Choo Choo Coleman, a catcher for the Mets during their comically dismal early seasons — and a fond, chuckle-inducing memory for Mets fans — died on Monday in Orangeburg, S.C.The cause was cancer, The Associated Press reported, citing a niece who said he was 80, born on Aug. 18, 1935. Public records say his date of birth was a week later, Aug. 25. Numerous online biographical sources, however, say he was born on Aug. 25, 1937, indicating he was 78.Coleman had a brief big league career, playing in parts of four seasons, and his performance was undistinguished: Appearing in 201 games, he hit just .197 with nine homers and 30 runs batted in.
But he had the good (or ill) fortune of playing for the Mets in their history-making first two seasons, 1962 and 1963, when the team won 91 games, lost 231 and became legendary in its ineptitude.He stood 5 feet 9 and played at 165 pounds or less, slight for a catcher. His hands were suspect — he “handles outside curve balls like a man fighting bees,” Roger Angell observed in The New Yorker — and in 1963 he finished third among National League catchers in errors (15) and fourth in passed balls (11) despite starting just 66 games behind the plate. He was known for his hustle, and, Angell observed, he was speedy on the bases (though he added, “This is an attribute that is about as essential to catchers as neat handwriting”).Coleman was a Met fan’s Met, an emblem (like so many of his teammates) of a team that returned National League baseball to New York and was welcomed by New Yorkers still heartsick at the departure of the Dodgers and Giants to the West Coast after the 1957 season.