The Obit For Ken Coleman

Coleman, 78, leaves mark

Ex-Sox broadcaster had many callings

As a boy growing up in Quincy, Ken Coleman dreamed about one day becoming a major league ballplayer, preferably in Boston; however, after losing the sight in his left eye to a BB while trying to break up a neighborhood incident, he amended that dream to becoming the Red Sox broadcaster.

Mr. Coleman died early yesterday at Jordan Hospital in Plymouth from complications of bacterial meningitis, but his broadcasting dream had been fulfilled many years before as he called Red Sox games for 20 seasons over two separate stints on the job. He was 78.

He also had successful careers as a professional football broadcaster and as director of The Jimmy Fund. Coincidentally, WEEI is holding an all-day Jimmy Fund Radiothon today.

"I never understood why he'd drive all over New England, doing marathon radiothons for The Jimmy Fund," said Mike Andrews, the former Red Sox player who succeeded Mr. Coleman as director of the charity in 1984 after a half-dozen years as his assistant. "It didn't seem as if we were raising much money for all the time and energy we expended. Now we're hoping to raise a half million dollars with one tomorrow."

But Andrews knew one thing pleased Mr. Coleman. "He got to hear the words `We have turned the corner in the fight against cancer.' That certainly wasn't the case when he started here in 1978."

"My dad always talked about the players who would go to the Jimmy Fund Building and visit kids on their own," said Mr. Coleman's son, William. "That's why he's always liked Roger Clemens so much."

Mr. Coleman's voice narrated "The Impossible Dream" season of the 1967 Red Sox team that won the American League pennant on the final day of the season. Not only did that team captivate the region, it also revived a moribund franchise, turned Fenway Park from an outmoded stadium to a baseball shrine, and created the Red Sox Nation that's still going strong today.

Mr. Coleman also left a legacy with broadcast partners.

"He's the reason I'm in Boston," said present Sox radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione. "He brought me here in 1983."

"He was the one who recommended me for the job in Boston when WITS had an opening in 1980," said ESPN `Sunday Night Baseball' play-by-play man Jon Miller.

Besides Castiglione and Miller, Mr. Coleman's Red Sox broadcast partners included the late Ned Martin, Mel Parnell, Johnny Pesky, and Rico Petrocelli.

"Both Ken and Ned Martin loved Frank Sinatra's music," said Miller. "Ned had a Walkman with plugs for two headsets and sometimes they'd be listening to Sinatra on a flight home and break into song together. It wasn't broadcast quality."

Mr. Coleman's baseball broadcasting career included 10 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, 20 with the Sox, and four with the Cincinnati Reds. He matched that with 34 seasons of football: 14 with the Browns, five with Ohio State, 10 for Harvard (including the 29-29 Harvard "victory" over Yale), two for BU, and three calling high school games on the South Shore. There were also two seasons calling Akron Goodyears basketball and two more of UConn and Fairfield basketball for Connecticut Public Television.

"He was the Forrest Gump of broadcasting," said BU hockey broadcaster Bernie Corbett, who worked a season with Mr. Coleman in covering Terrier football. "Wherever he went, championship games followed."

Miller recalled one night when Mr. Coleman was taping a pregame interview with Howard Cosell at Fenway Park. A flabbergasted Miller heard Cosell say, "This is one of the greatest upsets of all time. Ken Coleman, at whose feet I studied and learned the art of broadcasting, asking me about the business." "Howard was the biggest thing in our business at the time, and here he was paying homage to Ken, and it was completely sincere. I never forgot that," said Miller. "It turns out that when Howard was a lawyer who was trying to get into broadcasting, Ken would give him advice and answer his questions. It also turned out that Howard had heard Ken's broadcasts of Browns games in New York and had great respect for his work."

"Ken loved poetry and had a great sense of drama," said Castiglione. "He caught great moments as well as anyone I've known in broadcasting. Among them: Clemens's first 20-strikeout game and Yaz's catch in Billy Rohr's one-hitter against the Yankees.

"He always said the Red Sox were his love, and the Jimmy Fund his passion."

Mr. Coleman was active until taking ill less than three weeks ago. He enjoyed swimming almost daily, even in the cold Atlantic off Cohasset and Plymouth, and played golf regularly and was a fixture at Jimmy Fund tournaments, often serving as emcee.

In addition to his son, William, of Abington, he leaves a second son, Casey Coleman, a professional radio broadcaster in Cleveland, three daughters, Kerry Coleman of Westlake, Ohio, Susan and Kathleen, both of Rockland, three grandchildren, and his former wife, Ellen Coleman, of Westlake, Ohio. Funeral arrangements are pending.