Monday, July 2, 2012

Yankees Elder Statesman

By Howard Goldin

BRONX, NEW YORK, July 2- The only franchise in Major League Baseball that recognizes and regular honors its history is the New York Yankees. More than four dozen Yankees were at Yankee Stadium on a brutally hot afternoon to take part in the 66th annual Old Timers’ Day ceremony on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday’s contingent of former stars included Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson and Reggie Jackson. The widows of Thurman Munson, Elston Howard, Catfish Hunter, Jill Martin and Bobby Murcer were there to visit with the teammates of their late husbands.

The eldest of the 2012 Yankees returnees was Jerry Coleman. The 87- year old, a regular at the annual Yankees reunion, flew cross-country from his native California to be in the Bronx for the event. The very good humored San Diego Padres broadcaster said of the flight, They made the seats smaller. I had to sit like this. He then imitated someone clinching his body to be as narrow as possible.

He spoke with sincere gratitude of the treatment the former Yankees received from the organization, “You wouldn’t believe all they do for us, the transportation arrangements, the hotel, the meals and the cruise last night. Coleman’s description is valid as the Marketing department led by Senior Vice President Debbie Tymon arranges all such events with class and consideration.

Coleman humorously recalled his first game with the Yankees in 1949, The first play of the game was a ground ball that went right between my legs. The next play was a one-hopper that came to me and resulted in a double play. After that I said, ‘I’m saved.’

Coleman’s playing career was far better than he likes to joke. The second baseman’s first season was so good that the Associated Press chose him as American League Rookie of the Year. In his sophomore season, he received the Babe Ruth Award as World Series MVP.

When asked which of his teammates he was closest to, he pointed to the man sitting next to him in the dugout, Dr. Bobby Brown. Brown, one month younger than Coleman was a schoolmate of Coleman’s in San Francisco. Brown, after his playing days ended, became a renowned cardiologist and later President of the American League. Another teammate of the two, Charlie Silvera, back-up catcher to Yogi Berra, was a childhood friend as well.

Coleman’s baseball career was twice interrupted for military service. He was the only Major League player engaged in active combat duty during World War II and the Korean War. He values the wartime service to his country in much higher terms than he does his years in baseball.

The articulate Coleman spent seven years as a broadcaster with the Yankees after his playing career concluded where he again teamed with his double play partner, Phil Rizzuto.

After relocating to California, Coleman broadcast for the California Angels for two seasons. In 1972, Coleman began a position he still holds as a broadcaster for the Padres. He missed only one season as a broadcaster, 1980, when he managed the Padres.

His excellence as a broadcaster earned him the Ford C. Frick Award in 2005 and enshrinement in the broadcast win of the baseball Hall of Fame. Currently Coleman does not travel with the Padres. He works approximately 30 home games during the season.

Despite the difference in age, he appears close with the players on the team. While sitting in the White Sox dugout before the Old Timers’  were introduced, the broadcaster engaged in very friendly conversation and humorous banter with former Padres, Jake Peavy and Orlando Hudson.

Anyone who gets the opportunity to converse with the octogenarian will be enlightened, entertained and uplifted as I was on Sunday.

One can also learn a great deal more of his interesting life by reading his 2008 autobiography, American Journey: My Life on the Field, in the Air and on the Air.

(Photos by Gary Quintal)
Paulie’s Back in Pinstripes: Yankee legends braved the heat and returned to the Bronx to be a part of Old Timer’s Day. 

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