Choo Choo Coleman R.I.P.
by John Delach
Several Metropolitan daily newspapers reported the death of Clarence (Choo Choo) Coleman on August 16. The New York Times reported his age as either 78 or 80. Their obituary included two quotes by Roger Angell about Choo Choo: “He handles out side curve balls like a man fighting bees.” And a second referring to his speed on the bases: “This is an attribute that is about as essential to catchers as neat handwriting.”
Their obituary included the following story about Choo Choo (who called everyone “Bub.”) “Perhaps the best known anecdote about Coleman is one that, in later years, he said never happened, though Ralph Kiner, the former slugger and broadcaster, assured The New York Times that it had. In 1962, Kiner interviewed Coleman (on his post-game show, Kiner’s Korner) and asked, ‘What’s your wife’s name and what’s she like?’ Coleman replied, ‘Her name is Mrs. Coleman – and she likes me, Bub.”
Choo Choo also had the curious distinction of being the only baseball player I ever encountered when I was young. It happened in the spring of 1966. I left Shea Stadium with my friends, Bill, Jimmy about an hour after a game ended, We had successfully made our way into the private Diamond Club for a couple of beers before we departed for Manhattan. I wrote about it in 2005 as part of a piece called “Shea Stadium Nights:”
Since the baseball game ended early on a Friday night in May, Manhattan beckoned to us. Being city kids, cars weren’t a factor so we climbed the Willets Point-Shea Stadium elevated station to catch the No. 7 train bound for Times Square. As we waited for the train to arrive, we noticed a fellow standing against the station’s wall. Jimmy looked at him several times before deciding to take the chance that he recognized this man. Jimmy walked away from Bill and me to speak to him. Instinctively, we quieted to hear their exchange. Jimmy looked at him and said, “You’re Choo Choo Coleman.”
Coleman looked back at Jimmy and said, “Bub, that’s cool, people don’t usually recognize me.”
We all asked for his autograph. He had been the Mets’ best catcher during 1962 and 1963, their first two seasons. We’d all seen him play at the Polo Grounds. Labeled, “a defensive catcher,” his hitting left much to be desired. Clarence, “Choo Choo” Coleman played in 55 games in 1962 hitting .250 and 106 games in 1963 hitting .178. The following year, he was farmed out to a minor league team and he did not make it back to the Mets until the 1966.
We said good-bye when the train arrived. We talked about how strange it was that a baseball player had no alternative but to take the subway alone.
The next day, the Mets cut Choo Choo. His come-back had only lasted six games before we met him and that subway ride was his last trip home from the Show. Sad, but that’s where a .188 average will take a defensive player.
R.I.P. Choo Choo