Coleman instills basestealing attitude to Astros
Ex-All-Star tutors young players on how swiping bags about more than just speed
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Vince Coleman isn't bashful, and he doesn't have to be. He's certainly earned the right to walk around with a little swagger, even now. Even if most of the players he sees daily at Astros camp have little idea he was once baseball's fastest man.
Coleman's streak-of-lightning speed had him atop the stolen base charts in the mid-1980s, earning him a pair of All-Star appearances with the Cardinals and allowing him to become the only player in history to steal more than 100 bases in three consecutive seasons.
That's a hard feat to fathom these days, when Everth Cabrera of the Padres led the National League last year with 44 steals. When asked why no player has stolen 100 bases in a season since Coleman swiped 109 bags in 1987, he didn't hesitate.
"You haven't had a Vince Coleman to teach them," said Coleman, who joined the Astros' organization this year as an outfield/baserunning coach at Class A Quad Cities.
Coleman, 51, looks like he could still steal a few bases if an opposing pitcher gives him the opportunity. He certainly has enough knowledge and expertise to share about stealing bases, which is exactly why general manager Jeff Luhnow brought him here.
When Luhnow was farm director in St. Louis, manager Tony La Russa told him Coleman would be a good instructor, but it wasn't until Luhnow came to Houston that he was able to bring him aboard.
"We didn't have the type of basestealers we have in this organization," Luhnow said. "As we sat down at the end of last year, we asked what we can do to better support our Minor League players going forward."
Some of the players who could benefit greatly from some time with Coleman are Minor League prospects Jimmy Paredes, Jonathan Villar, George Springer and Delino DeShields Jr., who set an organizational record with 101 steals last year in the Minor Leagues.
"A lot of people know enough about baserunning, but who better to get than a guy we thought might be available, we knew was interested and could give the guys the extra help to become the best baserunners they can," Luhnow said.
Coleman's message to the young players is as much about attitude as it is about getting a good secondary lead and studying the moves of opposing pitchers.
"You can never let anyone intimidate you," he said.
Coleman came up in the Cardinals' system and finished his 13-year career with 752 stolen bases, which ranks sixth all-time in Major League history. He said he was taught as a player with the Cards that taking the extra base is the way the game should be played, which is similar to the philosophy the Astros are implementing these days.
"We played aggressive, played smart, but it really didn't matter who was in the field," Coleman said. "If you had a great arm, I had to make you throw me out. You had to play fast. A lot of times when you're a defensive player, you have to make sure you corral the ball perfectly and make a good throw, but I'm taking a chance. Make them make the play."
Coleman talks of the importance of primary vs. secondary leads and how much work is required to become a good basestealer. Speed is one thing. Perfecting the craft is another.
"You can't get lazy with it," he said. "A lot of things are based on being alert, being aggressive, being smart and anticipation. As long as you have those areas covered, you can execute."
Coleman watches the game these days and wonders why guys don't go from first base to third more. It bothers him when runners don't score from second base on a base hit. He bristles at the idea of the game now being based around power and the three-run homer.
"Everyone can't be fast, but it takes a knowledge of what you look for," Coleman said. "It takes exceptional knowledge, exceptional studying of the craft. You can't be intimidated or have fear. You have to have confidence, which is a key component to being successful."
Coleman has respect for Billy Hamilton, the Reds prospect who stole 155 bases last season in the Minor Leagues (Coleman stole 145 in 1983). He doesn't know much about Hamilton, but he can make one assessment about him.
"He did it with hard work," Coleman said.
In the first couple of weeks of camp, Coleman hasn't yet had a chance to work one-on-one with DeShields, who was named the club's Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 after stealing 83 bases in 111 games at Class A Lexington, and 18 in 28 games at Class A Lancaster.
"I'm looking forward to it," Coleman said. "I can't wait. I'm excited about it. Any time a guy steals 100 bases, he has something special. That's a special tool. I can't wait to see him in game speed. In practice, that's totally different, but he's done it and proven he can do it."
Coleman pretended he was Willie Mays when he was a kid, dreaming of flying around the bases like the "Say Hey Kid." When he finally met Mays, the Hall of Famer told Coleman to never change how he plays. And he never did.
"I hope [DeShields] does the same as he moves up the ladder," Coleman said. "The game never changes."