Friday, January 10, 2014

Semper Fi, Colonel - A Hobby Farewell to Jerry Coleman

There isn't much left to say about Jerry Coleman that hasn't already been said by so many.   By all accounts, he was a wonderful human being who just so happened to be pretty darn good at baseball after contributing to the saving the world from tyranny during World War II.

No big deal.

I believe he is the only professional baseball player to see combat in two wars (120 combat flight missions, World War 2 and the Korean War).   In between and after his time in the skies as a Marine Corps Aviator, he went to six World Series with the Yankees and managed to win four of them - .667 - not bad!

Despite all of that success, he may very well be known most for his days as the voice of the San Diego Padres (whom he managed in 1980), a role he relished and excelled at until he passed away last Monday.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to drop a note to Lieutenant Colonel Coleman a couple of years ago.   It was a part of my last true "batch" of Yankee/HOF TTM requests before my autograph adventures budget was significantly reduced.   I'm so glad I wrote that letter.

I won't bore you with every detail, but here is a quick glance at the highlights of what Colonel Coleman sent back.   As I always do, I asked several questions throughout my letter (mostly about baseball), and he was kind enough to answer those in addition to providing some comments on other portions of my note where I told him about my family's service connection to World War II and my days in the nuclear navy.   I've included these excerpts along with the pictures.

I hope you enjoy!

Here are the pages to the letter - you can see where Lt Col Coleman responded!

At the very top of the letter, he began by saying, "LT - I don't write well and can't type" to explain his annotations throughout……no problem, Sir!   Here are my questions (in bold) and his responses (in italics):

What is your favorite memory from being with the club for those four World Series titles in '49, '50, '51 and '56?

"Just winning…it was everything."

You completed your career with only 89 errors in 3,168 fielding opportunities and turned 532 double plays - what did you focus on to achieve such great success in the field?

"Always ready for the ball."

He was kind enough to sign my ball in black ink and it looks great!

Were there any moments in the field (or at the plate) that stick out to you the most?

"Just being there."

My grandfather served in the WWII European Theater as a Radioman on B-24 Liberators….

[referring to the B-24] "…Bad plane…"

...He and his crew were shot down over Occupied France but survived the crash.

"Lucky Man…"
He and my grandmother, who was a Navy Nurse, are still with us….

"Your background sounds great!"

That last comment from the Colonel made me chuckle.   He began writing the compliment right above the word  'grandmother'.   He very carefully began all of his notes right above the exact word he was referring to or he would circle the exact word/phrase.   A part of me is most certain the 'ol fighter pilot may have been referring to how great a navy nurse sounds more so than my lineage.   Ha.   A Maverick of the Greatest Generation?   Wouldn't doubt it.

He also signed the Autograph Card I threw in the package! Blue ink this time...

I was a nuclear propulsion officer aboard the USS Alabama (SSBN-731)…

"I get claustrophobic - couldn't do what you did!"

This made me laugh, too.   I often joke that we (navy nukes) were just a bunch of nerds doing math underwater and it certainly didn't compare to combat dogfighting against the Japanese and Korean air forces.   At the very least, I am prone to air sickness - despite my lineage of aviators - so, I guess the admiration is mutual.

When talk amongst friends turns to the topic of greatest players, I will continue to champion your four World Series Championship titles, exemplary fielding record and All-Star selection in 1950 - but…it may be your days in uniform that will mean the most to me.

[referencing the 4 titles] "We won because we were a team, first & foremost."

…if there is ever anything I can do for you, please let me know.   Thank you of your time and consideration, Colonel.   Very Respectfully, Ryan

"Thank you for the sub picture.   Ryan - you have  my admiration for your service.   Hope you and your wife raise a Yankee Family.   Jerry Coleman"

The Colonel's generosity was too much, he threw in this gorgeous 8x10!

Unbelievable experience to read through his thoughts.   I couldn't be more proud to know that Jerry Coleman gave me and my family a moments thought.   Such a gentleman!   These items will be treasured as a key part of my baseball memorabilia collection.   As you guys know, I really enjoy this era and collecting items that deal with players who served in the military.  

I only have one card of Colonel Coleman in my collection right now - his 1955 Bowman.   It's a great card but I would love to add some more!

REMEMBER - "…always ready for the ball…"

Then as now, his biggest thrills and memories are TEAM-oriented.   AMAZING!

Thank you for this amazing "through the mail" experience, Colonel Coleman.   I wish I had the chance to meet you in person but your legend will live on in the tales I tell, regardless.   I promise to do my very best to raise a proper Yankee Family!   Thank you for defending this great land and contributing to our great game.   You are missed - rest in peace.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Fantastic letter. And the ball is awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  2. You are a quick hobby blog ninja, my friend. Glad you enjoyed it - feels really great to post again.

  3. That awesome that he responded throughout the letter! Thanks for sharing!