The New York Yankees lost an all-time great No. 42 when Mariano Rivera decided to hang up the spikes at the end of last season. On Sunday, we lost Jerry Coleman, another No. 42 who was instrumental in bringing championships to the Bronx.
Coleman played second base for the Yankees from 1949 to 1957. Though he didn’t put up huge numbers during his nine years in pinstripes (in his career he batted .263/.340/.339 with 16 home runs and 217 RBIs), the man won six American League pennants, four World Series titles, a World Series MVP and was named to the All-Star team in 1950. In recent years, Coleman was a mainstay at the Yankees’ annual Old Timers’ Day.
While his contemporaries gained nicknames for how they played on the field (e.g. Joltin’ Joe), Coleman earned his moniker for actions off the diamond. “The Colonel” is the only baseball player ever to have seen combat in two wars. A Marine fighter pilot, Coleman postponed his Major League debut to serve in World War II and sacrificed just about all of the 1952 and 1953 seasons to serve in Korea. Overall, he flew in 120 combat missions and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (hence the nickname) among numerous other awards and medals.
After injuries led to early retirement, Coleman got into broadcasting. In 1967, he had the television call of Mickey Mantle’s 500th home run. Five years later, he became the radio announcer for the San Diego Padres and managed the team in 1980 before returning to the booth. He was famous for his calls: “Oh Doctor!” and “You can hang a star on that baby!” He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007.
Coleman was the Yankees’ second baseman during the team’s most successful era and was the Padres’ broadcaster for more than four decades. Yet his statue at Petco Park depicts him in his fighter pilot uniform. Indeed, those who knew Coleman say he was most proud of his military service.
The No. 42 was retired throughout baseball for Jackie Robinson and again by the Yankees for Rivera. Still, those visiting Monument Park should also think of Coleman when looking at the hallowed number. He may have been an average second baseman, but he was an all-time great nonetheless.