Wrestler Abe Coleman died in March of kidney failure. He was 101. To reach such an age after spending more than 20 years in a body-pounding profession is incredibly unique (Coleman was, by all accounts, the oldest living professional wrestler).
But not nearly as unique as
Coleman stood at 5-foot-3 and 220 pounds (people joked that he looked as if he were perpetually standing in a ditch), and if those sort of dimensions weren't unique enough, he went by two nicknames -- Hebrew Hercules and Jewish Tarzan. And if those two nicknames weren't unique enough, Coleman developed his signature wrestling move -- the fabled drop-kick to the jaw -- after visiting Australia in 1930 and watching the kangaroos smack each other around (he also relied on crafty moves like the flying headbutt and the airplane spin). And if that weren't unique enough, Coleman met his wife, June Miller, when he was wrestling at Madison Square Garden in the spring of 1936. "I was thrown out of the ring," he once recalled, "and landed right in her lap." If that's not unique enough, Coleman was born Abba Kelmer in Zynchlin, Poland, on Sept. 20, 1905 (yes, nineteen-oh-five). He was the youngest of 16 brothers and sisters, many of whom died in the Holocaust. His father was a coal salesman. If that's not unique enough, Coleman (who came to the U.S. in 1923) began wrestling five years later, when a promoter named Rudy Miller saw him in a Brooklyn gym and, according to The New York Times, said, "Hey, boy, wanna make $25 tonight? Bring your tights to Ridgewood Grove." This was at a time when the idea of a Jewish man grappling was as preposterous as a black man playing major league baseball. Coleman was ridiculed and threatened, harassed and humiliated. The Jewish Daily Bulletin called him a "master of the art of grunts, groans and grimaces." Anti-Semitic fans called him, simply, "K---."
If that's not unique enough, Coleman wrestled in more than 2,000 matches -- including a 1933 bout against Jim "the Golden Greek" Londos that took place before an unprecedented 60,000 fans in a Mexico City bullring. Another time (even more unique!) he lifted the 465-pound Mountain Man Dean above his head and dropped him to the ground. As he did so, the mat broke (unique). The floor broke (really unique). The Mountain Man broke (extremely unique). According to The Washington Post, Coleman's career opponents included World Wide Wrestling Federation champion Bruno Sammartino; George Zaharias, the husband of famed athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias; and George Temple, the brother of actress Shirley Temple.
If that's not unique enough, Coleman hardly retired and faded into the sunset. Following his grappling he became a license-plate inspector for the DMV, worked as a part-time wrestling referee and, according to the Times, told one whopper of a story after the other at the T-Bone Diner on Queens Boulevard.
At his 100th birthday party last year, The Queens Chronicle said Coleman was asked by a nephew whether he'd like to wrestle. His response was, if nothing else, uniquely Abe Coleman. "Get my tights and jockstrap!"
Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer. You can reach him at email@example.com.
PAGE 2 TRIBUTES
Page 2 tells the stories of some of those who passed away this year.TAYLOR BRADFORD, 1986-2007
Taylor Bradford was a defensive lineman for the University of Memphis. He was also a thoughtful, intelligent brother and friend.
ABE COLEMAN, 1905-2007
Abe Coleman was 5-foot-3, 220 pounds and wrestled before a crowd of 60,000. He was one of a kind.
EDDIE FEIGNER, 1925-2007
Softball pitcher Eddie Feigner was more than a traveling sideshow: he may have been the best ever at any craft.
JOHN FERGUSON, 1938-2007
John Ferguson isn't in the Hall of Fame, but the Montreal Canadiens wouldn't have won five Stanley Cups without him.
BUDDY HANCKEN, 1914-2007
Buddy Hancken played just one inning in the major leagues, but he had a lifetime of stories to tell after spending 50 years in pro baseball.
MARQUISE HILL, 1982-2007
Patriots defensive lineman Marquise Hill tried to do what was right, and he had a perspective far beyond his years.
JESSE MARUNDE, 1979-2007
Jesse Marunde was one of the strongest men on the planet. Did he push himself too far?
ISAK RAIN, 1985-2007
Isak Rain was a budding star in the wrestling world, but an auto accident took his life far too soon.
BILL ROBINSON, 1943-2007
Bill Robinson enjoyed a long, productive major league career. He also knew how to take a joke.
VERN RUHLE, 1951-2007
Did he catch it or not? We can't say for certain, but either way, Vern Ruhle is a part of baseball history.