(Photo by Gary Quintal)
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, JANUARY 6- Jerry Coleman, a baseball lifer for nearly 70 years, and an American military hero during World War II and the Korean War, passed away on Sunday at the age of 89. Coleman died from head injuries suffered in a fall last month and the effects of pneumonia.
Coleman was an especially beloved figure in the Bronx and in San Diego. The octogenarian was an All-Star player and popular broadcaster with the New York Yankees and Hall of Fame recognized broadcaster for more than 40 years with the San Diego Padres.
The place of a man nearly 90 currently working in baseball and the respect he has earned elicited the following tribute from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, “Jerry Coleman was a hero and role model to myself [sic] and countless others in the game of baseball. He had a memorable multifaceted career in the National Pastime- as an All-Star during the great Yankees dynasty from 1949-1963, a manager and for more than a half-century, a beloved broadcaster, including as an exemplary ambassador for the San Diego Padres. But above all, Jerry’s decorated service to our country in both World War II and Korea made him an integral part of the Greatest Generation. He was a true friend whose counsel valued greatly.”
In the 1940’s, the California native was in the minors and served in active combat during World War II. He was brought up to the Yankees in 1949. Two years ago, during an interview at Yankee Stadium, Coleman humorously recalled his first game as a Yankee, “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 liked to joke. The second sacker’s first season was so good that the Associated Press selected him as American League Rookie of the Year. In his sophomore season, he earned the Babe Ruth Award as the World Series MVP.
Coleman’s baseball career was twice interrupted for military service. He was the only major leaguer engaged in active combat during World War II and Korea. He flew 120 missions in combat. Coleman valued the wartime service to his country far more than his many years in baseball.
The articulate and good humored athlete spent seven years as a broadcaster with the Yankees after his playing career concluded. In this position, he again joined with his double-play partner Phil Rizzuto.
After relocating to California, Coleman broadcast for the California Angels and then for four decades broadcast for the Padres. In 1980, he managed the Padres, but returned to the broadcast booth after only one season.
His excellence as a broadcaster earned him the Ford C. Frick Award in 2005 and enshrinement in the broadcast wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Anyone who had the opportunity to converse with Coleman was enlightened, entertained and uplifted as I was when I spoke at length with him during the 2012 Old Timers’ Day.
Anyone can learn more about Coleman’s interesting and worthy life by reading his 2008 autobiography “American Journey: My Life on the Field, in the Air and on the Air.”
Rest in peace-Gerald Francis Coleman.