On a day where the two biggest sports stories in New York were the introduction of Aaron Boone as the new manager of the New York Yankees after eight years in the broadcast booth and the return of Eli Manning to calling signals after one week on the sidelines, I found myself drawing parallels to the career of the late Jerry Coleman in both cases.
Coleman was a solid contributor at second base to the Yankees championship teams of the 1950s and after a short stint in the Yankees front office, he became a broadcaster over the next 50 years, most notably for the San Diego Padres. He was beloved for his unintentionally funny descriptions (“He slides into second with a stand-up double.”). He’s in the broadcasters wing on the Baseball Hall of Fame and perhaps more significantly, he’s in the Marine Corp Sports Hall of Fame, having been a decorated Marine pilot, with combat duty in World War II and the Korean War.
Yet, 20 years into his Hall of Fame broadcasting career, the Padres general manager summoned Coleman from the broadcast booth to the dugout as he managed the Padres in 1980. It was an unlikely move (people fainted at the press conference, Coleman later joked) and it didn’t go well. The Padres finished in last place at 73-89 and Coleman returned to the broadcast booth in 1981. I’m not dismissing Boone’s chances of success as the Yankees’ skipper but based on Coleman’s experience, it won’t be easy (although Coleman’s managerial career might’ve lasted longer if he had Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in the lineup).
However, Coleman was also part of a Yankee tradition where the veterans groomed the rookies who’d replace them. Coleman was a beneficiary of this as a rookie in 1949 and as his career wound down, he mentored the next great Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson.
Eli Manning’s situation in recent weeks has reminded me of Coleman’s role as student and mentor. As the Giants fortunes have fallen, their chances of drafting the next franchise quarterback have risen and there’s talk of Manning wanting to leave the Giants if they draft a quarterback with their top pick.
Obviously, Kurt Warner wasn’t a Giants legend when Eli replaced him when the 2004 Giants still had a shot at the playoffs but he understood Eli was the future QB of the franchise and by all accounts, he handled it with grace. Wouldn’t Eli want to stay and help groom his successor? I don’t know the answer to that but I think I know what Jerry Coleman would’ve done.