NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 91: VINCE COLEMAN
The great flaw in advanced baseball metrics is their inability to account for the intangibles.
Defensive-WAR says Vince Coleman was a sub-replacement-level outfielder. And while his .264 career average is OK, his .324 on-base percentage is too low for a leadoff hitter. On that basis, it’s hard to imagine a place for him in today’s home run-happy brand of baseball.
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But, the way he ran the bases for six seasons with the Cardinals, a walk to Coleman was as good as a triple. How did that divert the focus of opposing pitchers and how did the batters behind him benefit?
After stealing 145 bases in single-A Macon in 1983, Coleman advanced directly to triple-A Louisville where he stole 101 more the following year. He was promoted to temporarily fill a roster spot on the big-league roster on April 18, 1985, and was warned by General Manager Dal Maxvill not to unpack his suitcase.
Manager Whitey Herzog couldn’t take him out of the lineup, though.
Over the next six years, Coleman was the pilot light that ignited an combustible brand of Cardinals’ baseball known as “Whiteyball.”
The Running Redbirds stole 314 bases in 1985 with Coleman swiping a rookie-record 110. They won 101 games and the National League pennant. That was followed by five more seasons in which Coleman led the big leagues in steals.
To date, 142 years of Major League Baseball have produced just eight seasons in which a player has had more than 100 steals. Coleman accounts for three of those years, and he’s the only one in the modern era to do so three seasons consecutively.
How did that translate to team success? While it may be true that Coleman didn’t reach base as often as a leadoff batter should, when he did find his way on, he also found a way to score 46 percent of the time.
Coleman played seven more seasons after leaving St. Louis as a free agent in 1990. He finished with 752 career stolen bases, sixth all-time, and was elected by fans to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2018.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1985-1990
No. 6 all-time stolen bases| All-Star 1988, 1989 | Rookie of the Year 1985
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.13