Unfortunately, I have to start this new year with some sad news. Former Yankees infielder and Padres long-time famous announcer Jerry Coleman passed away yesterday at the age of 89, due to complications from head injuries as a result of a recent fall. Coleman spent 71 years in the professional baseball field, winning 4 World Series rings during his player days 1949-1957 as the Yankees’ 2nd baseman. Coleman, who also donned #42 in pinstripes, may have made a name for himself as part of the Yankees dynasty alongside better-known players like DiMaggio, Berra, and Mantle, but really cemented his baseball legend status upon picking up announcing duties for the Padres in 1972, with only a single year since not at the microphone (he spent the 1980 season as the Padres’ manager) until this last season. He was a “hometown hero” of sorts in San Diego, honored in the Padres’ Hall of Fame, with broadcasting awards, and a statue in Petco Park, though he felt all of this was almost an undue honor at times.
You see, while baseball was a big part of his life, Coleman counted the days growing up until he could join the Marines, something he did in 1943, forgoing his first season of professional baseball to serve his country in World War II for three years. He took another leave from baseball, 1951-1953, serve again in the Korean War. Over the course of his military service, Coleman flew on 120 missions, earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, thirteen Air Medals, and three Navy citations, eventually retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Coleman, though reluctant to talk about his service, preferred to honor the memory of those friends he lost during his service — “the real heroes”, as he called them.
Many in baseball did take time to serve during those days, but only Coleman took the time to serve in two different wars. Whether he wanted to be recognized for his time on the field, in the air, or on the air, Coleman was one of those guys that everyone seemed to like and respect, a man of class and dignity. To me, that sounds like another couple of legends that wore that legendary #42 as well as a good number of my favorite Bronx Bombers. Sure, Coleman’s player numbers weren’t off-the-charts, easily overshadowed by the “names” of that day, but he was an All-Star in 1950 and he was a hero for all-time.
Personally, he kind of reminds me of some of the current roster Yankees that seem to get overshadowed today by some of our current “names”. I’m not naming any names (so to speak), but they are part of what makes the Yankees amazing, and they exude that Yankee standard of excellence and integrity, on and off the field. And honestly, those are the kind of players I prefer to watch. Okay, so the home run power sluggers are fun to watch, for a time, but if they parade around like divas or have no personal integrity, then they certainly become a lot harder to cheer for, at least for me. I’d rather cheer on the “good guys”, who may have less power-packed stats, than some hot-shot.
And if I was cheering on the Yankees in the 1950’s, as I most certainly would have had I been alive then, I would be cheering on those good guys like Coleman. But then again, there were some pretty good “names” he played with during those years. Once a Yankee, always a Yankee. And what a Yankee Coleman was! He will be missed, but his legacy will continue to be honored, both for his contribution to baseball and for his service to our country.
Thank you, Jerry Coleman, for being a legend and a man that we can honestly and sincerely call a hero.