His calls reverberate to two Halls
Legendary Padres voice Coleman also saluted by Marine Corps
SAN DIEGO -- When Jerry Coleman first came to the city he has called home for more than three decades now, he'd already made his mark on many other places around the world, in baseball and beyond.He went from the sandlots of San Francisco to second base at Yankee Stadium. He served as a U.S. Marine Corps pilot in the South Pacific and Korea. After his playing days, he made a name for himself broadcasting in New York and Los Angeles. Then, in 1972, Coleman arrived in a new corner of his expansive world when he landed in San Diego, where he would announce Padres games for the next 34 seasons and counting. His next stop: Cooperstown, N.Y. This weekend, Coleman will be honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the 2005 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually to a broadcaster for his contributions to baseball. Not that Coleman came to San Diego thinking Cooperstown would be his next destination. "I never dreamed of this," Coleman said. "I had no thought of it whatsoever. I never gave it one thought of making something like this a goal as a broadcaster. I was just having a good time." After bringing games to Padres fans these last 34 years with his unique blend of old-school knowledge of the game and entertaining conversation that sometimes takes a turn toward the wacky, Coleman will be honored Sunday alongside 2005 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg as well as Peter Gammons, the J.G. Taylor Spink Award honoree for his career as a baseball writer. The Frick Award is only part of Coleman's Hall of Fame weekend, because there's another set of peers honoring him. Before he even gets to Cooperstown, Coleman will be inducted into the Marine Corps Sport Hall of Fame in Quantico, Va., on Friday. "I couldn't be happier about these two parts of my life coming together like this," said Coleman, 81. "I love baseball. I love the Marine Corps. And I love so many people I've met along the way in both." A double play of Hall of Fame honors. There's only one thing to say about that: "Oh, doctor!" That phrase, combined with his call to "Hang a star" on great plays, Coleman's unique turns of phrase and friendly ways have endeared him to San Diego baseball fans for decades. "What you hear on the air is what you get when you meet him," said Ted Leitner, his broadcast partner for 26 years. Part of the friendly demeanor on the air is Coleman's propensity for malapropisms -- "I get a little kooky sometimes," he says -- and Leitner has always enjoyed rolling with the punch lines. "It's like the way Harry Carey was in Chicago, and with Jerry whenever there's a mispronunciation or whatever else, he's always so great with that self-effacing manner of his: 'Did I just say that?' " Leitner says. Coleman's San Diego journey has taken him from the radio booth to the TV screen and even down to the dugout as manager for the 1980 season. He actually hoped to be a broadcaster for the Padres when the expansion team entered the Major Leagues in 1969, but he didn't get the job. For two years, he did Angels pregame work and sportscasting for KTLA in Los Angeles. In late 1971, he ran across Padres president Buzzie Bavasi, and both had the same thought: It was time for Jerry Coleman to become the voice of the Padres. It's been a perfect fit ever since. "I'm a Californian, and the people of San Diego have just been so wonderful to me ever since I arrived," Coleman said. "That's the most important part: the people. If the people don't like you, you're not going to make it. It's the people who make you, and the people of San Diego have made me what I am today. I've always felt at home with them." Said Leitner: "When he first started here, he taught people baseball. He really used his experience as a player and his congeniality as a friend to listeners to teach the game to people who were new to having a Major League team in town." By the time he got to San Diego, Coleman already had spent more than 20 years around baseball, none more thrilling than his playing days. He was a member of the 1950s dynasty that won five consecutive World Series titles. He was an All-Star and World Series MVP in 1950, and played for the Yankees from 1949-57, a career interrupted by military service in '52-53. Before his playing days, he served as a Marine pilot in the South Pacific in World War II. During his playing days, he served again, in Korea. He's the only Major League player to see active combat in two wars, and he earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses while flying 120 missions. "I've had three lives -- the 30 years I had with the Yankees, the 30-some years I've had with the Padres and my five years in the Marine Corps," Coleman said. "There's no way to match those. They're different animals altogether." To think, it's for having fun on the radio watching baseball that he'll receive one of the greatest honors of his life this weekend in Cooperstown. "Broadcasting's really the least of his accomplishments, because the others are so enormous," Leitner said. "Oh my God, what a man. He's one of the best men I've ever known."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.