Category Archives: Philadelphia Phillies

In Memory of “Choo Choo” Coleman

Choo old

On August 25 last year, I posted an article on this blog entitled: “Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman: Seeing both a baseball sunset and a new dawning”.  It celebrated Coleman’s 78th birthday (born August 25, 1937 in Orlando, Florida). 

I received an email from Coleman’s niece who saw my blog post. She indicated his family had begun the process keeping his name and his story alive for baseball fans. A web site was in the making and other activities were being planned.

However on August 15th, ten days before his 79th birthday, Coleman died in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

In memory of “Choo Choo” Coleman, I have re-posted last year’s article. To me his baseball life was unique.  He experienced the sunset of Negro League baseball in the 1950s and had a role in the history of a Major League franchise’s new dawning.

 

Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman: Seeing a Sunset and a New Dawning

choo choo 1

The on field statistics of Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman; born August 25, 1937 in Orlando, Florida, do not make his baseball career anything special. But it is the timing of when he played and the teams in which he was on that draws interest when his name is mentioned.  He experienced the sunset of Negro League baseball and the dawning of a new Major League franchise.

Coleman was first signed in 1955 by the Washington Senators who had their Class D minor league team in Orlando. The Senators were in the American League which as a whole by 1955 as compared to the National League was slower in signing African-American and dark- skinned Latino ball players. The “invisible color line” which kept Major League baseball segregated for nearly half the 20th Century had been erased in 1947, but there were still two American League teams without Black or Latino players the year Coleman was signed; the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers.

Going nowhere in the Senators’ minor league organization, Coleman signed with the Indianapolis Clowns midway through the 1956 season. By the mid-1950s, integration had killed Negro League baseball by draining it of the best players and stealing the interest of black baseball fans.  The Clowns had become the “Harlem Globetrotters” of baseball when Coleman joined them.  The former Negro American League (NAL) team travelled from city to city to compete against semi-professional and amateur squads while performing on field antics designed to generate laughs for fan entertainment.

By 1960, however, there were Major League teams still interested in Coleman. The 5’9”, 165 pounds undersized catcher was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers that year and was then drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961.  Coleman made it to the Major Leagues in time to be on the worst team in baseball that season.  The Phillies lost 107 games.  Making his debut on April 16, 1961, Coleman hit .128 playing in 34 games

Choo rookie

The next season “Choo Choo” would become a part of baseball history for the wrong reason as he was chosen by the National League expansion team New York Mets. The team was 40 – 120 its first season.  And although Coleman had his best year statistically; batting .250 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 55 games, he became a part of the popular baseball lore about the hapless 1962 Mets.  His nickname “Choo Choo”, that Coleman says he got being a fast runner as a child, made him a fan favorite.

Choo met

He was demoted to the minor leagues after he hit .178 in 1963; 3 home runs, 9 RBIs in 106 games. Coleman returned to play briefly for the team in 1966, which would be his last season in the Major Leagues.

John Kennedy – Broke the Philadelphia Phillies’ “Color Line”

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John Irvin Kennedy’s Negro League baseball career was wedged between his two attempts to play in the Major Leagues.  After college (Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida), the slick fielding shortstop played two seasons in Canada on a team managed by former Negro League star Willie Wells.  Signed by the Major League’s New York Giants in 1953, Kennedy was released after one season in the team’s minor league system.  He played the next three seasons in Negro League baseball; 1954 – 1955 with the Birmingham Black Barons and with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956.

The talent level in the Negro Leagues had decreased by the mid-1950s as the best players had been signed by Major League teams.  However, Kennedy was an All Star while with the Monarchs and got the attention of the Philadelphia Phillies who in 1957 were the only National League team without an African American player.  He was invited to the team’s spring training camp that year and made a strong effort to be their number one shortstop.

However, just as other former Negro League players in the 1950s faced when signed by a Major League team, Kennedy a had problem about his age.  The Phillies discovered he was not 23 years old as told, but 30.  Some records say Kennedy was born November 23, 1934 in Sumter, South Carolina.  But, his official birthdate was October 12, 1926 in Jacksonville, Florida.

A younger shortstop was brought in, but Kennedy remained with the team and on April 22 became the first African American player to appear in a game wearing a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.  He entered against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field as a pinch runner.   Kennedy appeared in four other games and then was sent back to the minor leagues with an injured shoulder; never to play in another Major League game.

“Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  is the perfect gift for the baseball fan on your Christmas list.  For more information go to www.klmitchell.com  or http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

“Choo-Choo” Coleman experienced both a baseball sunset and new dawn

Choo-Ch00

The on field statistics of Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman; born August 25, 1937 in Orlando, Florida, do not make his baseball career anything special. But it is the timing of when he played and the teams in which he was on that draws interest when his name is mentioned. He experienced the sunset of Negro League baseball and the dawning of a new Major League franchise.

Coleman was first signed in 1955 by the Washington Senators who had their Class D minor league team in Orlando. The Senators were in the American League which as a whole by 1955 as compared to the National League was slower in signing African American and dark skinned Latino ballplayers. The “invisible color line” which kept Major League baseball segregated for nearly half the 20th Century had been erased in 1947, but there were still two American League teams without Black or Latino players the year Coleman was signed; the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers.

Going nowhere in the Senators’ minor league organization, Coleman signed with the Indianapolis Clowns midway through the 1956 season. By the mid-1950s, integration had killed Negro League baseball by draining it of the best players and stealing the interest of black baseball fans. The Clowns had become the “Harlem Globetrotters” of baseball when Coleman joined them. The former Negro American League (NAL) team hectically travelled from city to city to compete against semi-professional and amateur squads while performing on field antics designed to generate laughs for fan entertainment.

By 1960, however, there were Major League teams still interested in him. The 5’9”, 165 pounds undersized catcher was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers that year and was then drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961. Coleman made it to the Major Leagues in time to be on the worst team in baseball that season.  The Phillies lost 107 games. Making his debut on April 16, 1961, Coleman hit .128 playing in 34 games

The next season Choo-Choo would become a part of baseball history for the wrong reason as he was chosen by the National League expansion team New York Mets. The team was 40 – 120 its first season. And although Coleman had his best year statistically; batting .250 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 55 games, he became a part of the popular baseball lore about the hapless 1962 Mets. His nickname “Choo-Choo”, that Coleman says he got being a fast runner as a child, made him a fan favorite.

He was demoted to the minor leagues after he hit .178 in 1963; 3 home runs, 9 RBIs in 106 games. Coleman returned to play briefly for the team in 1966, which would be his last season in the Major Leagues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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