Sunday, September 4, 2011

#240 - Joe Coleman

In 1974 Joe Coleman got a "10" card on the strength of his 62 wins the previous three seasons. Joe was only 27 when the '74 season began and with 103 career wins at that point, there was some speculation that he might be on track for 300. He had good command of three pitches: fastball, curve, and forkball, an unusual trio and could throw tons of innings without getting hurt. But Detroit quickly became a bad team and the wins sort of dropped off a cliff fast. Maybe that's what those big cumulus clouds represent building behind Joe during spring training.

Joe Coleman grew up in Massachusetts, the son of a major league pitcher also named Joe. The senior Joe had won 76 games up top by the time he finished in '55. Joe grew up worshiping Ted Williams, which would prove ironic a couple seasons into his career. Our Joe was drafted in the first round by the Senators in '65 and became the first player ever to sign who was drafted. He had a tough start in the minors, going a combined 9-32 his first three seasons in Single and Double A, although his ERA was a respectable 3.79. The first two seasons, '65 and '66 he got a few starts up top and did quite well and in '67 he came up for good, slipping into the rotation. He was the club's number two winner after Camilo Pasqual in '68 and won 12 again in '69 as the club achieved respectability under a new manager. That manager was Williams who insisted that Joe learn a slider since it was the pitch that confounded Ted the most while he was playing. Joe was resistant since he thought his three pitches were enough and quite a few slider pitchers he knew got injured throwing the pitch. It became a standoff and Joe would spend a bunch of time in his manager's doghouse, especially in '70 when the Nats resumed their losing ways and Joe got a bunch of early hooks. So when he was included in the big trade to Detroit prior to the '71 season, Joe was a pretty happy camper.

As usual, Coleman got off to a rough start - see card back - in Detroit. But things turned around fast as the wins, K's, and innings shot up, propelling Joe to his first 20-win season. '72 was just as good, especially in the playoffs when he threw a seven-hit shutout against Oakland, striking out 14. It was also his sole All-Star season. In '73 he won the most games of his career even though his ERA popped a bit. The Tigers hit the skids in '74 and Joe's win totals declined, first to 14 and then ten. He didn't help things too much as his ERA moved up around a run each season. In '76 things pretty much bottomed out as he went a combined 4-13 with Detroit and the Cubs, to whom he was sold mid-season. In '77 he went to Oakland for Jim Todd where he had quite a good season - 4-4 with a 2.96 ERA - for the felled dynasty as a spot starter and long reliever. After a nice start in '78 he went to Toronto in a sale where he wouldn't pitch terribly well although he sported a 5-0 record overall that season. In '79 he left as a free agent and signed with the Giants, for whom he would barely play, and the Pirates. For the latter team he would post great numbers in Triple A - 5-1 with a 2.78 ERA - but not good enough ones up top and he would miss the post-season. Over the next three seasons he would pitch a bit in the minors for Seattle and California but his time up top was done as a pitcher. Joe went a combined 143-135 with a 3.70 ERA, 94 complete games, and seven saves. That masterpiece in '72 was his only post-season action.

Coleman turned to coaching pretty much immediately, managing in the California chain in '83. He would remain a pitching coach in that system through '87 and then moved up to Anaheim as bullpen coach from '88 to '90. He moved to St. Louis where he was the pitching coach from '91 to '94. Then it was back to California where he got the same gig in the minors ('95 to '96) and up top ('97 to '99). He was the Durham Bulls' coach from 2000 to '06 and then moved to Lakeland, a Detroit farm team, from '07 to the present. His son Casey is currently trying to stick with the Cubs.

I already disclosed one of Joe's star bullets above. The record was broken by Mike Mussina in '97. The cartoon shows the rough start to his Tiger career.

Crossing leagues again, but this will be quick:

1. Coleman and Willie Crawford '77 A's;
2. Crawford and Bill Russell '69 to '75 Dodgers.

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