Editor's note: On Oct. 12, 1985, Cardinals outfielder Vince Coleman gets his shoe caught in an automated tarp at Busch Stadium before the start of a game in the National League Championship series. in 2015, on the 30th anniversary of the event, columnist Benjamin Hochman caught up with Coleman. Here is that original article.
Deprived of a chance to be Mr. October, Vince Coleman went to see Miss October.
“We go to the playoffs in LA, and I was a guest at the Playboy Mansion — I go over to Hugh Hefner’s house,” recalled former Cardinal Coleman, who was injured in the 1985 National League championship series. “He knew exactly who I was. And he said, ‘You’re the guy that the female tarp was looking for!’ ” — as if the tarp had been trying to get her hands on the cool man Coleman.
At this point, all they could do was laugh. The Cardinals’ dazzling rookie suffered perhaps the most inexplicable injury in baseball history.
Thirty years ago this week, before Game 4 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Busch Stadium automatic tarpaulin rose and rolled from the Busch Astroturf, trapping Coleman’s left leg. “Vincent Van Go,” as they called him, stole a preposterous 110 bases in 1985, but the tarp injury ended his season. In the coming days, Ozzie Smith made St. Louis go crazy, Jack Clark made Pedro Guerrero throw his glove to the ground and Don Denkinger made even nuns curse.
The Cardinals defeated the Dodgers, but of course lost the World Series to the Kansas City Royals, and 30 years later, the tarp is as much a part of Cardinals history as Ozzie’s glove or Stan Musial’s harmonica.
“I’d seen a lot of things take athletes out of commission,” said “Tuesdays With Morrie” author Mitch Albom — who covered the 1985 playoffs — on Sunday afternoon. “Injuries, freak accidents, a guy putting his hand through his headlights, cutting off a finger with a steak knife, shooting himself in the leg — literally — but, honestly, that was the first time I’d seen a piece of equipment try to eat a player alive. There was nothing to do but shrug and say, ‘When you think you’ve seen it all ...’ ”
Recently, Coleman visited St. Louis. He’s 54 now. Sitting by himself in a private box during a Cardinals game, he was asked, would St. Louis have won the 1985 World Series if he had played?
“I would like to think so,” he said.
A RUNNING TEAM
They’re forever zipping around the bases, running through stop signs in our imaginations. The Runnin’ Redbirds. The ’85 Cards. Perhaps the greatest group of talent to wear the birds on the bat.
“At one point, I thought we had an All-Star at every position,” said Coleman, an outfielder and the leadoff hitter. “We had Jack Clark, Tommy Herr and Ozzie and Terry Pendleton — and Willie McGee in the outfield. That was fun in itself, because every night you saw an All-Star performance (by someone). …
And there was Vincent Maurice Coleman, the kid who just couldn’t be confined by the dimensions of the diamond.
“I don’t think there’s been a player like Vince Coleman since Vince Coleman,” said St. Louis native Jason Sklar, age 13 in 1985 and now part of an esteemed comedy duo with his twin brother, Randy. “I can’t imagine how intimidating that was for a pitcher.
“You think about that impact. Right now my son is in a 7-8-year-old league, and for some reason they allow stealing in this league. It’s the weirdest thing in the world. So basically any time anyone gets on first base, in two pitches, they’re on third. And that’s how I felt about Vince Coleman that year. … It was a magical time.”
The 1985 Cardinals stole 314 bases, to this day the most in the National League since 1920. And the team won 101 games, one more than this season’s squad.
Still, St. Louis was stymied by the Dodgers, losing the first two playoff games in LA.
Back at Busch, Vince was Vince. He tallied two hits, stole a base and scored two runs. The Birds won the game and headed into Game 4 on Oct. 13, 1985.
“I’m thinking — here’s the fastest guy on the field, and I’ve never seen a tarp roll faster than my garage door,” Jason Sklar said. “How the hell is Vince Coleman getting caught by a tarp? None of this makes sense.”
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
In the ballpark box that 2015 night, Coleman was asked how many times he was interviewed and not asked about the tarp.
“Never,” he said with a laugh. “If I had a quarter for every time that question has been asked, I’d probably be a millionaire.”
He then began to tell the story, again, still crazy after all these years. The Cardinals were on the field before the game, and Coleman and Pendleton were coming toward the dugout to get bats for batting practice. It began to rain.
