Jerry Coleman died yesterday. Since he was 89, it was no surprise but for me a very sentimental moment because he was the voice of my childhood. When I was about two years old he became the announcer of the San Diego Padres, and as a Padres big lifelong fan his voice is imprinted very deeply in my brain.
What's so remarkable, though, is what a tremendous person he was. He won Rookie of the Year for the Yankees but also was a hero for the Marines during World War II and the Korean War. In every single interview with or reference to him, he was humble and self-effacing despite the fact that he was extraordinarily successful.
As a teenager, in 1985 I think, my birthday gift from my parents was a trip to Yuma, Arizona (only a few short hours from San Diego) to see the Padres in spring training. In preparation, I had managed to find a 1952 Topps Jerry Coleman card. Before a game, I walked up to the booth, which was open in the small stadium, said hello, and he signed my card.
At the time I knew a bit about his baseball background, but that was it. What I really knew was that this guy was the voice of my team, and he couldn't have been nicer.
Appropriately, on Twitter people have been linking to his calls, the one that clinched the 1984 pennant being the most memorable (it's impossible to forget that it was a one hopper to Nettles, to Wiggins, and the Padres have the national pennant). His signature was "Oh, doctor!" and "You can hang a star on that, baby!" often together in that order. When the Padres played at San Diego Stadium/Qualcomm they got in the habit of hanging a star out of the broadcasting booth on a sort of fishing pole.
So he was not only old, but had lived a pretty amazing life. Nonetheless, for all Padres fans it's just a sad moment.
Andy Masur has a nice post here.