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Evansville Braves Manager Bob Coleman

Last Updated by Adam Smith on
Bob Coleman
Dave Johnson Collection

Bob Coleman looms large over the history of Bosse Field. Evansville’s “Mr. Baseball,” Coleman owned and managed the Class B Evansville Braves from 1946 to 1957, missing one season as manager in 1950. He also served earlier stints managing the Evansville Hubs and the Evansville Bees, spending  a total of 20 seasons as a minor league manager at Bosse Field.  He is remembered as a shrewd judge of talent, with a big personality, and a penchant for winning, bringing several championships home to Evansville.

Robert Hunter Coleman was born September 26, 1890 in Huntingburg, Indiana. A catcher, Coleman began his career in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League with a league-leading Springfield Senators team. In 1913, listed at 6’2” 190 lbs. batting and throwing right, Coleman signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and made his big league debut. By 1919, Coleman’s playing days were behind him, and he became manager of the Mobile Bears.  He would go on to manage a professional baseball team every season until 1957, except a few seasons coaching in the majors. He returned to the Three-I League to manage the Terre Haute Tots in 1921, winning the league title in 1922.  After a few more moves, Coleman became a coach with the Boston Red Sox in 1926.

Bosse Field would receive a big makeover in 1930: the brick façade we know today replaced the original white stucco. But a few years prior, the Evansville fans received Bob Coleman as the new Evansville Hubs manager in 1928.  Once again in the Three-I League, Coleman led the Hubs to the 1930 championship with a league-high 79 wins, but lost to the Danville Veterans. Evansville’s own Pete Fox was on that 1930 team for 7 games, and came back the following season, hitting .302 with 8 HR, 12 triples, and 33 doubles. On that same 1931 Hubs team, Coleman managed as “Hammerin’” Hank Greenberg hit 18 homeruns and 85 RBI.  Hank Greenberg and Pete Fox went on to great success, helping form the offensive core of the world champion 1935 Detroit Tigers.

Likely due to the Great Depression, the Evansville Hubs and the Bloomington Cubs folded before the start of the 1932 season. By July 15 the rest of the Three-I League disbanded. The Hubs were a Tigers affiliate, so in 1932 Coleman first took over the Tigers’ Decatur farm team (also Three-I), and then briefly moved up to coach with Detroit’s big league ball club.  During those lean Depression years, Bob Coleman bounced around the minor leagues, managing in Beaumont, Texas; St. Paul, Minnesota; Springfield, Illinois (his first team, as the Three-I League reformed in 1935); San Antonio; and Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1937.  The Scranton Miners were affiliated with Boston’s National League team.  Not the Braves, as one might think, but the Boston Bees.  The Boston Braves were one of the worst clubs in the NL in the 1920s, struggling to just not finish last. After making it over .500 for the first time since WWI in 1933 and 1934, the Braves had what is still the worst season in the history of the franchise, going 38-115.  This prompted the Braves management to look for a new name; the fans chose the Boston Bees, and so began an inglorious run from 1936-1940 under the new moniker.  No matter the circumstances, this began Bob Coleman’s run with the Braves (and Bees), with whom he would spend the rest of his career.

In 1938, Coleman moved back to Three-I, back to Bosse Field, to manage the Evansville Bees.  In five seasons under Coleman, the Bees topped the league standings twice, but lost in the first round of the playoffs each year. One might think the confusing details of this story are clearing up; alas, the convolutions continue. After more losing, Boston’s Bees became Braves again (the same team we know from Atlanta all these years later.)  Boston’s farm team in Evansville remained Bees, however. It was the 1941 Bees’ team that featured one Warren Spahn, already signed with Boston.  Coleman helped improve Spahn’s form to relieve pressure on his elbow.  The Bees went 80-45 that summer; Warren Spahn led the league with 19 wins, 7 shutouts, and a 1.83 ERA, at one point throwing 42 consecutive scoreless innings. The following spring, Spahn was called up to start for the Boston Braves.

In 1942, the minor leagues broke for war, so Coleman moved to Boston to coach with the Braves.  At the start of the 1943 season, Coleman was asked to step in and manage after the Braves’ skipper Casey Stengel (another legendary figure) was hit by a car.  The Braves continued losing when Stengel returned, and Coleman was officially named the new manager of the Braves in 1944.  But Coleman could not turn that ship around.  The Boston Braves were just bad.  In 1945 he was replaced.  With the end of the war, minor league ball would return to Evansville, and so would Bob. Coleman became the owner and manager of the Class-B Braves of Evansville in 1946. That year they were Three-I League champs, and again in 1948. In 1949, Coleman’s Braves won 74 games and lost 51, finishing first, but losing the championship.

Coleman held sway with the Braves front office. If he recognized a prospect, it didn’t take long to send them up.  When catcher Del Crandall came to play at Bosse Field in 1949, batting .351, with 8 homeruns, 3 triples, and 13 doubles in 38 games, “Uncle Bob” made sure the future hall of famer got called up to Boston.  According to former Evansville Brave and current Otters radio announcer Bill McKeon, Bob Coleman was close with ownership in Boston. They respected him.

In 1950, Coleman was called up to manage Boston’s affiliate Milwaukee Brewers, but he returned to Evansville after a season. Three years later, the Boston Braves franchise would actually move to Milwaukee, where they turned the losing club into winners in the first season there.  Bob Coleman had his own continued success managing the Evansville Braves until 1957, finishing first in the standings in 4 seasons, while losing in the championship twice.  These Evansville Braves teams did not win any playoff championships, but without a playoff in 1956 and 1957, they still claimed the pennant and therefore the crown.  1957 was the last year the Braves played in Evansville, and Coleman’s last year as a manager.   The Braves moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, citing low attendance.  It was probably no coincidence that the stands on the first-base side of Bosse Field were also condemned that year due to crumbling concrete.

This is a neat coincidence, though: the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series that same year, with help from Warren Spahn on the mound, and Del Crandall behind homeplate.  That championship team included Bob Coleman prospect Johnny Logan, who played at Bosse Field in 1947. Logan recalled how manager Bob Coleman convinced him to stay after signing with the Braves and then being disappointed to be sent all the way to Evansville.  Coleman told him, “Your goal is not in Hartford, Connecticut. Your goal is to play for the Boston Braves.” Another player that came through Bosse Field and helped win that championship for the Braves was Felix Mantilla.  Mantilla went from Evansville to the Jacksonville Braves, where he was roommates with Hank Aaron, before they played in the World Series and helped win it for Milwaukee.

Bob Coleman became a scout for the Braves organization in 1958. He passed away in Boston in 1959 at age 68. He managed 35 seasons in Minor League Baseball, 20 of them at Bosse Field.  “Uncle Bob” Coleman finished with 2,496 wins in the minors against 2,103 losses, a .543 winning percentage, second on the all-time wins list, holding the record until 1986. The Evansville Braves finished in first place in the Three-I League 5 times under Coleman, playing for the league championship 8 times, winning 4 titles.  With Evansville, Coleman won 8 Three-I League pennants, one with the Hubs, two with the Bees, and five with the Braves. He was also Three-I League Manager of the Year multiple times, and is remembered by players and fans as a legend at Bosse Field.