Frank Colman A London Majors Legend

Frank Colman A London Majors Legend
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

In 1999, Frank Lloyd Colman was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Now, all of Canada would know about Colman’s contributions to baseball north of the 49th Parallel. Rightfully, in 2005 Colman was inducted into the London Sports Hall of Fame.

e1In fact, a week doesn’t go by when Colman’s name is bantered about at Labatt Park. Of course, George “Mooney” Gibson, a Londoner and Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1909 World Series hero, is London’s most famous baseball name. But there is no denying that even today, Colman’s contributions to the game were imperative to helping shape the game as we enjoy it here in London today.

A former big-leaguer, Colman played a key role in forming the Eager Beaver Baseball Association. In 1984, the annual EBBA Labatt Park All Star Day, also known as Labatt Day and Eager Beaver Baseball Day since 1955, was renamed Frank Colman Day, honouring an important league founder.

Colman, a quiet man by nature, spoke for Gordon Berryhill, another soft spoken gentleman who is credited with founding EBBA. He handed the reins to Colman. The rest is history.

180x270xColmanFrank_jpg_pagespeed_ic_7JSjP_LSSmOne of eight brothers and sisters, Colman was born March 2nd 1918, just outside Northeast London. His parents, Frederick and Harriet, owned a London shoe store on Hamilton Road.   Frederick had organized the Colman Hockey Club. In fact, Frank was said to have loved hockey more than baseball. His older brother, Roy, once said he remembered “all of us playing baseball together at Argyle Park when Frank was in his teens.”  Frank’s sister, Joan Fraser, once remembered being “surrounded by baseball.”

When Frank attended H.B. Beal Secondary School, his incredible baseball skills surfaced. Harry Nielsen, another EBBA founder, played on a 1934 City Championship Junior team with Frank, who was a pitcher on that squad. And Vick Byers, another EBBA founder who lived in the same rural area as the Colman family, once recalled “pitching against Frank at Tecumseh Park during a Junior City League contest.”

Colman developed his skills early. He joined London’s Intercounty Baseball League club in the mid-1930s, and by 1936 had gained a reputation as a major league prospect. By then he was known as “Lefty” Colman, a top IBL hurler whose bat spoke also spoke volumes. He won the league batting title and MVP award that year.

Big league scouts too notice, but a strange turn of events would forever shape Colman’s baseball future. An arm injury now dictated that he would have to rely on his bat. Frank Colman Junior once said, “Dad probably ruined his arm by pitching too often. He was lucky enough to be able to hit the ball, too. He made the big leagues on his hitting but not before he paid his dues.”  Colman played for various minor league development teams. In 1940 at Wilmington, Delaware, he batted .363. As a slugger with the famed Class AAA International League Toronto Maple Leafs in 1941, he led the team in hitting with a .295 BA, and in 1942 with a .300 BA.

Colman-1 In 1942, Colman signed as an outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates who, incidentally, operated a Pony League team at Labatt Park in 1940-41. In 10 games, Colman batted .135. He played some outfield for the 1943 Pirates, and batted .271.
In Louis Cauz’s 1977 book, Baseball’s Back In Town, Cauz writes that Colman was a valuable member of the pennant-winning Leafs of 1943.

Colman played in his major league high 99 games in 1944, batting .270 and playing his first big league game at first base. He would remain with the Pirates as a first baseman/outfielder until late into the 1946 season, when the New York Yankees signed him strictly as an outfielder (although he did practice at first base). The 1947 Yankees were World Series champions, beating the beloved Bums – the Brooklyn Dodgers. That season, Colman started in right field playing with Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich. He batted third behind Phil Rizzuto, saw action in 22 regular-season games, but never had an official at-bat in the Fall Classic.

Colman-3Roy Colman recalled Frank Colman Day in Detroit in 1947. “We went down to watch. He was warming up at first base for the Yankees. It was quite a thrill.”

Frank left the major leagues, in part because of a leg injury which eventually ended his pro career, but the thrill wasn’t gone. Still a pro with enormous talent in 1949, Colman hit .319 with 19 HR and 98 RBI for Seattle of the Pacific Coast league. In 1950, he batted .310 for that club.

Returning to Toronto of the IL, Colman was player/coach from 1951-53 under legendary owner Jack Kent Cooke.
London was Colman’s home, so he returned to the IBL Majors, signing as a playing manager under owner Clare Van Horne in 1954. With a little left in his arm, Colman actually pitched a 4-hitter during his first year back with London. In 1955, Colman purchased the Majors. He now wore three hats as player/manager/owner.

On January 15, 1955 Jack Park wrote in the London Free Press, “The sale of the Majors to Colman is one of the best things to happen to baseball here in many years. He is a local product, a former major leaguer and a baseball man through and through. He knows what the city wants and deserves in the way of ball.”

Colman-4With Colman back in town, the Majors were now a major draw, and a force to be reckoned with in the IBL. His brother, Jack, helped coach the 1955 Majors, who attracted 4,000 fans to a September playoff game against Brantford. Colman’s Majors promptly won the IBL title in 1956, and in 1957 captured the Great Lakes title, but lost to Niagara Falls in the Great Lakes-Niagara League final. Colman guided the Majors to the IBL championship in 1958, and ran the Majors until the end of the 1959 campaign.

All during this time, Colman was putting in endless hours as leader of EBBA. Majors legendary coach Norm Aldridge liked to tell this story which he heard told by his good friend Colman.

“Frank told me, ‘A fellow goes down to a major league training camp, and he was hitting the crap out of the ball. He wrote a letter home: Dear Mother, great success, please send me $10. Two weeks later he wrote: Dear Mother, coming home, they are starting to throw curve balls.’”

In his later years, Colman took a maintenance position with Western University. On February 20, 1983 he died from cancer at age 65. The next year, EBBA renamed its annual All Star festivities Frank Colman Day, in honour of a great London Major, a proud major league ball player and simply a great man.

Six major league seasons, 271 games, 130 hits, .228 batting average, 15 HR and 106 RBI can’t say enough about Frank Colman, one of London’s top sporting legends, and one of the most important London Majors of all-time.

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Jeffrey Reed, a 35-year member of the local sports media, is author of, EBBA 40 Years of Baseball. A former London Majors 3B coach and RHP who founded the Intercounty Baseball League media relations office, Reed today enjoys reporting on the 2015 London Majors at Labatt Park.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office https://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com. Sports journalist since 1980.

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