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Coleman Paints Word Pictures--With a Twist : Radio: Broadcaster again becomes Mr. October to a worldwide audience.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ten minutes before the start of Game 2 of the National League playoffs, members of the CBS television crew are tightening their collars.

The announcers are preparing to pontificate about the previous night’s dramatic finish.

The producers are planning replays of that game-winning hit, with tight-angle shots that show elation and despair.

Then there is Jerry Coleman of CBS radio. He’s not worried.

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He finished his replay of the Philadelphia Phillies’ 10th-inning victory over the Atlanta Braves in five seconds.

“It was fantastic game last night,” he tells about 25 million listeners. “I’m still trying to figure out who did what, and why.”

Time for the lineups. The TV announcers search for meaning in the placement of hitters. Producers are unveiling dazzling graphics.

Then there is Coleman. He takes care of the Phillies’ batting order in one breath.

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“Of nine on the field, eight bat from the left side, and a couple of switch-hitters in there as well,” he says to fans around the world.

By the time the first inning ends, the Braves lead, 2-0, and things are really getting serious.

The TV announcers have talked about the Braves’ awesome power. The producers have run chilling close-ups of Phillie pitcher Tommy Greene.

Coleman? He called one pitch “a spotted ball.” Of another play, he said: “That could be an omen . . . about things to come.”

Then there was the batter who “takes strike one, right down the horn.”

Eight innings later, shortly after we are told that “you’ve got to hit the ball in the air to get it out of here,” the real truth about the NL playoffs is evident again.

For 15 years, nobody has more fun than Coleman. Finishing a close second are his listeners.

“I guess this is because I’m crazy,” Coleman said late Thursday night after working the Braves’ 14-3 victory in Philadelphia.

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Most prefer to think of him as delightfully human.

In these trying times of Bob Costas look-alikes and Chris Berman wanna-bes, Coleman is plucked by CBS from relative obscurity in San Diego every fall because he is like the nutty uncle who sat next to you at the ballpark and taught you about the game.

For Coleman, 69, the ball still “explodes.” Runners still “die.” Nervous pitchers still have “flutters.”

During the regular season, with the exception of his work on a handful of CBS radio games that few hear, Coleman spins his yarns only in San Diego. After 21 years, he has become like an unusual sculpture in a city square.

Some appreciate him. Others don’t. But he has become a part of the landscape that would be sorely missed.

“He’s an untouchable here,” said Fritz Quindt, the radio-TV critic for the San Diego Union-Tribune. “The longer he endures, the more beloved he is going to be.”

San Diegans still talk about his most famous Colemanism--"Winfield’s going back, back, he hits the wall with his head, it’s rolling toward second base.”

Or the ever-popular, “Rich Folkers is throwing up in the bullpen.”

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It is only during the first two weeks in October that the rest of the world is allowed in on this secret.

With longtime producer Norman Baer providing so much research that “I don’t even have to think,” with former catcher Johnny Bench acting as his straight man, Coleman never slows.

In the third inning Thursday, Coleman said: “The Philadelphia Phillies have seven innings to catch up, but they better do it in a hurry.”

In the fourth inning, he said that Phillie pitcher Ben Rivera is “batting around 230 in the weight department.”

In the fifth inning, he explained that “some people discount the skills of batting instructors as in, ‘You can’t make hamburger out of old cheese.’ ”

In the eighth inning, upon the appearance of 6-foot-6 pitcher David West, Coleman said: “Where do all these guys get the size, are they taking pills or something?”

This sets up his scoring of a ground-ball single through the shortstop: “That’s an H-6 for Greg Maddux.”

When the attendance is announced, Coleman immediately notes that there are 424 more fans in the stands on this night. Bench is amazed that Coleman did the math that fast.

“Four-two-four is the first three numbers of my home phone,” Coleman says, later adding, “I’m not going to give out the last four.”

Turns out he didn’t give out the first three, either. His home phone number does not begin with 424.

“Of course, I knew that,” Coleman said after the game. “I was just playing.”

The best thing about Coleman is, you’re never sure. The only thing he never jokes about is his distinguished career as a Marine pilot in World War II and Korea.

Coleman spent a minute on Thursday’s broadcast explaining that there was a bronze statue of him behind the center-field fence of a minor league park in Wellsville, N.Y.

“What was the ceremony?” Bench asked.

“I don’t know, I’ll tell you tomorrow night,” Coleman said. “Give me time to come up with something.”

Late in the telecast, noting Coleman’s nine-year career with the New York Yankees, Bench says it must have been a treat to play 10 years for Casey Stengel.

“Why?” Coleman said. “You couldn’t understand what he said. If you couldn’t understand him, how could you play for him?”


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