#CardCorner: 1986 Topps Vince Coleman
On Aug. 21, 1985, 23-year-old Vince Coleman of the Cardinals reached that number by himself – and would steal another 27 bases in St. Louis’ final 42 games.
Sponsor a Page
Online Collection Page Sponsorship
For only $5 a year, you can have your name displayed on an artifact page within our online collection. You can even add a message – a note about the item, a favorite baseball memory or a tribute to a family member or friend.
The National League, quite literally, spent that summer and several after it playing – and failing – at a game of To Catch a Thief with the Cardinals’ unstoppable left fielder.
With the stolen base going the way of the rotary phone and the shopping mall, we may never see his like again.
Coleman’s 1986 Topps card appears to depict him in Spring Training – possibly prior to his big league debut on April 18, 1985. A 10th-round draft pick by the Cardinals out of Florida A&M University (where he punted and kicked for the football team as well as starred on the diamond) in 1982, Coleman laid waste to opposing teams on the base paths in his first three pro seasons. In 1983 with Class A Macon of the South Atlantic League, Coleman set a new minor league record with 145 steals in just 113 games (he missed about a month with a broken hand), then swiped 101 bases with Triple-A Louisville in 1984.
In 1985, Coleman returned to Louisville to start the season and was 3-for-22 (.136) at the plate in five games when injuries to Cardinals left fielder Tito Landrum and center fielder Willie McGee left manager Whitey Herzog with few options in the outfield. Coleman arrived in St. Louis on April 17, and the next day found himself in center field, batting leadoff against the Montreal Expos.
“It’s good to get Coleman up here and get him used to it for a while,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m going to try to get him a little playing time.”
In the third inning of his first game, Coleman lashed a line-drive single to left in his second big league at-bat. The first of 752 big league stolen bases quickly followed.
“Once Coleman gets it all together,” Expos coach Russ Nixon told the Post-Dispatch, “the throw is going to have to be perfect if you’re going to get him at all.”
But injuries and off-the-field issues left him unable to recapture the magic of St. Louis, and Coleman finished his career in 1997 after stints with the Royals, Mariners, Reds and Tigers.
Coleman’s 752 career steals rank fifth all-time among modern era players. His 13 big league seasons, however, are by far the fewest of anyone in that Top 5 – with Rickey Henderson (No. 1), Ty Cobb (No. 3) and Tim Raines (No. 4) all having played at least 23 big league seasons, and Lou Brock (No. 2) having appeared in 19.
More than 30 years after his third straight 100-steal season, Coleman remains the last player to reach the century mark. Since the dawn of the 21st century, the most steals in one season has been 78 by the Mets' Jose Reyes in 2007.
Vince Coleman may truly be the last of his kind. For a period of time, there was no player who did his job better than the switch-hitter who turned speed into pure excitement.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum