Touring The Bases With…Norm Coleman
Norm Coleman is an actor, sports writer, inspirational speaker, humorist and photographer. He lives in Half Moon Bay, California.
Jack Perconte: When did your love of baseball begin?
Norm Coleman: It began when I was ten years old living in Brooklyn. The year was 1946. My sister Louise, seven years older then me took me to my first baseball game at Ebbets Field where I saw the St. Louis Cardinals against the Dodgers. I fell in love with the game; listened to the playoff games (the two teams ended in a tie for first place) the Cardinals won and beat the Red Sox in the World Series. The next year Jackie Robinson arrived in Brooklyn and the Boys of Summer were born. There was a World Series every October in New York culminating with the Dodgers finally winning a Series in 1955. I have been hooked ever since. My older brother Leonard bought me my first Baseball Guide (published by the Sporting News) and I devoured the statistics. Four years later, I was known as Mr. Baseball in my neighborhood.
Perconte: What do you recall about your baseball playing days as a youth and was it a positive experience.
Coleman: Most of my playing days were playing stickball on the street with my buddies. Occasionally, a bunch of us would grab gloves, bat and ball and head to an empty lot, no coaches or uniforms and challenge kids from a different neighborhood. I was a good field, no hit kid. I tried out for the freshman team at Boys High School in Brooklyn but failed to make the cut. I became a sports writer on the school newspaper instead as I wanted to be a sports writer. It was a definite positive experience despite my failure to make the team as I realized how difficult playing baseball was. Writing for the paper increased my love for other sports, football, basketball, track, tennis and of course baseball.
Perconte: Besides the money players make now, what is the biggest difference(s) you see in players of today compared to the past?
Coleman: The players are bigger, stronger and more educated. They are more media savvy but generally speaking, less fan friendly. Their history of the game is woefully weak.
Perconte: Are their any changes you would like to see in baseball the way it is played today?
Coleman: The first change I would make if I were commissioner would be eliminating the DH. I would also make instant replay (not on ball and strikes) required on extremely close plays. No pitcher would ever lose a no-hitter because an umpire made a mistake. I would like to see a genuine World Series, our winner against the best team from other countries, especially Japan and yes, Cuba. I would eliminate the All Star Game deciding home field advantage and return to alternating between the leagues as it was done in the past.
Perconte: Tell us about your one-man play about Ty Cobb?
Coleman: The ninety-minute play has Cobb talking to a sports reporter from an Atlanta, Georgia newspaper on the evening he would die, July 17, 1961. They are in a hotel suite and Cobb reminisces about his life. Growing up in Georgia, playing baseball as a kid, his brief minor league career and his playing days with the Detroit Tigers (1905-1926) ending with the Philadelphia Athletics (1927-28) And his post baseball life. Managing the Tigers (1921-26) and his biggest disappointment, never winning a World Series.
He talks about various players he knew, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Lefty O’Doul. He talks about his friendships with the many presidents he knew, how he became a multi-millionaire, the Educational Foundation he established, the Cobb Memorial Hospital he funded in Royston, Georgia. He also discusses his racism, denies he was a bigot and discusses his over the top aggressive play he was known for and hated for. He talks about his approach to baseball as a science and how he drove himself to become the very best player of his time, and of all-time. He discusses the event that changed his life, the accidental shooting of his beloved father by his mother. The show has twenty-two pieces of music between scenes.
Perconte: How and why did you pick Ty as a subject?
Coleman: As a baseball fan, I was aware of Cobb as one of the great players. He held over 90 records for many years. I knew his lifetime batting average of 367 was and is the best and I knew he was the first player elected into the Hall of Fame. I knew nothing about the man. The first book I read about him intrigued me and as I was just starting my acting career in local community theater, I realized this could make a successful one-man show. I saw him as a man politically and socially incorrect for our day yet a great sports icon who truly helped create our national pastime. Fans either loved or hated him,
Players, even many on his own team hated him yet he used all that negative energy to drive himself to become the best. I was impressed how he overcame the death of his beloved father to push himself to be the best, yet it destroyed him for as he said, “the rest of my life.”
Perconte: Any players in the modern era you would compare to Ty Cobb?
Coleman: Without a doubt, Pete Rose comes to mind. Rose was the Ty Cobb of the modern era. His all out playing ability, aggressiveness and the fact he broke Cobb’s all time hit record. Derek Jeter of the Yankees. Stan Musial and Ted Williams for their hitting. Joe DiMaggio for his grace as a fielder and hitting ability. Albert Puhols for sheer hitting ability and the pre steroids Barry Bonds. Jackie Robinson for his aggressiveness, hitting, running, using his brains and body to upset pitcher and teams, a la Cobb and overcoming the greatest obstacle faced by any modern player, racism. Given the task he faced, he was a hero. His base running and ability to upset pitchers and teams was Cobbian.
Perconte: If you could interview Ty and ask him one question, what would it be?
Coleman: If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?
Perconte: I see Babe Ruth is one of your all-time favorite athletes too. Besides him being great, what did you like about him? Any thought of doing a one-man play about him?
Coleman: He changed the game from teams scratching for a run or two to just hit the ball over the fence. The fans loved it and eighty years later, fans still love to see a player hit one out. I am in the early stages of writing a script for a two-man show called BABE RUTH & TY COBB – in conversation. The play is about two old bitter enemies, having mellowed in old age discussing the “good old days” with a surprise story ending that most people are not aware of. I hope to have it on stage by next spring, or early summer. It will be multi-media with photos and music.
Perconte: If you could pick one player to win a game for you, who would it be? Ty or the Babe?
Coleman: That’s a tough question. If I was down by two or three runs, bottom of the ninth, a few men on base, Ruth because he just might hit a walk-off home run. If it were tied bottom of the ninth, I would want Cobb. He might single, steal second and third and he was a threat to steal home. He did this five times during his career, a record that still stands.
Perconte: Where can people read more about your play and where can they see you perform?
I have no performances scheduled at this time but my video is available: Normcoleman36@hotmail.com
Perconte: I know you are a big Dodger fan, it must be sad to see the state they are in today.
Coleman: Yes, I agree. This great, historic organization will return to its glory days with new ownership, the sooner the better.
Perconte: Beside me of course, ha-ha – Who is your favorite all-time Dodger player?
Coleman: It’s a tie between Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese but I must include Sandy Koufax. Robinson as I said before overcame the obstacle of racism and was a great player and human being. Reese was a fabulous shortstop, reliable in the clutch and I will always see him with his arm around Robinson’s shoulder embracing him as a teammate, and a human being. Sandy Koufax, not only because he was Jewish, but because he was the greatest pitcher during his fabulous five year run at the end of career. I saw him pitch many times at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the Giants could not touch him. He pitched four no-hitters in four consecutive years including a perfect fame. He was a World Series star and smart enough to quit at the top of his game. He stood by his strict Jewish belief and refused to pitch a World Series game on Rosh Hashanah. That was a moment of courage that we rarely see in today’s world.
Perconte: I know you are also a great photographer, who was your favorite subject.
Coleman: The subject I enjoyed the most was photographing beautiful brides on their wedding day. I loved capturing the faces and smiles of young children. My all-time favorite subject was Ronald Reagan whom I photographed while he was running for President. My portrait of him hung in my studio in San Mateo, California for years.
Former major leaguer Jack Perconte is the author of The Making of a Hitter(http://jackperconte.com) and has a baseball instruction site that can be found at www.baseballcoachingtips.net. He has recently published his second book Raising an Athlete: How to Instill Confidence, Build Skills and Inspire a Love of Sport