MLB Players to Tell My Kids About, Vol. 1: Vince Coleman

Zander FreundSenior Writer ISeptember 25, 2007

In a column I wrote nearly a month ago, I explained the differences between the two groups of baseball stars I've been lucky enough to witness firsthand: the Ozzie Smith generation and the Mark McGwire generation.

I'd like to now begin a series in which I select an elite group of ballplayers from both generations to tell my children about.  

To be clear: I do not have any children at the moment (that I know about), and I doubt this will change in the next few years.

That said, I think it's important to plan ahead in life—particularly when it comes to baseball.

When I was a little boy, my Dad told me about Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and a whole host of other players he watched as a kid.  Hearing about these legends at a young age gave me a true appreciation for the game of baseball, and for what it meant to so many people in America.

In selecting these players, I hope to help my children develop a similar interest in the history of the sport, and the pure beauty of baseball as a game.

And if they don't?

"As long as you're living under my roof, you're going to abide by my rules!  Now sit down, shut up, and watch volume one of Ken Burns' Baseball.  There will be a quiz afterwards."

In all seriousness, my truest hope in writing this column is to set out a gameplan for educating my children not only about baseball, but about life as well.

My father talked with me at length about both, but never tied the two together.  It's my opinion that this was an extreme oversight, as there's no better opportunity to give your kid a quick life lesson than by telling the story of a relevant baseball player.

For instance, take Vince Coleman.

Vince Coleman was the fastest ballplayer I ever saw.  In fact, I'm willing to bet he was quicker on the basepaths than anyone to ever play the game.

I don't know for a fact that the statement I just made is true.  I wouldn't swear on my mother's grave that it was.  I could just be plain old wrong—like Karl Marx, or Neville Chamberlain, or the guy who invented Laser Discs.  

But if I were a gambling man and I went to Vegas with the deed to my house and one shot at breaking the bank, I'd bet that Vince Coleman was faster than anyone in the history of Major League Baseball.

Anybody who saw the man play knows what I'm talking about.

Consider this: In 1986, Vince Coleman stole 107 bases and was caught 14 times.  That's a success rate of 88.4 percent.

That same season, he hit .232 with a .301 OBP.  He reached base 199 times.

When Coleman reached base in 1986, in other words, he attempted to steal 61 percent of the time, and was successful 54 percent of the time.  Hence, half of Coleman's "singles" (or walks) were really "doubles"!

You can keep Rickey Henderson and Ty Cobb and Maury Wills; you can fumble balls in the outfield with Lou Brock, and party all night with Rock Raines.

But for the league's all-time greatest speedster?

I'll take Vince Coleman any day of the week.

I think it's important to talk to my children about Vince Coleman because being fast can get you far in life, especially when you're young.  It's something children are always aware of on the playground at an early age.

If you're fast, you can outrun your best friend in a race. In a day and age when fighting is no longer an acceptable rite of passage, a race to the death is the surest proof of masculinity.  

If you're fast, you can outrun a stage-five clinger who can't take the hint. With cooties on the rise in schoolhouses nationwide, you never know when you'll have to bolt on short notice.  

Finally, if you're fast, you can outrun authority. What happens to the fat kid when he's caught red-handed taking an extra carton of milk at lunch?

That's right: detention—and a parade of overweight motivational speakers.  

But the truth is, being fast can only get you so far.

You might twist your ankle playing hopscotch, so the next time you race your friend he whips your ass.  Maybe the girl you ran away from has an older brother who's faster than you, and he's tired of little sissy coming home with tears in her eyes.

And what if the teacher who saw you steal the milk is waiting in the hallway with a two-foot ruler, ready to lay down the law?
Then of course, there's the issue of being too fast.   

That's where Vince Coleman reenters the equation. While Coleman's speed may have gotten him a shot in the big leagues, it was also what inevitably drove his career into the ground harder than a kamikaze pilot hopped up on a steady dose of angel dust.

If you're too fast, you might not have the patience to practice your bat-swinging skills. (Vince's .261 career average isn't anything to write home about.)

If you're too fast, you might not be paying attention when an automatic tarp runs over your leg a few days before the World Series.  (Could Vince have made the difference in that controversial Game Six in '85?)

If you're too fast, you might not think before you throw an M-80 out of your car window into a group of women and children.  (Honestly Vince, could that really have seemed like a good idea?)

Simply put, Vince Coleman was too fast for his own good—and it swallowed his career in one gulp.

"So kids, do your old man a favor: Slow down.  You have plenty of time to grow up—don't be like Vince Coleman and run through life too fast."

That's what I'll say.  I hereby pledge to tell my children about Vince Coleman.   

Read Volume Two of the Series Here

Read Volume Three of the Series Here 

Read Volume Four of the Series Here

Read Volume Five of the Series Here



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