The Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in five games to win the World Series. Coleman, who scored a run in the ninth inning to give the Yankees a win in Game 3, was named the Associated Press Rookie of the Year. Not a bad year for a rookie second baseman.
The following year, 1950, proved to be better in terms of Coleman's stats. He hit .287 and drove in 69 runs. His performance got him named to the 1950 American League All-Star Team. Coleman was also named the Most Valuable Player in the 1950 World Series, when the Bronx Bombers successfully defended their World Championship. As he had the previous year, he stepped up to the plate in the late innings of Game 3 in the World Series and had a game-winning hit, going 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs. The Yankees swept the Philadelphia Phillies in four straight games, thanks to the handiwork of World Series Most Valuable Player Jerry Coleman.
The Pinstripe Pilot
On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford C. Frick was concerned about the effect the Korean War would have on baseball. It had been only five years since teams had lost players to World War II.
"In the winter of 1951 I was back at my home on the West Coast," Coleman says, "and they asked me how I'd like to go back to the service. I said, if you want me, take me -- take me now. The reason ballplayers went to war was that we were short on pilots. Forty pilots is the normal complement of pilots in a squadron, where we had only 16 at Los Alamedas."
Coleman played a few token games for the Yankees before he was recalled for active duty in May 1952. Yankee players Whitey Ford and Billy Martin were also called. Coleman flew the Chance Vought F4U Corsair on 63 missions with his squadron, VMA-323, the Death Rattlers. He was the only baseball player called to active combat duty in both World War II and the Korean War. San Diegan Ted Williams also served in both wars, but Williams remained stateside during World War II.
In a 2002 article in Officer magazine titled "The Splendid Splinter," the late Ted Williams remembered an incident in Korea involving Coleman:
"We were not in the same squadron," said Williams. "I was in jets and he was in F4Us. Corsairs.... Jerry went out on a bombing run, [and] he had a heck of an experience. If it had happened to me I would have been useless over there. Jerry had a full load of bombs and he was on this dive-bombing mission. He was the third one to go in. He rolled out of formation and started his run, he was lining up on target behind his buddies...gathering speed...and the Corsair right dead in front of him was totally blown away. One minute he was there and the next minute there was a flash and he was completely gone. Well, that was enough to take the starch out of anyone."
Coleman remembers another incident, which happened on the K-6 airfield at Pyongtaek, in northwestern South Korea. "We had a short runway at K-6. We had 55 runways in Korea, named K-1, K-2, K-3, and so on. We had 3500 pounds of bombs strapped on and only a short distance at K-6. There was a little bump in the path on the runway, and every time someone would hit that bump, they would be bounced up and down and sideways. One time I hit the bump and the engine stopped. Here I am with the screeching brakes at about 100 yards off, so I let the bombs go. One of the bombs hit a part of the tail on its way out, which tipped the plane and the propeller caught the ground. The plane flipped over. When it hit, I found my knees behind my ears and the strap choking me." The ground crew rescued him before he suffocated. "I had passed out. I told them that I had a big migraine headache. They put me in the hospital, and I was up at 4:00 a.m. the next morning, business as usual."
In August 1953, Coleman's active-duty service ended and he was given a Medal of Decoration. He went back on the reserve list, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1964. His combat service in two wars stands with an impressive 120 missions to his credit. He received 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals, and 3 Navy citations.
Coleman returned to the States in the fall of 1953 and played a few token games at the end of the season.
In 1955, the Yankees took the American League pennant but lost the World Series to the Brooklyn Dodgers in a Game 7 shutout.
Coleman appeared on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town.
"I made appearances on the Toast of the Town a couple of times," Coleman says. "One was with Elston Howard, the first black Yankee player. Another was with Pee Wee Reese and other ballplayers. I have never been comfortable with the hero status. The show was not always about ballplayers in the war. Sometimes they just wanted to discuss baseball."
In 1956, the Yankees won the World Series again. Don Larsen, from Point Loma High, pitched a perfect game in Game 5. No other pitcher has ever thrown a no-hit game in the postseason (although another Point Loma High pitcher, David Wells, would pitch a perfect game for the Yankees in the 1999 season).
The 1957 Yankees were looking to win another American League pennant with an All-Star lineup, when on May 16, at a birthday bash for Billy Martin at the Copacabana Club in Manhattan, Yankee players including Martin, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer, Johnny Kucks, and their wives were on their way to see the headliner, Sammy Davis Jr., when they found themselves in an altercation. Some accounts had the Yankees involved in a brawl with a drunken heckler who was found lying in the bathroom passed out with a broken nose. Coleman remembers that the evening also involved someone forging the signature of Yankees owner Dan Topping Jr.