Last Sunday afternoon, I received a text message from a friend in San Diego that simply said “The Colonel died.” Nothing more, nothing less. Immediately, I had to google it to see if this was indeed true and when I saw the reports slowly start to pour in, my heart sank. Someone I’ve admired, looked up to and who has captured my imagination on many levels for the majority of my life had passed away. It may seem silly saying this, but in a way, it felt like I’d lost a family member. This feeling of loss has only grown since I’ve had time to reflect on my memories of Jerry Coleman.
I often take issue with the word “hero” but I look at Jerry Coleman and that’s the only word I can use to describe him. Looking at just his life in Baseball, which lasted over 70 years, I think it’s safe to say that he had one of the most impressive resumes imaginable. I certainly don’t want this post to be a stat and accomplishment driven tribute, but these are the facts and they paint a picture of how relevant Jerry Coleman was to the world of Baseball. If you were to add his military accomplishments, which lead to him being the only Major League player to see combat in 2 wars and resulted in his playing career getting put on hold both times, this list would be much longer:
-In 1939, he was a bat-boy for the San Francisco Seals of the old Pacific Coast League.
-From 1942 to 1957, he spent his entire playing career in the Yankees organization, where he played on 6 World Series teams.
-Placed 3rd in the 1949 Rookie of the Year voting.
-In 1950, he was voted to the All-Star Game and won the World Series MVP award.
-From 1958 to 1960, he worked in the Yankees front office.
-In 1960, he began his broadcasting career, where he did the CBS MLB game of the week.
-In 1963, he began his 7 year tenure as part of the Yankees broadcast team.
-In 1970, became part of the California Angels broadcast team.
-In 1972, became the voice of the San Diego Padres, which lasted over 40 years.
-In 1980, left the broadcast booth to manage the Padres for 1 season.
-In 2005, was honored with the Ford C. Frick Award inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
-In 2007, was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
-In 2007, was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.
-In 2012, in honor of “Jerry Coleman Day” in San Diego, a statue was built and unveiled in his honor at Petco Park.
Jerry Coleman passed away at the age of 89, yet as anyone familiar with the Colonel knew, he had to be the youngest 89 year old around as he was still quite active in both the booth and Padres organization. He had the youthful exuberance of a man much younger than him. He was still physically able, sharp, funny, and it was apparent to anyone who listened that he was still very much in love with the game of Baseball. An irrational side of myself honestly thought that Jerry would be around forever due to these reasons. He did not seem like a man approaching 90 years old and that’s a hard pill to swallow due to the fact that Jerry Coleman’s death was a result of a fall he had in December. Not due to age, disease, or whatever mother nature has in store for most people in their golden years. Due to this, I’ll always wonder how long we could have had Jerry Coleman? I’m convinced that some great years were stolen from us.
I associate Jerry Coleman with my love of the game. I’ve watched and listened to Padres games since I was a kid and Jerry Coleman has always been the one constant in that organization through my entire life. Along with Tony Gwynn, there’s not a person involved in the game of Baseball that’s meant as much to my family and myself and that’s the honest truth. I’ll always associate family with Jerry Coleman and to this day, my dad still quotes Jerry’s trademark “Oh Doctor, You can hang a star on that baby!” If I ever have children, I know that I’ll continue this tradition and while telling them of great (and not so great) Padres of the past, much like my parents and Grandmother did with me. Rest assured, Jerry Coleman will be at the top of that list.
To some, Baseball may be just another corporate sport filled with millionaire athletes and this may be true on a level. However, there’s more to Baseball below this surface and that’s why the game is special. Jerry represented this as he reminded me of the raw and genuine love of the game that many of us discover as children. He played in the Golden Age of Baseball and was one of the last remaining people left from that era who was still involved and relevant. I don’t like to generalize and disregard other generations, but the players from the Golden Age brought something to the table not found in generations since.
While watching and reading tributes to Jerry this last week, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t shed a tear a couple times. When spring training games start up again late next month, I won’t be surprised if this happens again. Baseball lost someone very special last Sunday and I feel as if I lost someone special as well. Jerry Coleman, you were a good one and will be missed by many.
In typical 90 Feet of Perfection fashion, I pay tribute to Jerry Coleman with some photos I both enjoy and find interesting. I hope you do as well.
Jerry and Billy Martin relax at second base during a 1950’s spring training. Coleman and Martin are two of my favorite players in Baseball history for various reasons and the fact that they both came from the Bay area certainly contributes to this. Although Coleman was almost 4 years older than Martin and they came from different sides of the Bay, I’ve often wondered if they knew of each other or crossed paths prior to playing with the Yankees?
In 1980, Coleman left the confines of the broadcasting booth to manage the team. Legend has it that Coleman took the job after the Padres promised that he could return to his job in the booth after his tenure was over. The Friars only went 73-89 that season, but up to that point it was the best record the club had accomplished in it’s 11 year existence.
In my opinion, the Padres should retire his #2 that he wore that season solely based on his significance to the team. Everth Cabrera currently wears the number for the team.
July 31st, 2005. Jerry Coleman during what he described as one of the greatest days of his life. He ended his acceptance speech with the line “On this golden day here in Cooperstown, a journey that started 63 years ago, I feel that finally, finally, I’ve come home. Thank you.” I will always remember this fondly due to the fact that I felt like one of “my” guys made it to Cooperstown.
Dave Winfield may have went into Cooperstown as a Padre but not without some controversy and Tony Gwynn was still a couple years away. Coleman may have played for the Yankees, but he was Padre through and through and it was quite special to see him honored with the Ford C. Frick Award . To watch video of his induction speech, click HERE.
“The best second baseman I ever saw on the double play.” – Casey Stengel on Jerry Coleman
I’ll never hear Jerry call a Padres game again and this is saddening. Yes, he didn’t do as many games as he used to, but the fact that I always knew he was there and still calling games, regardless of how often, was comforting.
I came across THIS video of Coleman’s last game in the booth and it made me both happy and sad. Andy Masur shared the booth with Jerry for what was the final home game of this last season, which resulted in the Padres beating the Diamondbacks on a walk-off single in the 11th inning by Alexi Amarista. Jerry finished the game by piping in with an ecstatic “What a finish!” This captured his childlike enthusiasm for the game of Baseball in a very heartwarming way.