Coleman was the prototypical Cardinal of the mid-1980s, a young star who could hit balls in the gap, swipe bases, and score plenty of times. After shattering the rookie record for stolen bases in a season in 1985, the outfielder went on to lead the league in thefts six straight seasons. However, while his blazing speed stayed with him throughout most of his career, his hot-headedness and bad judgment off the field led him through a series of blemishes on his promising career.
Coleman turned heads in 1983 in the South Atlantic League, when he won the stolen base title by swiping 145 bags despite missing a month with a broken hand. His 145 bases, which barely beat out Donnell Nixon‘s 144 that same season, would set the mark for professional baseball. Two years later, the St. Louis Cardinals jettisoned Lonnie Smith to make way for the young speedster rising through their system. Coleman held the job with ease and poise, notching 110 stolen bases, and shattering the rookie record held by Juan Samuel just a year before. A unanimous choice for the 1985 National League Rookie of the Year Award, Coleman finished the season with 107 runs scored and 170 hits.
However, as his Cardinals advanced through the postseason, tragedy struck when Coleman began stretching during pregame warm-ups in Busch Stadium. The automated tarpaulin began rolling out on the field and trapped Vince’s leg for about thirty seconds before he was wrenched free. He was taken out on a stretcher and missed the rest of the NLCS and the World Series.
Coleman went on to become the first player in history to steal 100 bases in each of his first three major league seasons. In 1989 he set a record by stealing 50 consecutive bases without being caught, besting Davey Lopes‘ 14-year-old mark by 12. The outfielder boasted that he considered third base easier to steal than second, and in 1987 stole second and third in the same inning 13 times. Though he was a demon when on base, Coleman often had trouble reaching first; he averaged 105 strikeouts per season with St. Louis, and recorded an on-base percentage over .320 just twice in his six seasons with them.
After his contract with St. Louis expired following the 1990 season, Coleman signed with the New York Mets that December, looking to ply his wares in the Big Apple. However, altercations with management and injuries to his ribs and hamstrings kept him off the field for much of his tenure in New York. Along with hitting the disabled list five times in 1991 and ’92, Coleman also locked horns with coach Mike Cubbage and manager Jeff Torborg. The latter argument, which happened on the field, got the outfielder suspended for two games.
Coleman reached a personal low in 1993. Three months after injuring Dwight Gooden‘s arm by recklessly swinging a golf club in the clubhouse, he was charged with endangerment when he tossed a firecracker at — and harmed — two young boys and a woman in the stadium’s parking lot. The outfielder was “given” the rest of the year off by the team to deal with legal issues, but it was clear that his stint in New York was over.
Indeed, Coleman was traded to the Kansas City Royals in January 1994 for Kevin McReynolds. But though he played in the most games (104) and stole the most bases (50) since his days with the Cardinals, his career was on the downslide. After the strike, Coleman re-signed with the Royals, but was traded to the Seattle Mariners halfway through the season. After hopping between the Reds’, Angels’, and Tigers’ organizations, Coleman called it quits in 1997.