Much has been said about the amazing life of Jerry Coleman. He was not only beloved here in San Diego. He was a national hero and was one of the most cherished figures throughout the world of baseball. Amongst his countless achievements, he was the world's most passionate Padres fan. And this was the Jerry I will always remember.
Jerry Coleman was in the Padres broadcast booth for 42 seasons. 26 of these seasons produced losing Padres teams. We all know that the Padres have experienced more down times than moments of glory. Throughout all of the many years of crappy baseball, Jerry always remained remarkably enthusiastic about the Padres and the game of baseball. Even in August during a doormat Padres losing season, he would exclaim that it was a beautiful day for Padres baseball and call his game with passion.
Jerry Coleman never lost his childlike wonder for the game of baseball. Growing up in the 80's & 90's, I listened to Jerry & Ted quite a bit on the radio, sometimes while I was falling asleep at night. None of the home games were broadcast on television at the time, so your only way to experience 1/2 of the Padres games was through Jerry & Teddy's classic broadcasts. As a young kid, I got a real kick out of Coleman's uncanny enthusiasm. As is the case with most Padres fans, he also taught me the game of baseball, all of the nuances, technique, history, and so forth. I adored listening to the Padres on the radio, and if I was lucky enough to attend a game, looking for Jerry to 'hang a star' after a great defensive play was always a thrill.
As I got to be a little bit of an older kid, I become a little more cynical about baseball. This was around the time of the baseball strike, an event that broke my heart at the time. And it appeared to me that money & advertising became more entrenched in the game. I still loved baseball, but things weren't the same for me. I would listen to Jerry and sometimes think that he was a cheesy old man. I was a stupid, silly kid, and thought that he wasn't 'cool'. I'm sure the canceled 1994 baseball season broke Jerry Coleman's heart more than anyone else. Same goes for the 'Steroid Era' that came shortly thereafter. Jerry stayed true to himself throughout all of this. He was not afraid to vocally criticize the game when he felt it was needed (he was especially critical about steroids). But he never let any of these criticisms take away from his enthusiasm & passion for the game. He might speak his mind, but nothing would ever change Jerry's love for the Padres. He might have been the least cynical person on planet Earth, and God Bless him for that.
As I became older, I rekindled my love for Padres baseball. I listened to Jerry & Teddy in the booth and truly appreciated their broadcasts more than ever before. I loved Jerry's classic play-by-play, the anecdotes, the subtle comedy, the wisdom they would impart. But above all, I came to truly love & respect Jerry's neverending enthusiasm for the Padres. This guy really adored the Padres, and his childlike enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Jerry helped me fall in love with Padres baseball again. He was an exemplary Padres fan, reminding me of the childlike joy found in baseball.
Let's put the 26 losing seasons Coleman witnessed in perspective. Jerry Coleamn started broadcasting Padres games in 1972. This renowned career started with 6 straight losing seasons. He unsuccessfully managed a last place Padres team in 1980. By the end of 1981 Jerry had witnessed 1 winning season and 9 losing seasons. Especially when you think about all of the traveling, 'meaningless' games, extra innings and awful plays, Jerry had every reason in the world to become cynical about Padres baseball, but he always stayed the same classy, passionate baseball announcer. The next three decades brought many ups & downs, and even through some of the very dismal moments, Jerry stayed true to his enthusiastic self.
The last winning Padres season, 2010, began with Jerry being forced into a more limited role in the broadcast booth. He didn't agree with this decision and was a little bit critical about it. But he stayed true to himself. His broadcasts displayed a remarkable passion for that Padres team, he was at the ballpark every single day, and it seemed like he was wearing a Padres hat even more than he used to. Jerry Coleman was delivered a little bit of a blow in this 2010 decision, and he responded by displaying even more love for the Padres. That was Jerry's way. He was never afraid to speak his mind, but he was always a class act.
