Ted Leitner is the warm and fuzzy friend of all, so much that he answers to “Uncle Teddy.”
It wasn’t always that way for one of the newest members of the Padres Hall of Fame.
“Early in my career I was this brash, Howard Cosell-type,” Leitner said. “I would give opinions, be bombastic and arrogant.”
Leitner, the local CBS affiliate sports anchor from 1978 to 2002, had an epiphany when he was hired as a radio broadcaster for the Padres in 1980. He got what he thought was a one-year trial when Jerry Coleman left the booth to manage the Padres.
Coleman lasted but one year in the dugout, with his best coaching job coming when returning to call games with Leitner. When the Colonel told Leitner, a Carmel Valley resident, to tap the brakes on being pompous, Leitner did something rare — he listened.
“The idea that I could be different and last through all these different owners over the years to ultimately go into the team’s hall of fame is icing on the cake,” he said, with a chuckle. “It really is a big deal.”
Leitner was on the dial whenever the Padres played until 2020. While stepping aside from his baseball duties, Leitner remains the voice of San Diego State football and basketball.
“Ted made the games entertaining when we weren’t very good,” said Peter Seidler, the Padres owner who notified Leitner of his induction. “He is a treasure.”
Now he’s enshrined with the likes of Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman and how exactly did this former blowhard blow past his detractors?
Again, it was all because of Coleman, the gentle man with grace and class whom Leitner refers to as his second father.
“I didn’t have a close relationship with my father so Jerry became that,” said Leitner, who turns 75 on July 9. “He was also my mentor, friend and career adviser. He would always tell me when I would start to berate someone or question why (manager) Bruce Bochy did something, that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. He told me that I had never played the game and it was a tough game.”
I always thought Leitner did his best work when Padres fans were experiencing tough times. He supplied the right tone and approach when speaking at the heartbreaking memorials for Coleman and Gwynn.
When Padres fans were grieving, Uncle Teddy’s shoulder always seemed like a good destination.
That the Padres advanced to the 1998 World Series against the New York Yankees, was special for Leitner. As a Bronx teenager, he hawked everything from sodas to peanuts in the original Yankee Stadium.
Just don’t ask about the days when he peddled hot chocolate during those humid summers.
“I had to wear this big tank on my back and it felt like a flame-thrower,” Leitner said, and here comes his signature cackle again. “I was walking the aisles and sweating my (tail) off.
“But then I would look to my left and there was Mickey Mantle and then I would look to my right and there was Roger Maris. In the press box there were Hall of Famers like Mel Allen, Red Barber and Jerry Coleman.”
Ah yes, the Colonel, Leitner’s reliable, and ultra-popular half of their radio combination. They were smoother than most of the teams they were yapping about.
“Just one more time,” Leitner said. “I’d like to say, ‘So Jer, what did you do today?’”
That inquiry would unleash a tsunami of stories that the audience cherished. That they came to love Leitner so much that he now stands in the Padres Hall of Fame was a bet Leitner would have lost.
“It’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to me professionally,” Leitner said. “I tell you one thing, I wasn’t turning it down.”
Padres honks seldom lowered the volume when Leitner cleared his throat. That he’s choked up over being honored isn’t a surprise.
Same goes for him making sure Coleman gets his due.
“It was Teddy and Jerry for 35 years and people just go so comfortable with us,” Leitner said. “In writing my book (“Ted Talks”) it reminded me that, my God, there was always somebody there to help and no one more so than the Colonel.”
Agree, but now it’s time to salute Leitner.