In the span of three days, two prominent players, third baseman Terry Pendleton and left fielder Vince Coleman, left the Cardinals for free-agent riches. For Pendleton, the move rejuvenated his career. For Coleman, it was a setback.
Twenty-five years ago, on Dec. 3, 1990, Pendleton, 30, left the Cardinals after seven seasons and signed with the Braves. Two days later, on Dec. 5, Coleman, 29, left the Cardinals after six seasons and signed with the Mets.
Pendleton, a career .259 hitter with St. Louis, was spectacular with the Braves, helping them win three National League pennants (1991, ’92 and ’96). In 1991, Pendleton won the NL Most Valuable Player Award. He led the NL that season in batting average (.319) and hits (187), tied with the Giants’ Will Clark for the league high in total bases (303) and paced NL third basemen in assists. In 1992, Pendleton tied with a former Cardinals teammate, the Pirates’ Andy Van Slyke, for the NL lead in hits (199) and again topped NL third basemen in assists.
Coleman, who led the NL in stolen bases in each of his six seasons with St. Louis, was a bust with the Mets. With the Cardinals, Coleman three times had more than 100 steals in a season and never had fewer than 65. With the Mets, Coleman had season totals of 37, 24 and 38 steals. In each of his three seasons with the Mets, they had losing records, including 59-103 in 1993.
Plans for Zeile
The Cardinals had tried harder to keep Coleman than they did Pendleton.
With Todd Zeile converting from catcher to third baseman, the Cardinals figured Pendleton was expendable. The Cardinals offered Pendleton a contract for three years and $5.5 million. The Braves offered him a contract for four years and $10.2 million. Pendleton became the only Braves player besides outfielder Dale Murphy to be paid more than $2 million per season, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“I never dreamed about making that kind of money,” Pendleton said.
Pendleton twice won a Gold Glove Award with the Cardinals (1987 and 1989) and three times led NL third basemen in assists (1986, 1987 and 1989). In 1989, Pendleton also led NL third basemen in fielding percentage (.971).
“He’s a good player with good makeup and he will be a very valuable asset to our club and to our organization,” Braves general manager John Schuerholz said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He has good leadership qualities and he’s been with a winner.”
Countered Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz: “The Cardinals were justified in letting third baseman Terry Pendleton take his weight problem, deteriorating arm and narrowing fielding range to Atlanta.”
Pendleton praised Cardinals fans who “stuck by me even when I wasn’t playing well” and took a parting shot at Cardinals management, saying, “I’m excited about starting anew. I’m happy to go someplace where I’m wanted.”
Making an exception
Coleman and Pendleton were starters on Cardinals pennant-winning teams in 1985 and 1987. Coleman was named winner of the 1985 NL Rookie of the Year Award. He had 110 stolen bases that year, scored 107 runs and produced 170 hits in 151 games.
Though the Cardinals had rookie Bernard Gilkey available to replace Coleman in left field in 1991, they wanted to keep Coleman atop their batting order.
The Cardinals initially made Coleman an offer of three years and $7.5 million. When the Mets offered him four years and $11 million, the Cardinals made what they considered a major concession. They offered Coleman four years and $10.5 million, according to the Post-Dispatch.
“Although it hasn’t been our policy in the past to offer four-year contracts, Vince is a premier player,” Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill said. “Other players of his caliber are receiving contract offers like that and we thought it was proper to extend it a year.”
When the Mets countered with four years and $11.95 million, Coleman accepted.
“The Cardinals were in this thing until the very end,” said Richie Bry, Coleman’s agent. “He was torn by the decision.”
Asked by the Post-Dispatch what would have prompted him to choose the Cardinals over the Mets, Coleman said, “Match their offer, which they promised they’d do about a month ago.”
Maxvill denied that the Cardinals promised to match any offer. “He was hoping we would match it,” Maxvill said.
Noting that the difference between the Mets’ offer and Cardinals’ offer was $1.45 million, Miklasz wrote, “Spread over four years, it amounts to $363,000 a season … Why couldn’t the Cardinals come up with an extra $363,000 a year to keep Coleman?”
Coleman said he hoped to achieve 130 stolen bases in a season for the Mets. “I know when Lou Brock was 34 he stole 118 and I’m not close to being 34 yet,” Coleman said. “To steal 130 would be out of sight. You never know what Vince Coleman might do now that he’s got a new look on life.”
Coleman batted .270 with 238 hits in 235 games in his three years with the Mets and totaled 99 steals over that time.
In a 13-year big-league career with the Cardinals, Mets, Royals, Mariners, Reds and Tigers, Coleman batted .264 with 1,425 hits and 752 stolen bases. He ranks sixth all-time in steals.
Twice an all-star with the Cardinals (1988 and 1989), Coleman never again was an all-star after leaving St. Louis and never again played for a pennant winner.
In a 15-year big-league career with the Cardinals, Braves, Marlins, Reds and Royals, Pendleton batted .270 with 1,897 hits. Pendleton, Murphy and Chipper Jones are the only Braves players to win NL MVP awards since the franchise relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966.
Pendleton played in five World Series (two for the Cardinals and three for the Braves) and batted .298 with 28 hits in 27 games.
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