Friday, January 10, 2014

A Tribute to Jerry Coleman

Last Sunday, a baseball legend and a war hero was lost. Jerry Coleman (September 14th, 1924 to January 5th, 2014) passed away due to complications from a fall in his home. Coleman had a nine year career with the New York Yankees and a five year military career. He served in World War II and the Korean War. He was the only major league player to see live combat in both wars. 

Coleman was born into a poor family located in Northern California during The Great Depression. His father was an abusive and violent alcoholic. After several years of suffering his abuse, Coleman's mother divorced his father and moved away with Coleman and his sister. Eventually his father tracked them down and shot Coleman's mother four times. She survived the shooting but was no longer able to work. After high school, Jerry Coleman signed with the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent.  

Coleman's career was delayed by three years of military service, before starting in 1949 after serving in World War II as a Marine Aviator. Once he started his baseball career, it took off. He finished third in Rookie of the Year voting and put up 1.6 defensive WAR at second base in his first major league season. The majority of Coleman's value as a player came from his outstanding defensive abilities. In his second year, he was an all-star and the World Series MVP, hitting .287 and putting up another 1.1 defensive wins above replacement. 

His 1951 season was another typical Jerry Coleman year, putting up exceptional defense and average offense. In 1952 and 1953, Coleman abandoned major league baseball to fight for his country as a pilot in the Korean War. He gave away his prime years as a baseball player in order to serve his country in Korea. In 1954, when he came back, but he was no longer the player he once was. An injury hampered his performance and derailed his career. For the next three seasons, Coleman was regulated to a bench role on the Yankees, leading to his retirement. In Coleman's career with the Yankees, he won four championships.

Coleman's player career may have ended in 1957, but his baseball career lived on. In 1958, he joined the Yankees front office, where he stayed for the next three seasons, before being part of a front office purge by new general manager Roy Hamey. He began his broadcasting career shortly thereafter.

Coleman conducted pregame interviews for CBS from 1960-1963 before becoming a broadcaster for the Yankees for the next seven seasons. After his Angels career, he joined the California Angels for two seasons. In 1972, Jerry Coleman started his career as the recently created Padres play-by-play man, a position that he would hold until his passing, with the exception of 1980, where he managed a Padres' team owned by Ray Kroc that included future Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith, Rollie Fingers, and Dave Winfield. He won 73 games in his managing career, before returning to the broadcast booth in 1981.

Over the next 40 seasons, Jerry Coleman was the voice of the Padres. He introduced "colemanisms" such as, "Oh Doctor!" and "You can hang a star on that baby!" to the Padres' broadcast booth. Coleman was a constant in the often-changing world of Padres fans, a world that recently saw three different ownership groups and two different general managers in just the last year and a half. 

In September 2012, the Padres revealed a statue in PETCO Park of Jerry Coleman. The only other statue in PETCO Park is Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. Last Sunday, the baseball world lost one of the greats. 

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