Jerry Coleman, who passed away on Sunday, became one of the most popular people in San Diego while broadcasting Padres games from 1972 to 2010, a career that earned him a place in the broadcasting wing of the Hall of Fame. But When a well-known Yankee player passes away, headlines often read something like, "Yankee Great Jerry Coleman Dies."
The truth was that Coleman was not a great. He was pretty good and he had his moments and was very good at getting on base, but the Yankees often had someone they preferred more. There were Phil Rizzuto and Gil McDougald and later Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson. It did not help that Coleman basically lost five years flying combat missions in both World War II and the Korean War. The JAWS system of ranking players ranks Jerry Coleman as the 231st best second baseman in baseball history. Coleman was released by the Yankees after the 1957 season ... after he was the team’s best player in the 1957 World Series.
You never hear much about Coleman’s series in 1957 except for a blip on his Wikipedia page. The reason is that the Yankees lost that series in seven games to a Milwaukee Braves team led by Hank Aaron, Lew Burdette, Warren Spahn and Eddie Matthews. Many refer to that 1957 World Series as a classic. Most series that go seven games are pretty terrific.
Coleman was limited in his playing time that season. He only came to the plate 180 times as he played second, short and third. The Yankees were short an outfielder that year as catcher Elston Howard started the most games in left field. During the series, Howard split time out there with a 21-year-old rookie Kubek as well as playing first base. As little as Coleman played that season, he played more toward the end of the season though his hitting suffered and he struggled the last two months. Richardson, another 21-year-old rookie, had accumulated the most playing time at second base in the regular season but after making the All-Star team had hit just .232 in the second half, with no power or on-base skills.
And so Coleman was in the lineup every day in that 1957 World Series. He batted eighth most of the time. Casey Stengel pinch-hit for him once (Joe Collins struck out) and pinch-ran for him another time. (The pinch-runner was some guy named Mickey Mantle.) But otherwise Coleman played the entire series.
Coleman came to the plate 25 times and got on base 11 of those times, including eight hits. He drove in two and scored twice and played flawlessly in the field. He led the regulars in average, on-base percentage and OPS. If the Yankees would have won that series (and given Coleman his fifth ring), his series would be remembered as another great one in Yankee lore.
The first game of that series was typical of Coleman’s contributions. The game pitted two great left-handed pitchers as Whitey Ford and Spahn were the starters. The game went scoreless through the first four and a half innings. Coleman had hit an opposite-field double with one out in the third but was stranded at second. In the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees broke through for a run and Coleman was in the middle of it. He led off with a single to left. He worked his way to third on two groundouts and scored on Hank Bauer’s double. The Yankees scored their second and third runs in the bottom of the sixth and again Coleman was involved, executing a perfect squeeze bunt to score Yogi Berra. Ford went on to pitch a complete game to win 3-1. Coleman had been a part of two of the runs and recorded three putouts and had four assists.
The Yankees could not solve Burdette in the second game and, as it turned out, would not the entire series. But Coleman went 1-for-2 with a walk before he was pinch-hit for with Collins.
The series shifted to Milwaukee for Game 3 and the Yankees had a blowout 12-3 win. Coleman went 0-for-4 but he did have a walk and scored a run. Kubek hit two homers and Mantle hit one but the real story was the 11 walks given up by Braves’ pitching.
The Braves won a heartbreaker in the fourth game as the Yankees took the lead in the top of the 10th but Bob Grim gave up a three-run homer to Matthews to lose the game and tie the series. Coleman went 1-for-4 and handled seven chances at second without a hitch.
The Braves won Game 5 1-0 as Burdette again shut down the Yankees to beat Ford. Coleman went 1-for-3 and was pinch-run for by Mantle, who was promptly caught stealing. The Yankees attempted five stolen bases in the series but Del Crandall caught them four times.
Bob Turley saved the series for the Yankees as they came back home to Yankee Stadium with a complete game 3-2 victory. Berra was the hitting star that game while Coleman went 1-for-2 with a walk. The series was headed for a seventh game.
The Yankees never had a chance in the seventh game. Don Larson and Bobby Shantz gave up four runs in the third inning due in part to some sloppy fielding (Kubek, McDougald and Berra all made errors in the game) and that was all Burdette needed as he won his third game of the series, this one a seven-hit, complete game shutout.
Coleman may or may not have known that the seventh game would be his last as a player. He went 2-for-4 with seven more flawless chances at second. The Yankees released him two months later on Dec. 9 and Coleman hung it up at age 32.
Coleman’s love affair with baseball never ended as he worked for a year as a scout for the Yankees and then did some broadcasting for CBS before joining the Yankees broadcast team in 1963 for seven years. He then performed that same job for the Angels for a couple of years before moving permanently to the Padres' radio team in 1972.
Jerry Coleman had a rich and fruitful life. His marine career, his baseball career, his broadcasting career all paint a picture of a full life. Despite his Berra-like penchant for having things come jumbled out of his mouth at times, Coleman became a beloved figure in San Diego and earned himself a place in Cooperstown. He made one All-Star team in 1950 and the sum total of his baseball career was 6.6 WAR. But that is OK. He served his country, he served his team and he served the fans. And he won four World Series rings and checks along the way. He even called Mickey Mantle’s 500th homer. That is enough history for many men.
William Tasker writes for It's About the Money, a blog that covers the Yankees.