Colman started, finished in London

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Free Press sports columnist

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

He played on the most famous baseball franchise in history, but he never forgot where he came from and where he would eventually wind up.

In the end, Frank Colman returned from playing major league baseball with the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates to help establish a minor league baseball organization in London and buy the London Majors.

Colman, already a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, will be inducted into the London Sports Hall of Fame Nov. 10.

Colman was 25 when he broke into the major leagues with the Pirates, playing with them from 1942 through 1946, when he moved to New York. He played with the Yankees in '46 and '47. He finished his six-year major league career with 571 at-bats, 15 home runs and 106 RBI.

Colman didn't make the Yankees postseason roster in 1947 and missed out on their World Series win.

Colman returned to London in 1954 after playing in the minor leagues and being the player/coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. He bought the London Majors and, as player/ owner, won the Intercounty title in 1956.

He came full circle. In 1936, he had started with the Majors, winning the MVP award, batting title and league championship.

"He was one of the sweetest, best guys in baseball," said Norm Aldridge, who coached the Majors when Colman owned them. "He knew baseball. He was a beautiful hitter."

Aldridge never lacks for a story to tell. He has several about Colman.

"I was in the navy in 1943," said Aldridge. "I was in Boston with a bunch of the guys from the USO. Pittsburgh was playing there. I said, 'Hey, let's get tickets to see the Pittsburgh Pirates. My old buddy Frank Colman from back home in London, Ontario, is playing for Pittsburgh.'

"I lied through my teeth -- I had teeth then. I told them I knew Frank Colman really well. He lived around the corner.

"Wouldn't you know it, we went down to the USO centre and they gave us six tickets right behind the Pittsburgh bench. At the end of the ball game, I leaned over the rail and said, 'Hi, Mr. Colman, I'm from London, Ontario, the same place you are.' He turns up and looks at me and kept right on walking. I almost fell on my head.

"I told him the story when he bought the Majors. He apologized very, very much."

The apology would be in keeping with the kind of person that people remember Colman as.

"He was liked by everyone," said son Frank Colman Jr. "In his own quiet way, he responded to people. Anyone who came to him for help and assistance was quick to get it, especially if it involved baseball. That's why he got involved with Eager Beaver."

Colman helped establish the Eager Beaver Baseball Association and the organization has renamed its all-star day Frank Colman Day.

"It's funny, but he wouldn't go across the street to watch a baseball game," he said of his dad. "He enjoyed playing the game. He'd rather watch hockey."

He says his dad didn't talk about the game a great deal.

"He'd talk about it in some context when it came up," he said. "If the name Bob Feller came up, he'd just say how much he liked to face Bob Feller. He was a kind of shy person. He wasn't one to boast."

Aldridge has plenty of Colman stories though.

"When he decided he didn't want to coach no more, he was up in the stands," Aldridge said. "He said to me, 'You go to third base. When you get in trouble, you take a look up at me and I'll tell you what to do.' I go out to third base, there was a situation the guy was coming around second base. I look up in the stands, looking for Colman, and he's talking to his brother. He looks down and shrugs his shoulders."

Colman died in 1983 at 65.

"Baseball and the community really lost someone when he died," Aldridge said.

NEXT: Fran (Wigston) Eberhard.

SPIRIT OF SPORT

WHAT: Volunteer recognition dinner and London Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

WHEN: Nov. 10; dinner at 5:30 p.m. at Four Points Sheraton.

HALL INDUCTEES: Max Gauss, Frank Colman, Jim Thompson and Bob Hayward, and Fran Eberhard.

TICKETS: 451-6401 or lsc@bellnet.ca


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