SAN DIEGO — A 21-gun salute and fighter jet flyby honored Jerry Coleman, a war hero, baseball star and San Diego institution, as the longtime voice of the Padres was memorialized at Petco Park Saturday.
Coleman, 89, died Jan. 5 from pneumonia and complications from a fall. He was buried Monday at Miramar National Cemetery with full military honors, befitting a hero who put his pro baseball career on hold twice to serve as a military pilot during both World War II and the Korean conflict.
His longtime radio partner Ted Leitner, who first met Coleman in 1970, told anecdotes about his friend to the 4,000 or so mourners in the stands at Petco Park. The stage was near second base, the position Coleman played for the Yankees when he earned the AP rookie of the year award in 1949.
“You are the best man I have ever known.” Leitner told his departed partner. He recalled he had spent 15 years in the booth and on the road with Coleman before he revealed that his Yankee years saw him roommates with Mickey Mantle.
“That’s typical of how humble he was,” Leitner said.
Leitner said he grew he grew up in New York watching Coleman’s Yankee team, and then was with the Padres when Coleman came west to join the broadcast team.
“I was starstruck from day one,” Leitner said.
The memorial service included a large number of Marine color guards and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot-San Diego band, which played patriotic songs and hymns. Both the Navy Hymn and Marines Hymn were performed.
The services included flyovers by Marine F-18 flyovers Marine F-18 and WWII-era Corsair fighter-bombers. In World War II, Coleman flew 57 combat missions in dive bombers over Guadalcanal and other Pacific Theater battles.
Coleman reached the major leagues in 1949 with the Yankees, was an outstanding star at second base when he was drafted in 1952, and sent to Korea for the Marines. There, he flew 63 close air support missions and added six air medals to the seven he had earned in WW2.
Coleman earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Navy citations before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He was often referred to by his nickname, “The Colonel.”
Coleman made a transition to the broadcast booth in 1960, and in 1972, he became lead radio play-by-play announcer for the Padres. He called games every year except 1980, which he spent as the team’s manager.
He also called national regular season games for CBS Radio until the 1990s.
In 2005, Coleman received the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s prestigious Ford C. Frick Award, given to a broadcaster who has made “major contributions to baseball.”
He was inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame in 2001 and the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
Coleman’s trademark “Oh Doctor!” and “Hang a Star!” calls became signatures of Padres baseball, team officials said.