Pops Coleman

"Ball players can't party at night and expect to be able to hit the ball or think fast on the diamond. How much longer will I be catching? I should be going good at age 75, don't you think?"
--Pops Coleman, while still catching at age 50
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Negro Leaguer of the Month
October, 2005

Clarence "Pops" Coleman

Born: 1877 in Louisville, Kentucky

Died: date unknown
Ht:5'-9", Wt: 180
Batted right and threw right
Position: catcher
Years: 1897-1930
Teams: All-Nations, Indianapolis ABCs, Gilkerson's Union Giants

One of the first star catchers in black baseball history, Pops Coleman pre-dated such early stars as Bruce Petway, Louis Santop and Pythius Russ.

Coleman starting playing sandlot ball in Louisville, Kentucky only 20 years after the Civil War; with his strong arm he immediately gravitated toward the pitcher's mound.

One day, the story goes, the regular catcher didn't show up for a big game and Coleman's team had extra pitchers. Coleman volunteered to go behind the plate and was an immediate success, leading his team to a 1-0 victory. He didn't hang up his spikes until a half-century later, and rarely played another position than catcher.

He was such a fantastic catcher, for so long, that Homestead Grays' player Bill "Happy" Evans listed Coleman, Double Duty Radcliffe and Biz Mackey as catchers who belonged in the Hall of Fame.

As a matter of fact, much of Radcliffe's catching prowess can be attributed to the tutelage of Coleman. Coleman was still a part time catcher for the Gilkerson's Union Giants when the young Radcliffe joined the team and Coleman took him under his wing and taught him the tricks of the trade--Negro League style!

Coleman spent hours drilling Radcliffe on proper footwork, using his powerful arm to cut down runners, and how to pad his glove with pounded steak to protect his hand from the sting of hard throwers--something that came in handy in future years when Radcliffe caught Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams and Chet Brewer.

More than anything else, Coleman impressed upon the young Radcliffe the importance of keeping himself in good shape and to avoid too many vices. While Radcliffe was known as a lady's man, he never abused alcohol, never used drugs, got plenty of sleep, and, as a result, also played into his 50s.

Many of Coleman's prime years came while playing for the All-Nations, on which he caught star pitcher John Donaldson, and with the Indianapolis ABCs where he caught the lightening fast Dick Redding.

In the mid-1920s, Coleman joined the Gilkerson's Union Giants and stayed with them for more than a decade. In 1927, Coleman played only occasionally, contributing mostly as the manager, first base coach and pinch hitter. But when regular catcher, Radcliffe, got injured and missed a month, Coleman came out of semi-retirement to catch almost everyday, including doubleheaders.

In 1929, Coleman caught mostly when Radcliffe pitched, and the two formed an air-tight battery. He also was on the receiving end of many games pitched by Cristobel Torriente, who in his later years was a fine pitcher.

Coleman was first, and foremost, a receiver. He called a great game, was the field general on the field, threw well, blocked the plate, and kept his teams lively. Coleman was a fine hitter, usually batting in the middle of the order, and was a swift base runner even through his 40s and 50s.

Pops got his fatherly nickname in 1909 by his Chicago Union Giants teammates who considered him a father figure.

Nearly 75 years after Coleman caught his last professional game, there are few catchers who have handled the position any better than the sunny-dispositioned "Pops."

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