Jerry Coleman, the longtime voice of the San Diego Padres, died Sunday at 89. In his 71 years in baseball Coleman was everything from a decorated war hero to an All-Star infielder for the Yankees and confidante of Mickey Mantle, a manager and, since 1972, the voice of the Padres.
There was no immediate word on cause of death.
The Padres issued this statement: "The San Diego Padres are deeply saddened by the news today of the passing of Jerry Coleman. We send our heartfelt sympathy to the entire Coleman family, including his wife, Maggie, his children and grandchildren. On behalf of Padres' fans everywhere, we mourn the loss of a Marine who was truly an American hero as well as a great man, a great friend and a great Padre."
Tony Gwynn may be Mr. Padre and a couple Chargers may be more celebrated around San Diego for their athletic feats, but it's possible there's never been a more beloved sports figure in the region than Coleman, a humble and likable man whose self-deprecating putdowns were part of his makeup.
Despite his claims otherwise, Gerald Francis Coleman was an outstanding athlete growing up in the San Francisco Bay area during the Depression era. He signed with the Yankees but, before his career really got going, was drafted during World War II.
Coleman was a combat aviator, then returned to his baseball career, reaching the Yankees in 1949, where he played alongside the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto. Coleman made the All-Star team in 1950, when he batted .287 and teamed with Rizzuto as the Yanks' crack double-play combo. For a while he roomed with the young Mantle.
Coleman was recalled to the Marines for the Korean War, again flying combat missions, making him the only major leaguer to see active combat in both wars.
Coleman earned several awards for bravery and left the military as an officer. His longtime announcing partner, Ted Leitner, often called him "The Colonel" on the air.
Coleman's playing career ended after the 1957 season and after some sales work he drifted into broadcasting with the Yankees, lifting announcing legend Red Barber's "Oh, doctor!" cry as his signature line.
In 1972 he came west and became an announcer for the Padres, then in only their fourth year of existence. He was with the franchise ever since, leaving the announcing booth in 1980 to manage, before gratefully returning to the airwaves in 1981.
He was inducted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2012, the Padres held Jerry Coleman Day and unveiled a statue at Petco Park. He and Gwynn are the only two so honored by the franchise.
Coleman was also noted for occasional malaprops ("he heads to the warning track, he jumps, he hits his head on the wall, it's rolling back toward second base") but he was forgiven his lapses because people recognized him as a walking history of baseball. His gentle humor and obvious love for the game often made it easier to endure the Padres.
To borrow one of Coleman's pet phrases to sum up his career, you can hang a star on that one.