Jerry Coleman - Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Jerry Coleman

Ballplayers Decorated in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: September 14, 1924 San Jose, CA
Date and Place of Death:    January 5, 2014 La Jolla, CA
Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Infield
Rank: Captain
Military Unit: VMSB-341 US Marine Corps
Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

Gerald F. "Jerry" Coleman was born on September 14, 1924, in San Jose, California. He attended Lowell High School in San Francisco, and signed with the New York Yankees organization, aged 17, in 1942. The right-handed hitting infielder was assigned to the Wellsville Yankees of the Class D PONY League his rookie year, and batted .304 in 83 games at shortstop.

When Coleman turned 18, in September of that year, he enlisted in the Navy as an Aviation Cadet. He joined the V-5 program at the Navy Pre-Flight School, St. Mary's, California, where he had an opportunity to work out with Charlie Gehringer's team. He earned his pilot's wings on April 1, 1944, transferred to the Marine Corps, and served as a dive bomber pilot in the Pacific, flying the two-seat Douglas SBD Dauntless, with Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 341 (VMSB-341). Coleman was stationed in the Solomons and the Philippines, flying 57 combat missions. He said of the Dauntless, it was “a magnificent dive bomber, with great control and resulting accuracy.”

When First Lieutenant Coleman returned to the United States in July 1945, he had been awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, along with seven Air Medals. When the war ended, Coleman was at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, learning to fly the carrier-based dive bomber Curtiss SB2C Helldiver - the replacement for the Dauntless.

Despite having missed three seasons due to military service, Coleman was just 21 years old when he returned to the Yankees organization in 1946. He was assigned to the Binghamton Triplets of the Class A Eastern League, and batted a respectable .275 in 134 games. He advanced to the Kansas City Blues of the Class AAA American Association in 1947, and joined the Newark Bears of the Class AAA International League in 1948.

Coleman made his major league debut with the Yankees on April 20, 1949, taking over from Snuffy Stirnweiss as the Yankees' regular second baseman, he played 128 games and batted .275, to be named The Sporting News’ American League Rookie of the Year. He was an all-star and World Series MVP in 1950, but his average dropped to .249 in 1951.

Coleman missed the majority of the next two seasons when he was recalled to military service during the Korean Conflict, and felt the recall was justified. “Speaking only for myself, the reason seems simple enough,” Coleman told The New York Times in 1952. “For an experienced flier, it takes only about two months to get back in harness. Starting with a youngster who has never flown before, it would take about two years before he would be ready for combat duty.”

Holding the rank of captain, he flew 63 close air support missions between January and May 1953, with Marine Attack Squadron 323 (VMA-323) piloting a Vought AU-1 Corsair ground-attack fighter. And it was not without incident. He averted death when an F-86 Sabre jet narrowly missed him as they headed for the same runway. Another time, his plane flipped over after the engine stalled during takeoff.

When Captain Coleman was discharged from military service for the second time, he had earned a further six Air Medals. In total, Coleman received two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals and three Navy citations.

Coleman was back with the Yankees at the tail-end of the 1954 season, and remained with the team through 1957. After retiring from the game, he served in the Yankees' front office. In 1960, Coleman became a broadcaster for the CBS Radio Network, and in 1963, began a seven-year run calling New York Yankees' games on WCBS Radio and WPIX-TV. After broadcasting for the California Angels for two years, in 1972, Coleman became lead radio announcer for the San Diego Padres. In 1980, he left the booth to manage the Padres, but after the team finished last, he returned to broadcasting.

In 2005, Coleman was given the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame. Named for the former baseball commissioner, it is presented annually to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.”

Jerry Coleman passed away on January 5, 2014, in a San Diego hospital, after suffering head injuries in a fall at home a few days earlier. He was 89 years old and is buried at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego.

“To me the height of my life, the best thing I ever knew," said Coleman, "wasn’t the Yankees, wasn’t baseball or broadcasting. It was the Marine Corps.”

Jerry Coleman

Date Added January 23, 2018

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