Freak Accident Keeps Coleman Out of Game : Cardinals Speedster Suffers Minor Injuries After His Leg Is Caught in Tarp Machinery

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

The Cardinals, or at least Vincent (Van No Will Go) Coleman, got entangled by modern machinery Sunday night, suggesting that St. Louis, or at least Coleman, is not quite ready for the industrial revolution.

In any event, after going one-on-one with Busch Stadium’s automated tarp, after going under it actually, Coleman was not ready for the Dodgers, who to give them credit, would never be caught dead wearing anything so synthetic and certainly not 3,600 yards of it.

Coleman was not hurt as badly as first thought, just badly enough to scare him and keep him out of Sunday’s and today’s game. Tests taken immediately afterward disclosed no injury to his ankle or to his legs, despite the fact that he was essentially steam-rolled by the motor driven roller as it spread the tarp back onto the field. He will be re-examined today.

Coleman, who spent most of the game in the clubhouse before leaving on crutches, said: “I’m OK and I’ll be playing soon. I just don’t want to be charged with a caught-stealing because of this.”

But at the time, immediately after the tarp-rolling machine, all 1,200 pounds of it, had knocked the day-dreaming rookie outfielder down and crawled right up his thigh covering him with deep blue tarp, panic was the prevailing atmosphere.

It is largely unexplained why Coleman, who led the National League with 110 bases and is considered thoroughbred-fast, was unable to get out of the way as the tarp was being slowly rolled back onto the field after batting practice. He was simply standing there, in the light pregame mist, looking toward home plate when the tarp and aluminum roller, which is motor-driven by a grounds keeper, crept up on him and caught his foot. This was a pickoff play the likes of which he had never experienced.

Nobody understood what was happening. Dodger coach Mark Cresse said, “I thought he was screwing around.”

By the time Coleman knew what was happening, it was too late. He had become, someone later suggested, Vincent (Van Going, Going, Gone) Coleman, tipping over like a fallen tree. Said Dodger coach Ben Hines, looking on, “He kinda slipped and then it rolled up to his knee before they got to stop it.”

By that time, Coleman was screaming. “He was yelling, ‘Hey, hey, hey,’ ” said Dodger bat boy Howard Hughett. “He was yelling as soon as it caught his foot.”

Batting practice catcher Todd Maulding said it got loud, all right. “He was yelling for it to stop, and it didn’t and he fell right on his rear end and the thing kept going over him.”

Dodger catcher Steve Yeager, seemingly alone, was not panicked, having been rolled over once by Dave Parker, a real steam-roller, and having survived that. He looked up and surmised simply enough, “He’s going to be sore tomorrow.”

It is hoped that’s all he’ll be. But there was understandable concern at the time, as the most valuable set of legs since Marlene Dietrich’s had just been rolled flat, presumably into linguini. Were they broken, sprained or strained? Or would Coleman, paper-thin like in the cartoons, have to be removed from the artificial turf with a spatula?

As for removal, a stretcher would do, but there was unnecessary commotion regarding that, too. As photographers rushed to get pictures of the first man ever to become ground cover, actually embossed on artificial turf, Cardinal players and over-anxious security forces came out swinging. A UPI photographer from Columbus, Ron Kuntz, said the players were yelling, “No pictures, no pictures,” And that, “Ozzie Smith almost got me.” And the security men got enthusiastic, too. “I got hit by four or five of them.”

Smith said he was upset because the photographers simply weren’t supposed to be on the field. “When we’re not able to do our job, that we’re paid to do,” he said, well, you presumably put up dukes, he seemed to indicate.

It was more than an hour later before any announcement was made concerning Coleman’s injury and by then, as reporters began to arrive at the stadium and learn of the pregame accident, interest was keen. It had become the most significant lower-leg injury since Achilles so it was natural that a crowd of some 200 reporters had assembled. This gave Dr. Stan London, the team physician, pause. “This is the biggest crowd I’ve seen since I had my ritual circumcision,” he said.

Dr. London said, basically, Coleman would be all right and that he suffered, at worst, an “evulsion of skin on the leg.” This turned out to mean he suffered a scrape.

“The circulatory system was intact,” he reported. “The neurological system was intact. The ankle, foot and knee were also intact. The X-rays were negative. There was no evidence of a fracture and there was no apparent tissue damage.”

As for Coleman’s return, Dr. London said: “Vince will be re-evaluated and examined Monday. If he checks out tomorrow like he did tonight then it will be up to him as to how much pain he can tolerate.”

Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog, perhaps reflecting that Coleman’s replacement, Tito Landrum went four for five with three RBIs, said, “From what the doctor said he will not be ready, but he will probably be ready by Wednesday.”

In the meantime, chalk it all up to technology, which has insinuated itself into an old-fashioned game by way of video scoreboards, artificial turf and now motor-driven tarp rollers that eat people. Notice that venerable Augie Busch, owner of the Cardinals and all they drink, takes his pregame laps around the field behind a team of Clydesdales.

Times staff writer Gordon Edes contributed to this story.