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Friday, February 25, 2005 | Jerry Coleman is a San Diego professional who always says what he means and sometimes says what he thought he meant. For that, he is being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I was a sportswriter once, and five or six times a year I was assigned to go to the ballpark and write a feature about a player or a sidebar about the game. I thought it was a great assignment, acknowledging my own professionalism, a perk for all the routine nights at the office, writing headlines and taking the jai alai results from the Tijuana fronton.

At the ballpark were all the famous players, baseball played at its best level, Padres PR people waiting on you hand and foot, and a great buffet with booze at the end. How could a journalist’s life be better?

But I always watched Phil Collier down in the front row of the press box, his tools of the trade arranged around him, and it always occurred to me that he had to be there, from San Diego to Montreal, in all kinds of moods and weather, with an occasional good team and wretched ones the other years, assigned to write basically the same exact story 162 times a year, and find ways to make them interesting. The attention and buffet had long since ceased to mean much to him.

Jerry Coleman was there, too, doing with his voice what Phil did with his typewriter, only doing it spontaneously. Imagine the knowledge that required, of the game as it has been played for decades, but also the game as it was being played in front of him, second by second. Focus, concentration, love. That is the second time I have said love, and it is not repetitive. Jerry Coleman is going to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., because of love. You can’t be a professional without it. You can’t be a leader without it. You can’t be loved without it.

His peers loved the Hall of Fame news when it came this week. “He has a completely different style than anybody else,” said Padres legend Tony Gwynn. “Sometimes it’s criticized because he makes some mistakes. That’s just Jerry being Jerry.”

“We would go into another city,” longtime Padres PR man Bob Chandler told the media, “and he was so well-respected, he brought the perception level of the Padres up a few notches.”

It makes you ache, reading the way that San Diego is perceived these days in other cities, and business pages, and bond ratings. It wouldn’t do any good to wish that somehow Jerry Coleman was San Diego’s mayor. He doesn’t have the chops for that. He was a baseball manager for a year and it taught him all he needed to know about managing.

But there is a role for Jerry Coleman in our city. Hire him quickly as a consultant, to teach the buffet lovers at City Hall the meaning of focus, concentration and love to professionalism, in performing the city’s toughest jobs in a hall of fame way.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972.

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