Some tributes to Jerry Coleman have been hesitant to mention the 'malaprops' & 'Colemanisms' he is pretty famous for, but I've got to say, I adore this part of Jerry's legacy. He was such an all-around funny guy, both intentionally and unintentionally. Especially when put in greater context, these gaffes add a great wink to Jerry's amazing legacy. Jerry Coleman was about as perfect as a human being could be, but nobody's perfect, and there's a lot of beauty in that reality. Many of Jerry's few imperfections came in the broadcast booth, and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Some of these moments were 'fall on the floor' hysterical. These quintessential Jerry Coleman moments are a perfect addition to the strange history of the San Diego Padres.
Coleman had some of the funniest non sequiturs in the history of baseball. And you know Jerry's good buddy Yogi Berra got a kick out of some of his classic misspeaks. Here's some, both intentional & unintentional, that Yogi would especially appreciate:
"Houston has its largest crowd of the night here this evening."
"Jesus Alou is in the on-deck circus."
"Billy Almon has all of his inlaws and outlaws here this afternoon."
"At the end, excitement maintained its hysteria."
"All the Padres need is a fly ball in the air."
"Davis fouls out to third in fair territory."
"I've made a couple of mistakes I'd like to do over."
"A day without newspapers is like walking around without your pants on."
"Hats off to drug abusers everywhere."
(Repeating an anecdote from a player) "... who shall be renamed nameless."
"Eric Show will be 0 for 10 if that pop fly comes down."
"Rich Folkers is throwing up in the bullpen."
"I sure hope you're staying alive for the upcoming Dodgers series."
"Turner was like a pencil. He bent around that pitch!"
"The Padres are really swinging some hot hats tonight!"
"When you lose your hands, you can't play baseball."
"That big guy, Winfield, at 6'6", can do things only a small man can do."
"You walk into the locker room, and you see players with their ripping muscles and stomachs you could wash your clothes in."
"I like to use big words so people will think I know what I'm talking about."
"Sunday is Senior Citizens' Day. And if you want to become a senior citizen, just call the Padre ticket office."
These quotes are ridiculously classic. And if you haven't yet heard Ted Leitner's two hilarious Jerry Coleman stories, you're really missing out. Coleman was a very funny man with a razor sharp quick wit. But sometimes his wit would be a little too fast or a little too slow, and he would end way out in Left Field. This all just adds more depth to Jerry's great personality. I remember hearing his broadcasting mistakes pretty frequently, especially something like "he slides into 2nd with a stand-up double." And I always found his signature home run call of "to the wall, at the wall, over the wall" to be a bit of a head scratcher. But even as a kid, I adored these mistakes, non sequiturs, and malaprops. It was part of the pride of being a Padres fan. This guy wasn't a perfect announcer, but he sure loved the Padres with all of his heart.
And the humble Coleman would sometimes respond to the attention his misspeaks would get, often with a wink or in his classic self-deprecating manner. In Coleman's foreword to Bob Chandler's Tales From The San Diego Padres, he wrote:
"Bob tells about the importance of having a broadcast partner in the booth during the late innings at Wrigley Field. Did I really have that much difficulty pronouncing the last name of a certain Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman? I had great fun reminiscing about the time Ray Kroc took the microphone at the stadium."
Just like most Padres fans, Jerry got a kick out of the franchise's funnier, imperfect moments.
But don't get me wrong, Jerry Coleman really was an all-around fantastic announcer. I grew up religiously listening to a cassette recording of the 1984 Padres: A Dedicated Season record. This is brilliantly narrated by Coleman and features many broadcasting clips of him in his prime. This is also a great way to revisit Coleman's uncanny, infectious enthusiasm. The man had one hell of a great voice, style & knowledge of the game. By all accounts, he was a classic announcer & truly one of the all-time best.
Through his broadcasts & interviews, Jerry has offered Padres fans so much wisdom about life. Whether it be his humble day to day routines, his thoughts on war heroes, how to conduct yourself with class, or just how to make the most of your morning. In the spirit of his non sequiturs, he was a near perfect man and a near imperfect announcer. And I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. During the past few Padres seasons, I could sometimes sense Jerry's frustration with the team's losing seasons. He was a diehard Padres fan, just like us.
God Bless ya, Jerry Coleman. Your enthusiasm will live on.