This post initially appeared on ESPN on January 6, 2014.
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 Jerry 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 better. There were Phil Rizzuto and Gil McDougald and later Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson. And 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 Jerry 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 greats like 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
Jerry Coleman was limited in his playing time that season. He only came to the plate 180 times that season and he played second, short and third.
The Yankees were short an outfielder that season. Elston Howard is listed as the team’s left fielder on that season’s Baseball-reference.com page. During the series, Howard split time out there with a 21 year old Tony 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 of his last regular season.
And so, Jerry 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 that series and got on base eleven of those times including eight hits, two doubles and three walks. He drove in two and scored twice and played flawlessly in the field. He led the team that series in average, on-base percentage (of the regulars) and OPS. If the Yankees would have won that series (and given Coleman his fifth ring), his series would be remembered as one of the great ones.
The first game of that series was typical of Coleman’s contributions. The game pitted two great left-handed pitchers as Whitey Ford and Warren 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 the bottom of the fifth with a single to left. He worked his way to third on two successive ground outs but Hank Bauer‘s double to score the first run. The Yankees scored their second and third runs in the bottom of the sixth and again Coleman was involved.
After Mantle flied out to start the inning, Spahn gave up a single to Howard and then walked Yogi Berra. Andy Carey then hit a single to center that scored Howard from second. Berra went to third on the play. The hit by Carey finished Spahn and the Braves brought in Ernie Johnson to face Coleman. Stengel put the squeeze play on and Coleman executed it perfectly to score Berra.
Ford went on to pitch a complete game and won, 3-1. Coleman had been a part of two of the runs and recorded three putouts and had four assists in the game.
The Yankees could not solve Lew Burdette in the second game and as it turned out, could not in the entire series. But Coleman went one for two with a walk in the game before he was pinch hit for by Joe Collins, a questionable decision by Stengel the way Coleman was hitting.
The series shifted to Milwaukee for Game 3 and the Yankees had a blow out win. Coleman went 0-4 in the game but he did have a walk and scored a run. Tony Kubek hit two homers and Mantle hit one but the real story was the eleven walks given up by Braves’ pitching.
The Braves won a heart-breaker in the fourth game as the Yankees took the lead in the top of the tenth but Bob Grim gave up a three-run homer to Matthews to lose the game and tie the series back up again. Coleman went one for four and handled seven chances at second without a hitch.
The Braves won Game 5, 1-0 as Lew Burdette again shut down the Yankees and beat Whitey Ford, one of the best post-season pitchers in history. Coleman went one for three and had one of the few hits that game for the Yankees. He was pinch run for by Mantle, who was promptly caught stealing. The Yankees attempted five stolen bases in the series and were thrown out four times. Del Crandall was the Braves’ catcher.
Bob Turley saved the series for the Yankees as they came back home to Yankee Stadium and Turley pitched a complete game victory, 3-2. Yogi Berra was the hitting star that game, but Coleman went one for two with a walk and handled seven more chances at second. The series was headed for a seventh game.
But 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 some 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 and the Yankees lost the series.
Jerry Coleman may or may not have known that the seventh game would be his last ever as a baseball player. He was the only Yankee with double-figures in hits as he went two for four with seven more flawless chances at second. The Yankees released him two months later on December 9 and Coleman hung it up as a player.
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 Yankee 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 and that relationship lasted until 2010 and was only interrupted in 1980 when he managed the Padres for a season!
Jerry Coleman had a rich and fruitful life. His marine career, his baseball career, his broadcasting career all paint a full 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 as a broadcaster. He made one All-Star team in 1950 and the sum total of his baseball career was 6.6 rWAR. But that is okay. 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.