Jim Jewell: Jerry Coleman was hero and gentleman

My week in the Southwest corner has been spent thinking about what to write in this column.
Jan 7, 2014
Jim Jewell
Jerry Coleman

SAN DIEGO

My week in the Southwest corner has been spent thinking about what to write in this column.

I started with basketball because, to me, this is basketball season, not football. Even inundated with football bowl megalomania, I kept thinking of Lebanon in the 1950s and 1960s where this time of year consisted of coming in out of the wet and cold into steamy gyms. Being altitude challenged, I was destined to junior varsity, pickup games, and watching, lots and lots of watching basketball. But of all the sports I played, I think basketball was the best for many reasons.

So I began the column about playing pick-up games at the old Lebanon High School gym; the long gone Heights gym; or McClain School gym, which transitioned from the cafeteria; or traveling to Kittrell (Cripple Creek) with Mike Dixon in his green1950 Studebaker to watch Monk Montgomery nail every shot in a barn, or running across the snow to play in St. Andrews match box of a gym up on Monteagle Mountain in the JV game to watch Gary Hassman display his magical basketball prowess in the varsity game.

But I had a little click in my brain and discovered I had written about most of these before.

I had started another column just in case I changed my mind. It was about terrible grammar we now accept as OK. It began with a television talking head, a football “color” man driveling and beating up the term “tempo” without a descriptor and falling back on the jocks’ term of “physicality,” erroneously misused by sports nuts who want us to think they are intelligent: duh. I even had the column’s title written: “Tired of stupid and lazy.”

Then the sports weekend kicked into high gear, and I wanted to capture my elation. Vanderbilt kept me walking around the room in the second half of the Compass Bowl but played like champions to win. For my Southwest corner interests, the San Diego Chargers, after getting into the NFL playoffs against all odds, beat the Bengals in Cincinnati, and the San Diego State Aztecs basketball team proved themselves contenders by beating Kansas on the Jayhawks home court, the first time a non-conference visitor to Lawrence, Kan. had accomplished that in 102 games.

So I was wrestling with which topic to choose or wandering far off track with a sea story when I checked out my Facebook page. My younger daughter, Sarah, had posted a link to a sad story.

Jerry Coleman passed away Sunday in San Diego. Jerry flew under most headlines…literally. He was the San Diego Padres’ broadcast announcer since 1972, with only the 1980 season, when he stepped out of the broadcast booth to serve as manager.

He was famous for his gaffs as an announcer. My favorite comment was when he had the San Diego mayor, Maureen O’Connor in the booth for opening day in the late 1980s. They were discussing many topics as Jerry interjected the play-by-play calls in the conversation. When he noted, “That’s a slider just off the outside corner,” Mayor O’Connor was amazed.

“How can you tell what kind of pitch it is from up here?” she asked.

Jerry observed, “I don’t know, but the listeners don’t know the difference; it’s a ball.”

But Jerry was much more than an amusing baseball announcer. His kind don’t exist anymore.

Jerry was a baseball player extraordinaire. He played second base for the New York Yankees in their heyday alongside Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra. He was the Most Valuable Player in the 1950 World Series.

These achievements pale in comparison to his military service. He was headed for a college baseball scholarship but enlisted in the Marines at 19. Jerry was a hero as a fighter pilot in World War II, but that was not all. When the Korean conflict broke out, Jerry left the Yankees to fly again. In all, he earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 13 Air Medals. He was a true hero.

Jerry was also the quintessential gentleman. Maureen, my wife, met him in the early part of this century. Her lasting impression was “what a nice man he is.”

That was, in my mind, his greatest attribute, the one to which we should subscribe: We all can’t be military heroes or major league baseball stars. But we can be good people.

Thanks, Jerry.

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