Padres colleagues share fond memories of Coleman
Those who worked with legendary broadcaster will miss quirks, laughs
SAN DIEGO -- The Padres' family bid longtime Hall of Fame broadcaster Jerry Coleman a fond farewell Monday with a short tribute and a moment of silence in front of his statue at Petco Park.
Members of the Padres' front-office staff and other employees paid their respects to Coleman, who died Sunday at the age of 89 after complications from a fall last month.
The statue of Coleman -- unveiled in a pregame ceremony in 2012 to honor Coleman -- has turned into a memorial of sorts since the news of his death, complete with flowers, cards and mementos left to honor him.
San Diego Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler, Peter Seidler of the ownership group and president and CEO Mike Dee spoke to team employees followed by manager Bud Black and Coleman's friend and longtime broadcast partner, Ted Leitner.
There were tears. There were laughs. There was sharing of stories that involved Coleman, who worked for the Padres from 1972 until his death, stepping away from the broadcaster booth in 1980 to manage the team.
That team lost 89 games and finished last in the National League West. Coleman returned to the booth the following season and never left.
"I was brilliant, the players were lousy," Coleman liked to say.
One thing is for certain: There are no lousy stories involving Coleman, not from his days in the Marines as a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, to being a part of four Yankees World Series championship teams as an infielder, to his illustrious broadcasting career, where he became a legend in San Diego.
These are the stories of some of those who worked with Coleman the closest -- not just Leitner and Black, but another broadcast partner, Andy Masur, as well as the team's radio producer/engineer since 1994, Dave Marcus.
Manager Bud Black, hired before the 2007, taped the "manager's show" with Coleman before day games and Sunday afternoon games. Coleman would find Black in his office or the two would sit in the dugout to discuss that day's game on tape to be played before the game. To be sure, there was never a dull moment.
Black: "The thing about the manager's show was whenever we would start, he had that tape recorder which was from -- well, I guess Jerry didn't like new technology. Jerry had this tape recorder that in laymen's terms, and I'm not that great with technology either, seemed a little outdated. But he loved it. There were times when we thought we really had a good show and this tape recorder didn't turn on and we had to do it again. That never bothered me because I liked being with Jerry. When that happened, we always had a nice laugh about it."
Dave Marcus was a Coleman fan before he started working with him in the spring of 1994, serving as the producer/engineer for the flagship station for the team. Marcus knew about Coleman's signature call for a good play, "You can hang a start on that baby," which was followed by waving a star outside the radio booth for fans to see. One of Marcus' duties was waving the star. Easy enough, he thought. Only it wasn't.
Marcus: "My first game ever at Qualcomm Stadium was against the Braves and there was a great defensive play, and Jerry says, 'Oh, doctor.' I stand up and throw the star out of the window and wave it like I think I'm supposed to do. One the air he says, 'No, no, Marcus ... that's not the way you do it. We are going to work on it tomorrow.' I thought he was just joking around. After the game, he said to meet him there at 2 p.m. to work on throwing the star. I was like, 'Are you serious?' The next day, Jerry and I are throwing it out the window, waving it back and forth. Later on, he would still get on me a few times if I got it wrong. I kind of learned this was a big deal and it was a big thing to the fans. It was his thing. I would sit next to him and there would be a great play and I would feel him grab my arm. That was his signal. He was so excited. So I would stand up, toss it out and wave it back and forth. It was an honor to do it."
Traveling with Coleman was an adventure, Marcus said. From the team charter to the hotels on the road to some harrowing taxi rides to and from ballpark, Marcus was right there to witness Coleman in all his glory -- consider it Coleman unplugged.
Marcus: "There were some really fun taxi rides, some death-defying rides. Let's just say that Jerry was not a taxi driver's best friend. He wanted to go a certain way to the ballpark. He also loved to walk. He would sometimes walk to the ballpark. I remember he walked from the hotel we stayed at in Atlanta that was downtown to Fulton County Stadium. It's a good two miles. I would be in the cab and I would see him walking, carrying his metal suitcase, on a very hot summer day in Atlanta, wearing a long sleeves. Eating dinner with him was fun, too. We would go to these nice steakhouses and they tell you about each steak and then show you a picture of it. And at the end, Jerry would always say, 'Give me a porterhouse steak, medium rare and some ketchup to kill the taste.' I always expected the chef to run out of the kitchen with his knife, yelling, 'What are you talking about?'"
In recent years, and with Coleman working an abbreviated schedule that didn't include games on the road but did include Sunday and weekday day games at home, he worked with Andy Masur, who joined the Padres' broadcast team in 2007. The pair called their last game together Sept. 26.
Masur: "The last three years I've gotten the chance to work with him exclusively and I can't tell you how much I looked forward to working those games. I never knew where the broadcast was going and that was exciting. I never knew what he was going to say. He might say something out of context and we would go down a road and get us back on the road to get back to the game. But I knew in the back of my mind that people wanted to hear him. Jerry was always Jerry and I think that's why people here in San Diego fell in love with him. He wasn't trying to be a [average] "Joe" announcer; he wasn't trying to be an ex-baseball player. He was just Jerry. It was so refreshing to work with him. The stories he told and the same lines, that was the fun part of working with him."
Finally, there is Ted Leitner, another San Diego broadcast legend. He and Coleman called more games than any other duo in franchise history. They didn't just call games and provided countless memories for fans, they had fun. A lot of fun. Sometimes, maybe, too much fun (according to one former high-ranking front-office official, who thought they laughed too much. Whatever, Leitner said. It worked. That's what he'll miss most about Coleman.
Leitner: "For me, what made us work, it was the laughter. Even sometimes, some executives through the years thought it was too much, like we were a couple of kids in school having a good time. I never felt like it was a distraction. What's better than two old friends talking baseball and having a few laughs? I don't think there was a conversation we had that didn't involve laughter. God, I'll miss that. It was really fun. No one should have that much fun and get paid for it. With Jerry, there was never any pretense. He was just an old friend for everyone."