“And (coach) Hal Lanier said, ‘I’ll get your bats, you guys stay right here,’ ” Coleman recalled.
“We were positioned between the foul line and the pitcher’s mound. Now the tarp is right where the first base box is. There’s a guy down midway in right field, and you have to hook it up to a truck and drive it out.
“He started doing that, we’re not paying attention, just like you and I talking. It would’ve either gotten me or it would’ve got Terry, because you can’t hear it.
“Next thing I know, it was tugging on my leg, it knocked me down. And you know how they say, ‘When you’re in fear of your life, you don’t feel a thing?’ This thing weighed a ton, and I didn’t feel anything, because I’m thinking it’s going to crush me.”
It was 1,200 pounds, spread over 180 feet.
And the tarp did what seemingly no catcher could do — it kept Vince Coleman from stealing bases.
“You see a lot of different stuff, but that was one of the strangest,” said McGee, during a recent visit to Busch Stadium. “I was right there on the field. I’m just glad he was all right and able to resume his career (in 1986) — because it could’ve been a lot worse. Could’ve been a lot worse.”
At first, the injury was ruled a contusion. He missed that night’s game, and the media had some fun at their TRS-80 Model 100 portable computers. Kevin Horrigan of the Post-Dispatch wrote: “He’d seen the Killer Tarp in action before. Like a Zombie it rises from its grave, a three-foot-wide, 180-foot-long section of the stadium floor that comes up, unrolling a motorized aluminum tube on which the rubberized canvas infield tarp is stored. One night, the Killer Tarp got stuck halfway across the field, forcing postponement of a game. But usually the Killer Tarp is kindly. Not Sunday afternoon.”
And Albom, then writing for the Detroit Free Press, described the fictitious arrest of the tarp for “attempted man-smother.” The tarp finally broke down to the media, admitting: “This ain’t an easy life, you know. How would you feel if every time you came out, people booed?”
A SAD ENDING
But an MRI soon revealed that Coleman’s left tibia was cracked, and his season was done.
The Cardinals won Game 4 and 5 in St. Louis, and in Game 6, the day after the Playboy Mansion visit, Clark’s homer sealed the Cardinals’ victory in the series.
Seemingly everyone in Missour-ee and Missour-uhh knows what happened next.
Up 3-2 in a classic Fall Classic, the Cardinals led Game 6, 1-0, in the bottom of the ninth.
The first batter hit a slow roller to Clark, who tossed the ball to Todd Worrell. As seen in a photo featured in bars across St. Louis, Worrell caught the ball before the runner stepped on first. But Denkinger called him safe.
The Royals went on to win Game 6.
The Royals went on to win Game 7.
“We could’ve won it in six games, if we get the call,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said at a recent visit to Busch. “But we got shut out again in the seventh. That’s the worst night I ever spent in baseball.”
St. Louisans forever ask “what if” in regard to Coleman in 1985.
He now lives in San Diego but said he watched as many St. Louis games as he could.
He finished his career with 752 stolen bases and played for five other teams.
But, asked if he’d forever consider himself a Cardinal, Coleman said: “Oh, of course. This is where everything started for me. It’s a special privilege to play for the Cardinals. There’s nothing better.
“I’m honored and proud and can easily say — I was part of one of the best baseball teams that have ever been assembled, being on the ’85 team. It was probably the fastest team ever assembled.”
The top 20 moments from Busch Stadium II
20. Vince Coleman and the tarp
Vince Coleman was nearly swallowed by the automatic tarpaulin at Busch on Oct. 13, 1985. He missed the rest of the NLCS as the Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers but he was missed sorely as the Cardinals were upended by Kansas City in the World Series.
19. Laga leaves the park
Journeyman Cardinals first baseman Mike Laga hit the only ball to leave Busch Stadium, on Sept. 15, 1986. He fouled a ball high on the first-base side, and the ball went out of the park and into a flower bed below.
18. Remembering Jack Buck and Darryl Kile
Solemn occasions became stadium landmarks in June 2002, when Busch was the site of funerals for Jack Buck and pitcher Darryl Kile, who died within four days of each other.
17. McGwire goes 545-feet
McGwire knocked a 545-foot homer off Florida's Livan Hernandez on May 16, 1998, and dented the Post-Dispatch sign well above the center-field wall. A huge Band-Aid adorned the sign the next day and for the rest of the season.
