06 April, 2008

An American Journey

"There are only two important things in life: the people who you love and who love you, and your country."

Take a close look at that group of pictures above. They're all of the same person.

He grew up in an abusive household, one in which his drunk of a father shot his mother after they had divorced when he was eight... and before they remarried when he was ten. As an adult, he was a baseball player--Rookie of the Year, World Series MVP, a member of the great New York Yankees post-WWII teams. He's famous today for broadcasting baseball games on CBS and San Diego Padres radio. In fact, he's in the broadcasters' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. And...

He's a highly-decorated dive-bomber and fighter pilot, veteran of WWII and Korea. A Marine Corps colonel.

But according to his colleagues and friends, you wouldn't know any of that from entering his home. They report it contains no displays of baseball awards or artifacts from his famous teammates, no medals or "I love me" wall as some veterans have, no pictures or plaques from his ongoing broadcasting days. When he is spoken of by those who know him, instead of talking about his achievements, they use the word "gentleman" a lot. "Not a nicer guy around," is often heard, too--both from colleagues and fans. And in his life of 32 years as a San Diego celebrity, the worst thing anyone has ever said about him is that he has a habit of being married to younger women. But hey, when you're 83 years old, most of the women out there are younger!

Getting him to talk about himself is a challenge to those who have interviewed him. He jokes about being a terrible baseball player, and prefers instead to talk about how lucky he was to know the other people on his team. He doesn't talk about being a Marine, and he acts as if he's amazed to find himself in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But after years of "nagging" from his wife, he has finally put it all on paper for the rest of us.

Meet Jerry Coleman, beloved broadcaster of the San Diego Padres (from listening to him call games for 20 years, I assure you that interview is vintage Jerry--in his humility, gentlemanly behavior, and humor). His long-time broadcast partner Ted Leitner gets away with calling him "Colonel," but I suspect Ted has a special dispensation. To the rest of us he's just our favorite Padres broadcaster, our guide to the game, Mr. Malapropism, and another amazing example of that "Greatest Generation."

A tough childhood amid the Great Depression, baseball in the heyday of Maris and Mantle, service in WWII and Korea, and life in the paradise of Southern California... enough for at least three quintessentially American lives... and still going strong. As soon as I can scrape together the shekels, I'm buying this.

[Update: cross-posted at The Castle]