Former players make truly good baseball broadcasters on very rare occasions. Vin Scully, one of the most known, most beloved radio broadcasters in the country never played pro ball. Ernie Harwell never played. Jack Buck called games for decades and never played an inning of professional baseball. Jerry Coleman stands right in line with these legends, but he also put together a pretty nice playing career.
Perhaps he doesn’t get the notoriety because of the team in which he calls games. Perhaps his spot in the radio booth is hidden in the shadows of greats long since past and legends broadcasting a couple hours north. No matter the case and no matter the recognition, Jerry Coleman is one of the best radio broadcasters to ever call a baseball game.
At 87 years old, Coleman may have lost a step, but the memories I have of his voice describing the action on-field will stay with me forever. Coleman isn’t done calling games, but his prime has passed him by. Like the many things that have changed with the Padres in the past 40 years, so has Coleman. He can’t call an entire game anymore. He doesn’t have the same magic he once did. But every so often, he conjures up the beautiful tellings of the San Diego nine.
Growing up, I listened to Coleman on the radio. His “Oh Doctor!” and his “You can hang a star on that baby,” became legendary in San Diego. His no-nonsense approach to describing baseball action was appreciated by fans like myself who were looking for a story of the game and perhaps some baseball lessons along the way. Coleman’s deep voice and up-beat attitude made listening to games on the radio almost as good as being there. The nights in which I couldn’t watch the game, I had the sounds of Coleman’s voice softly flowing through my ears. His passion made the game play out in my head like a wonderfully orchestrated telecast might.
Jerry Coleman flew 57 combat missions as a naval aviator in World War II before returning to the states and playing baseball for the New York Yankees. In 1949, Coleman won rookie of the year. He followed that up by becoming an All Star, a World Series MVP, and playing in six championships. He owns four World Series rings, and is known as one of the best defensive second baseman the Yankees ever saw. But Coleman’s military service wasn’t over. He was called up from his inactive reservist status to active duty and went to serve in the Korean War. He is one of very few players to serve in both World War II and the Korean War.
Coleman played nine seasons in all and finished his career with a .263/.340/.369 line. While Coleman played for the best-known franchise in baseball history, he is probably better known for his radio career.
Before coming to San Diego, Coleman called games for the Yankees and Angels. He has been the Padres broadcaster for 40 years and served one year as the team’s manager. In 2005, Coleman won the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. In 2007, Coleman was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame.
Coleman’s radio career was not without incident, however. He is well-known for his on-air mistakes and humorous quotes. For example:
“I’ve made a couple of mistakes I’d like to do over.”
“Benedict may not be as hurt as he really is.”
“We started with 53,000 people. Half are gone, but surprisingly, most are still here!”
More Jerry Coleman quotes here.
Jerry Coleman will always be remembered in San Diego. He is, after all, San Diego’s version of Vin Scully. Coleman returns to the broadcasting booth in 2012 for his 40th year of broadcasting Padres games.