16. Oquendo takes the mound
Current Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo became the first position player in 20 years to have a pitching decision when he worked four innings and suffered a 7-5 loss in 19 innings to the Atlanta Braves on May 14, 1988. The game lasted so long after midnight that fans came from bars that had closed to get a nightcap at Busch. Supersub Oquendo barely could raise his arm the next day but was afraid to tell manager Whitey Herzog that he couldn't play center field.
15. Seat cushion night
Tom Herr hit a 10th-inning, game-winning grand slam to beat the "Pond-scum Mets" on April 18, 1987. It was Seat Cushion Night, and for obvious reasons after the sellout house celebrated this moment -- the last Seat Cushion Night at Busch.
14. Roger Freed's grand slam
Roger Freed, who had been reported headed to Class AAA by this scribe, belted a pinch-hit grand slam off Houston's Joe Sambito to erase a three-run lead in the 11th inning on May 1, 1979. Said Freed: "Tell Rich Hummel that home run was not in Springfield."
13. Brummer steals home
Glenn "Tractor Head" Brummer stole home -- with two outs and an astonished third-base coach watching -- to win a 12-inning game with the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 22, 1982. The pitch probably would have been strike three to batter David Green if the catcher had waited to catch the ball behind the plate and if umpire Dave Pallone hadn't abandoned his post to get a better angle on the slide.
12. Carlton whiffs 19 Mets
Lefthander Steve Carlton, who unfortunately gained most of his 300-plus victories with the Phillies, set a major league record in a Cardinals loss on Sept. 15, 1969. He fanned 19 New York Mets, but Ron Swoboda hit two two-run homers in a 4-3 victory by the eventual world champions.
11. 1966 All-Star Game
The 1966 All-Star Game. Gibson, one of the pitchers selected to the NL squad, stayed at the hotel and relaxed in the pool as he rested a sore arm. The other All-Stars played on in 100-degree-plus heat in the only All-Star Game staged at the stadium.
10. Forsch fires a no-hitter
Bob Forsch threw the first of his two no-hitters, against Philadelphia on April 16, 1978. The no-hitter was the first tossed at Busch Stadium. Forsch's second, in 1983 against Montreal, was the last.
9. Brock swipes 105
Brock swiped bases Nos. 104 and 105, breaking Maury Wills' single-season record, on Sept. 10, 1974, against Philadelphia. He would motor his way to 118 before the season ended.
8. Gibby sets a World Series record
Gibson set the World Series record of 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
7. No. 3,000 for Gibson
Bob Gibson's 3,000th strikeout came against Cincinnati's Cesar Geronimo on July 17, 1974. Gibson, the second pitcher to reach this plateau, ranks this one ahead of No. 8 on the list "because I knew I was going to get to 3,000. I didn't know I'd get 17."
6. and 3,000 for Brock
Lou Brock's 3,000th hit, on Aug. 13, 1979, off Chicago's Dennis Lamp. Brock's Hall of Fame candidacy hardly needed validation, but 3,000 hits to go with his 900-plus steals punched his ticket.
5. Big Mac hits 70
McGwire's 70th homer, on Sept. 28, 1998, capped a two-homer day and gave him a record that would stand for three years. Ultimately, it would be challenged amid the steroids controversy.
4. ... but first he hit No. 62
Mark McGwire's 62nd homer, breaking Roger Maris' mark, on Sept. 8, 1998. At the time, with Sammy Sosa chasing him, no one knew that McGwire would even win the home run title.
3. Edmonds' walk off
Jim Edmonds' combo of Games 6 and 7 in the 2004 NLCS. He won the sixth game with an extra-inning homer. He turned around the seventh with a diving catch in center field that saved two runs and led the Cardinals into the World Series for the first time in 17 years.
2. Ozzie's shot
"Go crazy, folks, go crazy." That was the late, great Jack Buck's exhortation following Ozzie Smith's memorable, game-ending homer against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series.
1. 1982 World Series
Since the World Series is the pinnacle of this sport, the only time the Cardinals clinched the Series on their home turf at the current Busch Stadium (1982), ranks first. Bruce Sutter fanned Milwaukee's Gorman Thomas on a high fastball to end a World Series championship drought of 15 years.
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