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Top Tigers countdown #57: Joe Coleman

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The second generation of a true baseball family, Joe Coleman spent six years in the Detroit Tigers' rotation.

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Search for "Joe Coleman" at Baseball Reference and you will get two results. The first, Joseph Patrick Coleman, enjoyed a 10-year MLB career from 1942 to 1955. He spent part of that final season pitching for the Detroit Tigers, picking up a pair of wins in 25 1/3 innings. The second result, Joseph Howard Coleman, is his son. The younger Coleman spent considerably more time with his father's final team, logging 1407 2/3 innings for the Tigers in just six years. A one-time All-Star and two-time 20-game winner, Coleman now ranks 57th on our countdown of the best players in Tigers history.

Year IP W-L ERA FIP WHIP SO BB HR ERA+ WAR
1965* 18.0 2-0 1.50 3.07 0.94 7 8 0 236 0.3
1966* 9.0 1-0 2.00 2.33 0.89 4 2 0 182 0.3
1967* 134.0 8-9 4.63 3.23 1.50 77 47 6 69 1.4
1968* 233.0 12-16 3.27 3.04 1.18 139 51 18 89 2.3
1969* 247.2 12-13 3.27 3.69 1.39 182 100 26 106 2.4
1970* 218.2 8-12 3.58 4.01 1.28 152 89 25 99 1.3
1971 286.0 20-9 3.15 2.65 1.18 236 96 17 115 6.9
1972 280.0 19-14 2.80 3.16 1.16 222 110 23 113 3.6
1973 288.1 23-15 3.53 3.68 1.30 202 93 32 115 4.7
1974 285.2 14-12 4.32 4.49 1.51 177 158 30 87 1.3
1975 201.0 10-18 5.55 4.49 1.59 125 85 27 72 1.3
1976** 145.2 4-13 4.45 3.66 1.52 104 69 10 85 1.5
1977*** 127.2 4-4 2.96 4.20 1.28 55 49 11 135 0.4
1978**** 80.1 5-0 3.81 4.27 1.42 32 35 7 101 -0.2
1979***** 24.1 0-0 5.18 3.72 1.77 14 11 1 76 0.1
Career 2569.1 142-135 3.70 3.65 1.33 1728 1003 233 97 27.5

*Played for the Washington Senators from 1965 to 1970.
**Played for the Chicago Cubs from June 1976 to September 1976.
***Played for the Oakland Athletics from 1977 to May 1978.
****Played for the Toronto Blue Jays from May 1978 to September 1978.
*****Played for the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979.

Joseph Howard Coleman was born on February 3rd, 1947 in Boston, Massachusetts. Joe Sr. was playing for the Philadelphia Athletics at the time, but made the Coleman family home in Massachusetts, where he was born and raised. Joe Jr. starred at nearby Natick High School, where he drew the attention of MLB scouts. He was the third overall pick in the 1965 draft, selected by the Washington Senators.

Joe spent very little time in the minors early in his career. He made his MLB debut in late September 1965, months after he was drafted. Just 18 years old at the time, the young right-hander held the Kansas City Athletics to one run on four hits in a complete game victory. He picked up a second win five days later, beating the Detroit Tigers 5-2. His spotless record continued in 1966 when he threw another complete game in late September, this one beating the ninth place Boston Red Sox. Coleman's minor league season was not so successful, though. He lost 19 games in 26 starts and allowed a 3.75 ERA for the Class AA York White Roses.

Coleman spent more time at the MLB level in 1967, but continued to struggle. He allowed a 4.63 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 134 innings, resulting in an 8-9 record. His win-loss records did not improve much over the next three years, but his other numbers did. Coleman improved as he got older, allowing a 3.37 ERA from 1968 to 1970. He lost 41 of his 98 starts, but pitched nearly 700 innings in those three seasons with a 1.25 WHIP. However, these numbers were relatively commonplace during the pitcher-dominant 1960s. Coleman had a 98 ERA+ during this three year stretch, indicating that he was actually a below average pitcher for the time period.

That offseason, Coleman was part of a blockbuster trade between the Senators and Tigers. Coleman was packaged with Ed Brinkman, Jim Hannan, and Aurelio Rodriguez in exchange for Elliott Maddox, Don Wert, Norm McRae, and two-time Cy Young winner Denny McLain*. The trade was a major bust for Washington, as Coleman outperformed all four players sent the other way by himself.

*Ironically, McLain and Coleman are tied for 18th in Tigers history with 19.5 fWAR.

Coleman's Tigers debut was slightly delayed after he was struck by a line drive while pitching in a spring training game in 1971. He fractured his skull and spent three weeks on the disabled list, but still managed to pitch 286 innings for the Tigers that season. This was the first of four consecutive seasons in which Coleman would toss at least 280 innings for the Tigers. He averaged over 230 innings per year in his six seasons with the team and ranks 24th in franchise history.

Coleman made his lone All-Star appearance in 1972, but his best moment came later that season. With the Tigers facing a 2-0 deficit in the ALCS against the Oakland Athletics, Coleman tossed a seven-hit shutout in front of a raucous crowd at Tigers Stadium. While he allowed 10 total baserunners, Coleman struck out 14 A's hitters to bring the Tigers within a game in the best-of-five series. The A's would eventually go on to win a decisive Game 5, and the World Series over the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds.

While Coleman's ALCS performance was impressive, his entire Tigers career deserves to be celebrated. He won 20 games in 1971 and 23 more in 1973. He allowed a 3.16 ERA while pitching over 850 innings from 1971 to 1973, striking out 660 batters to 299 walks. He averaged over five WAR per season, compiling 15.2 wins above replacement during that three year stretch. Even in a subpar 1974 season, Coleman won 14 games while working 285 2/3 innings.

Coleman's Tigers career would come to an end in June 1976. With a 2-5 record and 4.86 ERA in 12 starts, the Tigers sold Coleman to the Chicago Cubs, where he finished out the season with a 4.10 ERA in 79 innings. Coleman would go on to pitch for four more teams in the next three years, mostly in relief. Despite the low innings counts compared to his peak years, he was still an effective pitcher. However, a 5.18 ERA in 1979 led MLB clubs to sour on him despite his relatively young age (he was 32).

Coleman retired from playing baseball a few years later, but his career was far from over. He has served as a pitching coach, manager, and scout for a number of different teams throughout Major League Baseball since 1980. He was the pitching coach for the Lakeland Flying Tigers -- Detroit's Advanced-A ball affiliate -- from 2007 to 2011. He has been married to his wife, Donna, since 1982. Their son, Casey, made his MLB debut for the Chicago Cubs in 2010, making the Colemans one of baseball's five three-generation families.