He Did What? Vince Coleman’s Season in the South Atlantic League


Just the mere mention of his name elicits the thought of speed – raw, unadulterated speed.  While Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson was a more complete player and better leadoff hitter, no one in baseball may have been faster than Vincent Maurice Coleman.

There have been eight instances in baseball history where a player has reached 100 stolen bases in a season: three by Henderson, three by Coleman, and Maury Wills and Lou Brock each accomplished the feat one time. During those three years (1980, 1982-83), Henderson swiped 338 bases and was caught 87 times, a success rate of 79.5%.  Coleman, during his 100+ seasons (1985-87), nabbed 326 bases and was thrown out 61 times, a success rate of 84.2% – a far higher rate than Henderson’s.

Vince Coleman was speed, and it was quite evident from the onset of his professional career.

Back in 1983, his second year in professional baseball, Coleman put together one of the most remarkable minor league seasons, perhaps, in the history of the game.  Sure, his overall batting line – .350/.431/.399 – is noteworthy enough, but it’s not what he did in the batter’s box as much as what he did on the base paths.

In only 113 games, roughly 78% of the Sally League schedule, Coleman swiped 145 bases.  One-hundred and forty-five!  Think about that for a minute.  Between his stolen bases and caught stealing, the man, according to baseballreference.com, nicknamed “Vincent Van Go” averaged more than 1.5 stolen base attempts per game.  But going even further – because that’s what baseball nerds do – Vince Coleman attempted a stolen base, on average, about 80% of the time he was on base.  Eighty-percent!  Four out of five times he set foot on base he attempted to swipe the next one.

Coleman would be promoted to Triple-A the following season, 1984.  He hit .257/.323/.334 – numbers very reminiscent of his big league career line, .264/.324/.345 – and swipe another 101 bases, but as far as peak seasons are concerned, 1983 was Vince Coleman’s.  He would go on to a semi-successful 13-year big league career (his career offensive production was three percent below the league average) and eventually rank as the sixth greatest base stealer of all-time.  But he will forever be remembered for his speed, that ability allowed him to swipe more than 1.5 bases every game back in 1983.