Vince Coleman

November 27, 1985: Vince Coleman is named Rookie of the Year

Just weeks before the Cardinals were set to open the 1985 season, Whitey Herzog predicted that his club’s top prospect, Vince Coleman, had the talent to one day win the Rookie of the Year Award.

He had no idea that day would come just 8 ½ months later.

“You talk about a man with a future,” Herzog said following a March spring training game in which Coleman had two hits, including a two-run triple. “If the circumstances were right, we could take him and put him out there and he’d probably be Rookie of the Year.”[1]

Two years earlier, Coleman had set a new professional baseball stolen base record with 145 thefts in the South Atlantic League. In 1984, he stole 101 bases at Triple-A Louisville, inspiring director of player personnel Lee Thomas[2] and then-general manager Joe McDonald[3] to compare him to Lou Brock.

Despite Herzog’s prediction, Coleman didn’t make the Cardinals’ opening-day roster. With Lonnie Smith, Willie McGee, and Tito Landrum in the starting lineup, the Cardinals deemed it best for Coleman to continue to develop in Triple-A.

Just a few days into the season, however, Landrum suffered a pulled abdominal muscle. Then McGee was pulled from the lineup with a strained left thigh muscle. Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill called Coleman up to St. Louis, then called him into his office.

“Look Vince,” he said. “You’ve had a nice spring, but I want you to realize, right now, that you’re only going to be with us for about a week and then you’ll be sent to Louisville.”

“Yes, Mr. Maxvill, I understand,” Coleman replied politely, “but I want you to know that I’m going to be here the whole year.”

Maxvill smiled and praised Coleman’s confidence before pointing out once again that once McGee returned from injury, Coleman would be back in the minors.

“Yes, Mr. Maxvill, I understand,” Coleman said again, “but I want you to know I’m going to be here the whole year.”[4]

In his major-league debut on April 18, Coleman singled, walked, and stole the first two bases of his career. He was off to the races.

In 151 games, Coleman batted .267 and stole a rookie record 110 bases. His 107 runs scored were the most by a National League rookie since Richie Allen scored 125 in 1964.[5]

“Things just seemed to click when we brought Vince Coleman up,” said Tom Herr, who drove in a career-high 110 runs that season. “Before, we were kind of experimenting. With a natural leadoff hitter like Vince, and a guy like Willie McGee hitting behind him, it was like a smorgasbord for me all year long.”[6]

With Coleman in the leadoff spot, the Cardinals won 101 games to claim the National League East crown. In the National League Championship Series, Coleman went 2-for-5 in Game 2, then added two more hits, two runs scored, and a stolen base in Game 3.

Prior to Game 4, however, Coleman’s postseason came to an abrupt halt when Busch Stadium’s automated tarp ran over his legs. Though the Cardinals initially were optimistic, a series of tests taken the day after St. Louis won Game 2 of the World Series showed a “bone flake” that had been torn from the rest of the bone. Coleman’s season was over.[7]

Without their star leadoff hitter, the Cardinals lost the Series in seven games.

“He was the catalyst of this team,” Herzog said. “Nobody saw the real St. Louis Cardinals in this series. We didn’t get into our game plan at all.”[8]

 “It would have been different just because I would have been playing,” Coleman said. “Our team had become accustomed to me leading off all season. Then Willie had to lead off, and he wasn’t used to it. Then Ozzie (Smith) did it, and he wasn’t used to it. I can’t say whether we would have won or not if I had played, but I think we’ll bounce back next year. We’ll have the same personnel.”[9]

On November 27, the Baseball Writers Association of America made Coleman the first unanimous rookie of the year since the Giants’ Willie McCovey in 1959. Coleman was the fourth unanimous rookie of the year in National League history, following the Reds’ Frank Robinson in 1956 and the Giants’ Orlando Cepeda in 1958.

Coleman also was the fourth Cardinal to win rookie of the year honors, joining Wally Moon (1954), Bill Virdon (1955), and Bake McBride (1974).

“This will be something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” Coleman said. “At the end of my career, I’ll be able to look back at my rookie year and remember that I began the season at Louisville and worked hard to get to St. Louis and then won Rookie of the Year. That can only happen once for you, so I’ll cherish it forever.”[10]

Reds pitcher Tom Browning received all 24 second-place votes, while Dodgers shortstop Mariano Duncan placed third.

“Vince is deserving,” Herzog said. “He’s one of the great all-time rookies, with his 110 stolen bases and the way he played in the outfield and the impact he had on our club.”[11]

Coleman said he was due to run again just a few days after winning the award.

“My leg is in great shape. I’m ready to race,” he said.[12]

Over six seasons, Coleman stole 549 bases for the Cardinals. Across his 13-year major league career, Coleman stole 752 bases. He retired with a .264 career batting average and .324 on-base percentage. In 2018, he was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

“You don’t know how happy I am to be inducted to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame,” Coleman said. “It’s a great organization. It’s a great city, and once you have worn a Cardinal uniform, you feel like royalty. I never knew what it was like to be loved by a city until I played here in St. Louis.”[13]

Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.

[1] Rick Hummel, “Kepshire Optimistic On Cards’ Pitchers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 13, 1985: E4.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Redbirds High On Coleman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 4, 1984.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Birds Complete Hendrick-Tudor Deal With Bucs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1984.

[4] Doug Feldmann, Fleeter Than Birds: The 1985 St. Louis Cardinals and Small Ball’s Last Hurrah, Jefferson, N.C.; McFarland & Company, Inc., 44-45.

[5] John Sonderegger, “ConVincing,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28, 1985.

[6] John Sonderegger, “ConVincing,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28, 1985.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Coleman Sidelined For Series,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 22, 1985.

[8] John Sonderegger, “ConVincing,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28, 1985.

[9] John Sonderegger, “ConVincing,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28, 1985.

[10] John Sonderegger, “ConVincing,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28, 1985.

[11] John Sonderegger, “ConVincing,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28, 1985.

[12] John Sonderegger, “ConVincing,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28, 1985.

[13] Jennifer Langosch, “Trio inducted into Cardinals Hall of Fame,”, August 18, 2018.

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