Classic Yankees: Jerry Coleman

jerry-coleman yankeesAlthough young men still are required to register with the Selective Service System, it’s been almost forty years since draft cards, conscription and the notice.

This winter, we saw the Yanks take a hit when they couldn’t get free agent Cliff Lee to come to the Bronx. They took another hit when Andy Pettitte retired.

But can you imagine if they had to take other hits? For example, Phil Hughes isn’t 25 yet. David Robertson turns 26 in April. Joba Chamberlain just turned 25. Just imagine if it was like the old days, and each one got their notice. What would the Yankees pitching staff look like then?

Some of us remember that Bobby Murcer lost two years (1967 and 1968) in the Vietnam War era. There was one case when Thurman Munson rushed to Yankee Stadium after weekend reserve duty just so he could be available to PH in the second game of a Sunday doubleheader. The fans knew he was on duty that weekend, and applauded his effort to get to the Stadium and contribute.

One person who lost time due to military service was Jerry Coleman. Coleman may be the most famous Yankee to wear #42 pre-Rivera.

Coleman served in WWII as a Marine aviator, and he was young at that time. He turned 21 just 12 days after the formal Japanese surrender upon the Missouri. He made it to the majors with the Yankees in 1949 at the age of 24.

Coleman finished third in ROY voting that year, and the smooth fielding second baseman (he also played some SS and 3B in his career) hit a respectable .275. Coleman wasn’t known for his bat, but his bases loaded double won the 154th game of that 1949 season—a do-or-die, winner takes the AL Pennant game vs. Boston at Yankee Stadium.

Coleman had his best year in 1950, hitting .287 with 6 HR and 69 RBI and was named an All-Star for the only time in his career. He won the Babe Ruth Award as the WS MVP (the official WS MVP award as we know it today wasn’t established until 1955). His fly ball drove in the only run of Game 1, and he delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3.

Coleman helped the Yankees to their third straight WS title in 1951, hitting .249. Then came the Korean Conflict, and Coleman was back into battle.

From Wikipedia: While a Marine Corps aviator he flew 120 combat missions, receiving numerous honors and medals including two Distinguished Flying Crosses. … He is only Major League Baseball player to have seen combat in two wars, though not the only player to serve as Marine aviator in two wars, a distinction he shares with Ted Williams. Williams, however, served in combat only in the Korean War. Williams served as a flight instructor during World War II.

I remember one article I read, in which Coleman, serving in Korea, heard a report about a fellow aviator in trouble, and that said aviator had to crash his plane. Coleman listened as that aviator was radioing in and immediately recognized the voice as that of Ted Williams.

Coleman lost almost all of 1952 and 1953 to his second period of service time. He only played in 11 games in 1952 and eight in 1953. When he returned to full time action in 1954 (a year where, while getting Coleman BACK from the service, the Yankees lost Billy Martin, Coleman’s replacement, TO the service) Coleman’s bat was gone. Never known for the stick, Coleman only hit .217 in 1954 as the Yanks finished second despite going 103-51. It didn’t help that Coleman’s keystone partner, Phil Rizzuto, got old. The Scooter only hit .195.

From 1955-1957, Coleman was a backup infielder, hitting .255 over those three years. Coleman retired after the 1957 season at the age of 33. He was a .263 lifetime hitter, OPS+ 83. He hit .275 in 26 WS games, driving in nine runs.

A few years after his playing career ended, Coleman became a broadcaster, and eventually made the Baseball Hall of Fame in that capacity (the Ford C. Frick award for broadcasting excellence). He broadcast for the Yankees in the 1960s, and called Mickey Mantle’s 500th HR.

Home beckoned, and Coleman went back to California in the 1970s. He broadcast the Angels games for a couple of years, and then went to San Diego to broadcast there. He managed the Padres in 1980, but that was his only year as a manager. The Padres went 73-89 and finished last.

Coleman is still alive at the age of 86. Jerry Coleman is a living hero, both on and especially OFF the field.

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3 Responses to Classic Yankees: Jerry Coleman

  1. super says:

    when did the yankees have a day for jerry coleman. the is year is??????.

  2. Carol Crutchfield says:

    Jerry Coleman was also a wonderful neighbor. He pulled the "whip" when we kids ice skated on the frozen pond in Ridgewood , NJ. None of the other parents even bothered to see what we kids were up to. And we were up to quite a lot! Great guy.

  3. cleveland says:

    Hi, Just heard Jerry being interviewed during a Gaints/Pads game in SD. He spoke with John Miller while the game was in action. Jerry was very sharp and witty. Pleased that I tuned into the game and was informed of his history. I think that I may have had his bb card.