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In memoriam: Jerry Coleman

Jerry ColemanHe may not have been a classic broadcaster, but the beloved war hero, long-time New York Yankee and entertaining Voice of the San Diego Padres had a passion for the game: Jerry Coleman passed away today.

He was 89. The news was first transmitted by the Padres.

Coleman was the Voice of the Padres for 33 seasons after spending time in the front office and broadcast booth for the Yankees when his playing career ended.

From the San-Diego Union Tribune obituary:

Before he ever played major league baseball, Coleman was a World War II bomber pilot with 57 missions flown in the Pacific theater. Only a few years into his big-league career, he returned to the Marine Corps and combat, flying another 60 missions over Korea and surviving a horrific crash.

Not given to flashiness in either his infield play or his personality, Coleman was overshadowed by the likes of Joe DiMaggio and roommate Mickey Mantle on some of the most vaunted New York Yankees teams of all time, yet he was hardly without distinction of his own.

He was the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1949 — and the AL’s top fielding second baseman that year — and MVP of the World Series the next year, when he set a Yankees record for double plays by a second baseman with 137. Batting a respectable .275 in six World Series, Coleman helped the Yankees win them all.

As Voice of the Padres, Coleman wasn’t always the smoothest in the broadcast booth, and fans could count on some miscues behind the mic — but most of the time these miscues were utterly charming, earning a Colemanisms nickname. How charming? Coleman was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award in 2005 for his major contributions to baseball. It was a deserved award. Here’s a few:

  • “(Joe) DiMaggio seldom showed emotion. One day after striking out, he came into the dugout and kicked the ball bag. We all went ‘ooooh’. It really hurt. He sat down and the sweat popped out on his forehead and he clenched his fists without ever saying a word. Everybody wanted to howl, but he was a god. You don’t laugh at gods.”
  • “(Dave) Winfield goes back to the wall, he hits his head on the wall and it rolls off! It’s rolling all the way back to second base. This is a terrible thing for the Padres.”
  • “George Hendrick simply lost that sun-blown popup.”

Here are some nice sentiments expressed by Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne:

“There are few heroes left in sports. Jerry was one, and even a greater human being and friend. A wave of sadness overcomes us at his passing. Our love to his family. We will miss him greatly.”

Here’s a statement from the Padres:

“The San Diego Padres are deeply saddened by the news today of the passing of Jerry Coleman. We send our heartfelt sympathy to the entire Coleman family, including his wife, Maggie, his children and grandchildren. On behalf of Padres’ fans everywhere, we mourn the loss of a Marine who was truly an American hero as well as a great man, a great friend and a great Padre.”

Here’s a statement released by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig:

“Jerry Coleman was a hero and a role model to myself 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 1949-1953, 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 I valued greatly.

“Major League Baseball began its support of Welcome Back Veterans to honor the vibrant legacy of heroes like Jerry Coleman. Our entire sport mourns the loss of this fine gentleman, and I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends, fans of the Padres and the Yankees, and his many admirers in Baseball and beyond.”

If you’re in the area, the Jerry Coleman statue will remain open until 11:30 p.m. tonight for fans who would like to pay their respects. Fans may enter through the East Village Gate at Petco Park.


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