Coleman was a minor leaguer in the Yankees's farm system before he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942. He was later assigned to the Marines and became a pilot, flying 57 combat missions in a dive bomber in the Pacific theater during World War II. After the war he returned to the Yankees and broke into the big leagues in 1949. When the Korean War began Coleman was recalled to the Marines. He flew 63 combat missions in a single-seat fighter plane before being discharged in 1953, when he returned to the Yankees. He played four more full and largely unremarkable seasons before retiring, settling in San Diego and embarking on a Hall of Fame broadcasting career as the voice of the Padres.