How it started: Coleman's iconic call lives on

February 8th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- The production runs like clockwork.

A Padres defender makes a brilliant play. The Petco Park crowd goes wild. The videoboard cuts to the home radio booth, where an announcer waves a large golden star that dangles from a pole for the entire crowd to see.

The voice of the legendary Jerry Coleman reverberates through the ballpark: "Oh Doctor! You can hang a star on that baby!"

If you're a die-hard fan, you already know why the Padres "hang a star" in the home radio booth after excellent defensive plays.

But if you've only made the occasional trip to Petco Park, or perhaps have visited from another city, you've probably wondered about the tradition. It originated with Coleman, one of the most revered figures in the organization's history.

Coleman, who spent nine seasons playing for the Yankees and served as a Marine Corps pilot in World War II, spent 41 seasons as the team's lead radio announcer -- every year from 1972 until his death in 2014, save for one ill-fated season as manager in 1980.

The tradition combines Coleman's two most famous colloquial catchphrases. "Oh Doctor!" was his favorite way to let his listeners know that something special had just taken place. And "You can hang a star on that baby!" to let listeners know that a particular defensive play wasn't just good -- it was star-worthy.

Coleman said the star idea was a throwback to his days as a schoolboy. When he did something special, his teacher put a gold star on his paper. For Padres fans everywhere, it soon morphed into a scorekeeping habit. After any great defensive play, it was time to draw a star next to it in the scorebook.

By 1986, Coleman's catchphrase took on a physical form. When a Padres player made a brilliant play defensively, fans craned their necks toward the radio booth at Jack Murphy Stadium.

There was radio producer Tommy Jorgensen dangling the star from the upper level.

Jorgensen passed the tradition along to current producer Dave Marcus, who took over in 1994. In the mid-2010s, the Padres reworked their radio booth, and Marcus was moved to a platform behind the broadcasters, making his star-hanging duties impossible. The task instead fell to one of the two broadcasters.

Still, it’s Marcus who serves as the current keeper of the fabled star. He locks it away when the Padres go on the road, and he keeps a backup star, just in case something happens to the first.

It was Marcus who upgraded the foam star from a flimsy plastic pole onto a sturdier broom handle decades ago. The star itself is nearly three feet wide and covered in gold paint and glitter.

"Eighteen-karat gold glitter," quipped Marcus.

Marcus recalled his first regular season game in charge of the Padres radio booth when he was tasked with hanging the star. He dutifully waved it – evidently not to Coleman’s liking.

“We’ll practice tomorrow,” Coleman told his audience on-air.

Marcus laughed figuring Coleman was kidding -- only to find out he wasn’t. The next day Coleman had Marcus practice his star-waving skills in an empty ballpark.

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“I can only imagine what the players and coaches and ushers were thinking,” Marcus said. “He literally had me practicing waving the star. That’s when I thought, ‘Oh, this is the real deal.’ He really wanted it done right.”

For years, Coleman would grab Marcus’ arm after a great play, letting him know he was about to author his catchphrase. Marcus did his part, waving the star to Coleman’s liking -- though not always without fault. Marcus recalled hitting Ted Leitner, Coleman’s longtime radio partner, in the face with the star during one of the early years at Petco Park.

The star quickly became a staple at Padres home games, and the process of hanging it became canon. Fans began grumbling when they didn’t get to see it.

“They began to anticipate it, and you’d see them turn around and look up to the booth, and they didn’t like it if we didn’t do it,” Marcus said laughing. “Every now and then they’d boo. Some fans took it personally that they didn’t get to see the star. … It’s kind of a bigger deal than you’d think it would be. It takes on a life of its own.”

After Coleman's passing in 2014, the Padres considered retiring the star, out of respect. They instead decided to play Coleman’s voice over the stadium sound system while one of the current broadcasters waved it. Leitner often spoke directly to Coleman on-air before waving the star, saying "We're going to hang a star, Jer."

With Leitner's retirement this offseason, it's now Jesse Agler and Tony Gwynn Jr. on full-time "star" duty. After nearly four decades, the tradition is down to a science.

The star rests behind the broadcasters at the base of Marcus’ platform. After a great play, either Agler or Gwynn will reach for the star. Marcus presses a button that lets the ballpark operations team know what’s coming.

Several booths down, a red light goes on in the ballpark operations suite. As either Gwynn or Agler waves it from the terrace-level radio booth behind home plate, Coleman’s lyrical voice will ring throughout the stadium.

"Oh, Doctor! You can hang a star on that baby!"

And the crowd at Petco Park goes wild.