Earlier this year the baseball community lost one of its good eggs in Jerry Coleman. For nearly 65 years he made an impact on baseball fans across the country. Yet even if he had never set foot on a baseball field or in a broadcast booth, his life deserves to be celebrated.
Jerry Coleman signed with the Yankees organization as a 17-year-old free agent in 1942. After spending one season in the minor leagues, Coleman paused his baseball career in order to join the United States Marine Corps and fight in World War II. As a Marine Corps pilot he completed 57 combat missions during the war and was decorated with awards for his service. By 1946 Coleman returned to baseball and spent the next three years working his way up the Yankees' ranks. In 1949 he made the big league team out of spring training and would never return to the minor leagues again.
Coleman was the regular second baseman for three straight World Series winners from 1949 through 1951. As was typical of second baseman in the 1940's and 50's he was a good fielder with a relatively weak bat but was nonetheless a key contributor to those teams. He placed third in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1949 and made his first and only All-Star team a year later. The Yankees made it five straight World Series by winning again in 1952 and 1953 but did so without Coleman at second base. During those years he again put his career on hold, this time to fight in the Korean War. In his second tour of duty he completed 63 combat missions and added even more awards to his collection. He remains the only major league baseball player to see action in two separate military conflicts.
When Coleman returned to baseball full-time in 1954, injuries had taken their toll on him. Over the next four years he settled into a reserve role for the Yankees who would take home three more AL pennants and one more World Series championship over that span. With his playing days over, Coleman began broadcasting for CBS in 1960 as pre-game interview host. By 1963 he returned to the Yankees organization to call games with his former teammate Phil Rizzuto. He stayed with the Yankees for seven years and then returned to his home state to call games for the California Angels. In 1972, he moved further south to become the lead radio announcer for the fledgling San Diego Padres franchise. Coleman held this position until the day he died.
As a broadcaster Coleman could best be described to Yankee fans a mixture between the aforementioned Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra. He was chock full of stories from his colorful past and malapropisms that left the listener as perplexed as they were amused. Of course, this made him a fan-favorite and well-known around the country. In 2005 he was even given the Ford C. Frick award for his distinguished broadcasting career by the Baseball Hall of Fame. That alone would be the achievement of a lifetime, but six years later he was also inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame for his service as a combat pilot. He may be one of the all-time overachievers.
So happy 90th birthday, Jerry Coleman, and cheers to a life well lived.