Joe Coleman entered the majors at 18 with Washington. The Senators traded the youngster to Detroit in 1970. Coleman immediately developed into an ace with the Tigers. He helped lead the team to the postseason and set a strikeout record. The right-hander began to decline at 27 and was washed up by 32. However, his best seasons were with Detroit. Coleman won 88 games in six seasons and was one of the best pitchers in the American League over a three year stretch.
The Washington Senators entered the big leagues in 1961 and did not enjoy a winning season until 1974. They lost 100 or more games six times in that stretch. Joe Coleman made his big league debut for this franchise in 1965. Coleman was handicapped by a lousy franchise, youth, inexperience, and eventually a manager that did not value pitchers. Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters of all time, but did not respect pitchers. As a result, he was not the best mentor.
Coleman managed a 43-50 record in four full and two partial seasons with the Senators. In October 1970, Washington traded him to Detroit for Denny McLain. The Tigers also received Ed Brinkman, Aurelio Rodriguez, and Jim Hannan while Elliott Maddox, Norm McRae, and Don Wert went in the other direction. Detroit solidified the infield and earned an ace. Washington received nothing in the end.
Mickey Lolich was the staff ace for the Tigers, but Coleman practically matched him. The two combined for 45 wins in 1971. Lolich became the only man to compile 25 wins and not win the Cy Young. Coleman won 20 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.178 WHIP. He would win 62 games from 1971-73 and helped lead Detroit to the postseason.
The Tigers won the AL East in 1972. Coleman made the All Star team, won 19 games, and posted career bests in ERA (2.80), strikeouts (236), and WHIP (1.164). He saved his best for the playoffs. The Oakland Athletics won the first two games of the best-of-five American League Championship Series. Coleman started Game 3 and dominated. The righty shutout the mighty A’s on seven hits and set the ALCS record for strikeouts in a game with 14. Baltimore’s Mike Boddicker tied the record in 1983 and Mike Mussina surpassed it in 1997. Despite Coleman’s efforts, Detroit lost the series in five thrilling games.
The ALCS hero had one more great season left in his arm. He won 23 games in 1973 and then fell off with the Tigers. The franchise began a decline with a 90 loss season in 1974. Coleman’s win total dropped to 14 and ERA climbed to 4.32. Coleman went 10-18 in 1975 and Detroit traded him in 1976. The pitcher toiled for five teams between 1976 and 1979 before finishing. Overall, he went 88-73 for Detroit with a 3.82 ERA and one great playoff performance.
Joe Coleman was an ace for three of his six Tiger seasons. The right-hander won 10 or more games five times, and 19 or more three times, for Detroit. He began a major decline as age, innings, and a bad Tiger team took their toll. However, Coleman pitched one of the great games in postseason history and teamed with Mickey Lolich for an unstoppable right-left punch in the rotation.