Former Yankee, Marine pilot Coleman dies at 89

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 5, 2014 at 10:21 pm •  Published: January 5, 2014
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Coleman's best season was 1950, when he was an All-Star and was named MVP of the Yankees' four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Among his teammates were Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Johnny Mize.

"We won the first game 1-0 and I drove in that run," Coleman recalled in 2012. "We won the second game 2-1. I scored one of the two runs and DiMaggio hit a home run in the 10th to win it. In the third game I drove in the winning run in the last inning, and in the fourth game I rested."

By "rested," he means he went 0 for 3. "I was exhausted," he said.

In October 1951, Coleman found out that Marine pilots from World War II were not discharged, but on inactive status and that he'd be going to Korea for 18 months. He missed the bulk of two seasons.

Coleman said he took his physical along with Ted Williams in Jacksonville in 1952. Williams, a San Diego native, also was a Marine pilot in World War II, but didn't see combat duty. He did fly combat missions in Korea.

When Coleman returned to the Yankees, he hit only .217. He was sent to an eye doctor, who told him he'd lost his depth perception.

"If you're trying to hit a baseball and you don't have depth perception, you have a problem," Coleman said.

He got that corrected but then broke his collarbone in April 1955. The night he came back from that injury, he got beaned.

His last season was 1957, when he hit .364 in a seven-game World Series loss to the Milwaukee Braves.

Coleman worked in the Yankees' front office before beginning a broadcasting career that eventually brought him to San Diego.

"First and foremost, he was an American hero whose service to this country is his lasting legacy. He was also a great Yankee, a true ambassador for baseball, and someone whose imprint on our game will be felt for generations," Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. "On behalf of the entire New York Yankees organization, we send our deepest condolences to the Coleman family."

Coleman managed the Padres in 1980, when they went 73-89 and finished last in the NL West. Coleman was fired and returned to the booth.

"I should never have taken it," he said. "I look at it now and see the mistakes I made. If I wanted to be a manager, I should have gone to the minor leagues and developed there."

Coleman's statue at Petco Park depicts him in a flight suit.

Coleman said the closest he came to being killed was in Korea when the engine in his Corsair quit during takeoff and his plane flipped. He preferred to talk about his comrades.

Coleman remembered a mission over Korea when a plane piloted by his buddy, Max Harper, blew up and flew straight into the ground.

"I knew there was no need for help. It was an unpleasant thing," Coleman said.

In describing the two-seat Dauntless he flew in the Solomon Islands and the Philippines, Coleman said the gunner "was the bravest man I knew. If I did something wrong, he died, too."

Longtime San Francisco Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper mentioned the various halls of fame Coleman belonged to and added: "More than anything he's just a Hall of Fame guy. If he had a bad day, it was never around us. He was always in a good mood. He was quite funny. Northern California guy. Really just a great guy. I'm shocked and saddened that he passed away.

"Here's a guy, what didn't he do in life?" Kuiper said.

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AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson