez (1.107 OPS), great years from Tino Martinez and Jay Buhner, a healthy Griffey and Randy Johnson’s 18-2 effort, the M’s won the division in incredible fashion and then shocked the Yankees in five in the ALDS. They then won Game 1 of the ALCS (the Bob Wolcott game) before falling in six.

Coleman was pretty much a non-factor in the post-season and was given the ‘thanks, but…’ treatment by Seattle. He spent 1996 with the Reds at first, but was released after hitting .155. He made the Tigers out of Spring Training in 1997 but was out of a job by mid-April. The Cards signed him in 1998, planted him Memphis for a bit, but after 20 games and hitting .316 he was done.

I remember that Mariners team, and I remember rushing home from work to catch the one-game playoff. I do remember rooting for them to beat the Yanks and the Indians.

But I do not remember Vince Coleman playing for them.

And without this card, would anybody not living in Seattle in 1995?

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