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The Little Engine That Could

There's no truth to the rumor that Saturday's Knicks hero, 5-foot-7 guard Nate Robinson, grew up a member of the "Midget Mets" Booster Club. Robinson put himself into Knicks walk-off lore with his buzzer-beating 3-pointer against the 76ers at Madison Square Garden. The littlest Knick has already put his stamp on the game, and drawn the ire of head coach Larry Brown for being too much of a human highlight film.

The littlest Met to hit a walk-off home run also was the recipient of commentary from his skipper, Casey Stengel, as being a good "low-ball catcher," which wasn't meant so much as praise but as a commentary that the rest of his game wasn't too nifty.

Clarence Coleman, best known to Mets fans by the nickname "Choo Choo" (source of which is unverified) is listed at 5-foot-9, two inches taller than Robinson, but still rather small for a ballplayer who wasn't a good glove.

Anyways, Coleman was known for being a little quiet and innocently goofy. He claimed not to know how he got his moniker. One time on Kiner's Korner, the host asked Coleman "What's your wife's name and what's she like?" to which Choo Choo replied "Her name's Mrs. Coleman and she likes me!"

Coleman's Mets career was rather undistinguished. Statistically speaking he wasn't very good either offensively (.197 batting average) or defensively (in 1963, he made 15 errors and committed 11 passed balls in just 91 games). Yet everyone who knows a little bit about the history of the Mets seems to know his name, probably because of the one-of-a-kind nickname.

Everyone seems to have a Choo Choo Coleman story. Some are serious, such as how Coleman was one of the first black players in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies. Some are of a more humorous vein. There's the one about how he had to look down at his fingers to figure out what signs he was giving his pitcher. There's the one about him having a conversation with one Met and when that player asked if Choo Choo knew his name, Coleman replied: "Yeah. You're number four." Some appear to have been a little exaggerated, like the one about Choo Choo inventing the internet (well, not exactly, but there's one out there about him hitting a three-run home run to win a game, 13-12, that I can't confirm).

One that isn't is how Coleman won the Mets a rather wacky game towards the conclusion of the 1962 season. The Polo 9 built a 7-1 lead on Joe Nuxhall and the Reds through two innings, but Coleman was having a rather rough day. In each of his first four trips to the plate, Coleman came up with a runner on base, but made an out, failing to even get the ball out of the infield.

Meanwhile, the Mets, as was their custom then, gave away the lead by the 7th inning, as the Reds put seven unanswered runs on the toteboard. The Mets actually broke a National League record by surrendering their 186th home run of the season. A two-run eighth inning comeback, keyed by a couple of infield hits, got the Mets the lead back, but Galen Cisco couldn't close the game out, yielding a triple to Vada Pinson that tied the score at 9. Roger Craig escaped Cisco's jam, giving the home squad a chance to win in the last of the ninth.

Coleman was second man up in the ninth and after Joe Christopher popped out, he uncorked what New York Times writer Wilbur Bradbury described as "a high twisting home run, barely to the left of the foul pole in right field," exactly the kind you would expect from the littlest Met to hit a walk-off home run

True Metgets know...The only other Met 5-foot-9 or shorter with a walk-off hit is Wally Backman.


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