In New York, Mets' Coleman became just one big, rotten apple

August 05, 1993|By Bob Klapisch | Bob Klapisch,New York Daily News

Even in his first day as a Met, Vince Coleman was angry. There he was in spring training of 1991, the New York press ready to see Coleman in uniform, help New York forget the ghost of Darryl Strawberry, a perfect PR coup for the Mets. And Coleman said drop dead. "It's all I been doin' since I signed is talking to the media," Coleman announced bitterly. Club officials had to practically beg Coleman to utter a few words, and the relationship between the outfielder and his public only got worse.

Coleman probably has played his last game as a Met -- conviction of any felony will void his contract -- and depending on the outcome of legal proceedings, Coleman's career is in jeopardy, too. Coleman asked to leave the Mets on Tuesday in Montreal -- a wish that was granted by manager Dallas Green -- and he returns home confused, humiliated and, of course, still angry at the world. Coleman has told friends he's being victimized by a hostile press corps since tossing an M-100 explosive near Dodger Stadium fans. Even now, as an accused felon, Coleman still doesn't get it.

He came to the Mets without any understanding of how to survive in New York -- that this wasn't St. Louis, where just one newspaper covers the Cardinals in a leisurely fashion. And in New York, there would be no Ozzie Smith or Terry Pendleton to lead the way. Coleman, a born follower, eventually would have the bitter Eddie Murray as his role model.

"Ozzie always said Vince should've never left St. Louis," said Rick Hummel, who covers the Cardinals for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Once he was on his own, Vince didn't know how to talk to people. There's always been other stars here -- Ozzie, Jack Clark, Willie McGee -- and now Vince was going to New York to be the big cheese. He didn't know to act."

Why did Coleman even leave the Cardinals? He didn't really want to, but the Mets -- in all their panic after losing Stawberry -- bid against themselves for Coleman. This despite the fact that Coleman was an artificial-turf specialist who would suffer on Shea's grass surface. Yet the Mets continued to fatten their four-year offer to Coleman, waving $12 million in his face when the Cardinals stopped bidding at $10.4 million. Finally, Coleman and his agent, Richie Bry, had no choice but to say yes to Al Harazin and Frank Cashen.

But that didn't mean Coleman had to like New York, where rudeness became his second nature. In Coleman's first two seasons as a Met -- when damaged hamstrings continuously kept him on the DL -- any questions about his health were the start of a mini-confrontation.

"How are you feeling, Vince?"

"What does it matter to you?"

After a while, a chilly truce was forged with the beat reporters: He'd answer the most necessary questions as long as you stayed away from his locker at all other times. Still, Coleman made his presence felt in the clubhouse, laughing giddily with Daryl Boston, the cackle driving some of the veteran Mets close to insanity.

"It never stops," one of the Mets said in disbelief. Even after a narrow Mets defeat, Coleman could be heard laughing, violating post-loss protocol. It was an odd trait for a guy who was so full of rage.

To this day, the Mets still can't believe the level of hostility Coleman displayed at coach Mike Cubbage, cursing him out in the now-infamous batting-practice confrontation. And Coleman was so heated in shoving then-manager Jeff Torborg last September, Torborg responded with his obscenity-laced tirade, suspending Coleman for two games.

It had been an ugly year, 1992. Coleman's name was already soiled by the Florida rape investigation, and coupled with several long stays on the DL, his public attack on Torborg, and the Mets' own failure in the standings, it seemed Coleman had reached bottom. That is, until he revealed that Shea's soft infield was keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.

In a story first reported by John Harper, then of the Post, Coleman said two years of lost stolen-base totals were Shea's fault. "He was dead serious, didn't even give his words a second thought," Harper said. "Astounded as I was, I managed to keep a straight face."

Coleman was ridiculed in the papers the next day, although to his credit, Coleman never said he was misquoted by Harper. Back in St. Louis, heads shook.

You wonder what Coleman's former allies would've thought the day he and Boston were rolling dice in the Mets' clubhouse, and Coleman, needing a six, spelled out his wishes to the gods. "COME ON, six. C-I-X," Coleman said loudly. Reporters stared at each other in disbelief. Surely, it had to be a joke, as Coleman, a phys-ed major at Florida A&M, at least had a college education. A different Met might've gotten a few laughs that day. Instead, Coleman rolled the dice in silence, cackling to himself.

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