What comes to mind when I mention “1962?” Is it Casey Stengel’s fractured fairy tales? Is it Marvelous Marv and his unintentional hilarity in the environs of the first base bag? Is it sad-sack starter Roger Craig, a very good pitcher both before and after his Met tenure? Is it the sheer futile enormity of 40-120?
When I think of the ’62 Mets, I think of all this, but first, I think of Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman. Legend has told us that the speedy backstop – always carrying the disclaimer “for a catcher” – appeared to be a semi-literate, taciturn fella, whose way with a malaprop and a convoluted sentence could rival Rickey Henderson, or – dare I say it? – Casey, himself. Apparently terrible with names, he called everybody “Bub.” He bunked with second baseman Charlie Neal for the entire 1962 season and in spring training 1963, Neal challenged him to recall his erstwhile roommate’s name. “I know you,” Mr. Coleman reputedly replied, “You number four.” The unique Choo Choo interview style has been immortalized by Ralph Kiner, who had Coleman as a guest on an early Kiner’s Korner program. Supposedly, the interview went like this…
RK: “Choo Choo, how’d you get your nickname?”
RK (presumably shuffling notes on paper and in his mind as to what on Earth to ask next): “Well, what’s your wife’s name and what’s she like?”
CC: “Her name’s ‘Mrs. Coleman’ and she likes me, Bub.”
Now, to be real, if the ’62 Mets weren’t such a cast of has-beens and never-weres, there would be no way Choo Choo Coleman would be a starting catcher on a major league team. His statistics – like many of those initial Met squads – were literally laughable. It didn’t matter, though. Those early, very forgiving Met fans took Choo Choo to heart and he became a huge favorite in the stands. Such was life at the Polo Grounds. After his baseball days, Mr. Coleman carved a life for himself in Florida and South Carolina, never venturing back to the place that loved him.
The occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Mets has already caused a series of nostalgic exercises to be commenced. One of them was a day of autograph signings, featuring all manner of Met, celebrated and obscure. It was this occasion that brought Choo Choo Coleman back to New York for the first time since 1966. Apparently, he was the hit of the show. Old friend George Vecsey – interrupting his own semi-retirement – was there and chronicled the return of Choo Choo for the Times.
It was a fitting welcome home for Choo Choo Coleman, whose wife’s name was Odessa.