Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman, alumnus of the 1962 New York Mets (the worst team in modern MLB history), died on Monday of cancer. Although his biographical information lists him as 78, his family states he was 80. Either way he will not see his birthday which would have come on August 25th.
Coleman’s major league stats certainly weren’t distinguished. He was a .197 career hitter in parts of four big league seasons and he wasn’t much better behind the plate. He committed 15 errors in only 91 games during the 1963 season. Mets manager Casey Stengel gave Coleman a backhanded compliment when he observed he had never seen anyone so fast at chasing passed balls.
After a lengthy minor league career in the Washington Senators and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations, Coleman reached the majors in 1961 with the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that at one point lost 26 games in a row and finished that year 47-107 some 46 games back of the NL pennant winning Cincinnati Reds. Coleman would be drafted by the expansion Mets the following year and his fortunes went from bad to worse. The 1962 Mets made the 1961 Phillies look like the 1927 New York Yankees by comparison. The Mets went 42-120 in their inaugural season finishing 60½ games behind the NL pennant winning San Francisco Giants.
Aside from “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, no one exemplified their futility better than Coleman who had to place colored tape on his fingers to keep track of the pitches he would call behind the plate. Then there were the things he said off the field. When Coleman reported to spring training in 1963, Charlie Neal who had been his roommate the previous season told him he probably couldn’t remember his name. Coleman said he did remember Neal’s name – “You’re number four.” In an interview with Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner, the future Hall of Famer asked Coleman what his wife’s name was and she was like. Coleman replied, “Her name is Mrs. Coleman and she likes me.” Legend has it that Coleman didn’t know why he was called “Choo-Choo”, but this was not the case. Coleman indicated he got the nickname as a child because of how fast he ran.
Coleman spent all of 1964 and 1965 in the minors before briefly returning to the Mets for 6 games early in the 1966 season before being released. Ironically enough, Coleman could have been part of the 1969 World Series champion Mets. That season the Mets gave him another chance, but he would spend the year at their Triple-AAA affiliate in Tidewater, Florida and did not see any big league action.
After playing a couple of stints in the Mexican League during the early ’70’s, Coleman seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. But in 2012, Coleman would return to New York on the occasion of the 50th anniversary celebration of the ’62 Mets and was warmly received.
The Mrs. Coleman who liked him so much would pass away, but he would remarry in Virginia. His new wife’s daughter’s family had a Chinese restaurant and Coleman would spend many years cooking culinary delights like fried rice and pepper steak before retiring to South Carolina. But he will always have a place in the hearts of New York Mets fans.