Former Mets catcher Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman, one of the more celebrated members of the inaugural Amazins’ squad, returned to Flushing this past weekend for a card signing event attended by the New York Times’ George Vescey. While Coleman’s kept a low profile of late, toiling in a Virginia Chinese restaurant prior to flying to NYC (his first airplane journey in 35 years, reportedly). And what’s a trip down memory lane…without challenging Ralph Kiner’s version of legendary events?
Perhaps Coleman heard fans in line reciting famous Choo Choo anecdotes. This one really happened: Charlie Neal, who roomed with Coleman in 1962, was ragging him in spring training of 1963, saying, “I bet you don’t know my name.” To which Coleman replied, “You No. 4.”
Then there is the Ralph Kiner story about interviewing Coleman in 1962, and asking, “What’s your wife’s name, and what’s she like?” Coleman replied, “Her name is Mrs. Coleman — and she likes me, bub.”
On Sunday, Coleman shook his head politely and said it never happened that way. Kiner, on the phone from Florida, softly said it did.
Another part of the legend is that Kiner asked Coleman how he got his nickname and that Coleman said he did not know.
“When I was 8 or 9, I ran around a lot,” Coleman said Sunday. “My friends called me Choo Choo because I was fast.”
(“He could have told me that,” Kiner said, fondly.)