Choo Choo Coleman
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 5' 9", Weight 165 lb.
- Debut April 16, 1961
- Final Game April 23, 1966
- Born August 25, 1935 in Orlando, FL USA
- Died August 15, 2016 in Orangeburg, SC USA
"I now will say this for him, whether he can talk for himself or not, I had 15 pitchers who said they couldn't pitch to him and it turned out they couldn't pitch to nobody." - Casey Stengel
...Coleman made an appearance on the Kiner's Korner television show. The ex-slugger deluxe of the Pirates asked Coleman about the origins of his nickname. To which Coleman replied, 'I don't know, Bub.' Fazed by that response, Kiner then asked Coleman, 'What's your wife's name and what is she like?' Choo Choo replied 'My wife's name is Mrs. Coleman and she likes me, Bub.' Choo Choo was never invited to Kiner's Korner again!" - Al Pepper, from Mendoza's Heroes
Coleman was born in Orlando, FL. He played briefly for the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Leagues and was signed in 1955 by the Washington Senators. He was released in 1957 and later signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers, then was taken by the Phillies in the 1960 Rule 5 Draft. Choo Choo played in the minors with the Orlando team in the Florida State League in 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1959, the team being known by a different name each year. He was with the Macon Dodgers and Montreal Royals in 1960, and spent most of 1961 with the Spokane Indians, for whom he posted a batting line of .288/.344/.518. A teammate at Spokane was 35-year-old Don Newcombe. The 1961 Phillies went 47-107, and Coleman hit .128 in his first 34 big league games. The team as a whole hit .243, and several part-time players other than Coleman also hit under .200. The regular catcher, Clay Dalrymple, hit .220.
The Mets thought enough of Coleman to draft him away from the Phillies in the expansion draft. Choo Choo had his best major league season playing with the 1962 club, coming up in the summertime. He hit .250/.303/.441 with 6 home runs in 55 games, making him one of the top sluggers on the 40-120 team. Several players shared the position that season, including and not limited to Chris Cannizzaro (376 innings), Sammy Taylor (362), Joe Pignatano (147), Hobie Landrith (118), Harry Chiti (92) and Joe Ginsberg (13). Coleman also played in 71 games with the Syracuse Chiefs that year. The following year, in 1963, the Mets "improved" to a record of 51-111, and Coleman became the regular catcher on Opening Day. In a freak statistic, he somehow hit no doubles or triples in 247 at-bats. He hit only .178/.264/.215 while committing 15 errors defensively. Choo Choo spent 1964 and 1965 with the Buffalo Bisons, and for most of 1966 was with the Jacksonville Suns, returning to the bigs only briefly for 6 games, batting .188. In 11 minor league seasons, Coleman hit .251 and slugged .385. He also stole more bases than one would expect from a catcher. In fact, he received the nickname "Choo Choo" in his youth because he was fast.
He later owned and operated a restaurant in Newport News, VA then lived in retirement in Bamberg, SC. He married three times. At the time of his death in 2016, his niece told the press that he had been born on August 18, 1935, two years before the date listed when he was active as a player.
- George Vecsey: "Deconstructing the Legend of Choo Choo", The New York Times, January 23, 2012.