(Busch Stadium) Following their induction ceremonies into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame, both Vince Coleman and Ray Lankford sat down for a media session. Wearing their bright red sport jackets, the conversation began with the emotions and maybe the surprise at shedding a tear during their speeches.
“We had a conversation earlier about who was going to be the one to cry and I think we both lost that bet because we both shed a tear or two,” said Lankford. “Just in that moment, you get a little emotional. It was just a great feeling. Just to be up there–just like the old days, with the fans out there cheering for you, just supporting you. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
“I knew I would,” laughed Coleman. “I can remember a month ago, trying to write out this speech, and I started crying then. Then as I was going over my speeches, I always shed a tear. But I look at the guys I was surrounded with. Number one, being blessed being in the Cardinals organization then especially because I’m a speed guy and that’s what they put the emphasis on and I brought that atmosphere to the ballclub. And for Ozzie, Willie, and Whitey–that was our makeup.
“Under the hems of Whitey, allowed us to go out and play the way we did. I say all the time baseball is not a three-hour timeout. He didn’t give us any rules, he allowed us to go play like we were kids. That’s why we felt so free and had so much fun and the chemistry that we built, because we didn’t have any rules. You knew how to play the game, because you were taught how to play the game through the minor league system and when you got here you were allowed to go out and showcase it.”
After spending the first 11 seasons of his career with St. Louis, Lankford was traded to San Diego but returned for a final stint with the Cardinals in 2004 before retiring. Since then, he’s been relatively off the radar for Cardinals fans, enjoying life with family in Orlando, Florida.
“When you retire, just trying figure out how to fill that void and it’s an adjustment in your life,” said Lankford. “You just go through things because it’s like all of a sudden, you plan one day, then next thing you know, it’s over. You’re not around the guys you’ve been around for 15 years and you’re looking around like ‘man, where is everybody?’ so you just try to find ways to get yourself back on track. I was blessed. I’ve got a great wife, great family–and she kept me busy.”
Coleman left St. Louis after 1990, but never really felt like he lost his connection.
“Since the day I left, Ozzie and Willie and I–we’ve been joined at the hip,” he said. “Since Day 1, there’s not a week or two that goes by where we don’t even talk.”
Coleman has also been invited back for numerous alumni events and fantasy camps, but there is one thing missing he would like to change.
“I think the disconnection is that I’m in a Cardinals uniform coaching now,” said Coleman. “I’ve been in three different organizations and like I said, I would love to share my craft, my knowledge, and my skill set back here and be an inspiration for every kid that walked through that door here. (laughs) I told them, I’m a big advocate of myself because I’m politicking so maybe it works.”
Coleman has worked as a coach or base running instructor for the Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, and San Francisco Giants.
Arguably, the most memorable play in Lankford’s career came when he crashed into Philadelphia’s Darren Daulton, knocking the ball loose and giving the Cardinals a 7-6 10th inning victory over the Phillies in April of 1991.
“I know everybody shows the Darren Daulton thing–and by the way, Darren Daulton was never mad at me,” said Lankford, who saw the late catcher every year at a golf event until his passing. “I think one of the things I always took pride in was my defense. You know you can’t get a hit every time you go up to the plate, so you just try to take away runs. It was one of those things where George Kissell always said you’ve got to put something in the basket every day. So I just tried to steal a base or takeaway runs or drive in a run, try to be more of a complete player. And I think that came from the minor leagues preparing me for the big leagues.”
Besides giving credit to Kissell, Lankford also included Hub Kittle as being instrumental in his development. And a simple question from Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee continued him on that path when he reached the big leagues.
“If there was a mistake, one thing they’d always say is ‘what were you thinking’? and I remember one day, I said ‘I don’t know’ and he said you should always know,” said Lankford. “From that day forward, I was like okay. I need to know why I did this, how come I threw the ball to this base instead of that base. You always needed to be able to answer why you did what you did, because that’s just the way St. Louis was. They held themselves to a higher standard and you had to meet that.”
Check out PART 2 of the conversation with Vince Coleman and Ray Lankford.
photo credit: Bill Greenblatt/UPI