Thousands of Major League Baseball players have answered the nation’s call, serving in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and peacetime. The following post is just one of what will become several slideshows of players who served in the United States Armed Forces.
On 3 October 1943, a rookie Brooklyn Dodger named Gil Hodges hops off the bench for his first-ever professional baseball game (Hodges played college ball for St. Joseph’s College then went straight into the Minor Leagues). Cincinnati ace Johnny Vander Meer — who would serve in the Navy during World War II — strikes Hodges out twice, but Hodges draws a walk in his third and final plate appearance of the season. After this game he joins the Marine Corps, playing baseball for the 16th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion while on Hawaii, but soon ships out for combat on Tinian and is among the first troops ashore on Okinawa, where the future eight-time All Star earns a Bronze Star for valor.
[Click the navigation menu below for more baseball players that served our country]
On this day 21 years ago, Chicago White Sox second baseman Ray Durham tied a Major League record by reaching base three times on errors. I don’t know how he got in the heads of the Cleveland Indians, but they committed two more errors while Durham was running the bases.
Durham lead off the game by reaching first on an error by future Hall of Fame first baseman Jim Thome. Another HOF’er, Frank Thomas hits a homerun, and Durham scores.
Leading off the top of the third Durham reaches again, this time on an error by pitcher Charles Nagy. He steals second base and advances to third on a throwing error by catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. A sacrifice fly by Thomas and Durham scores again.
In the fifth inning, Durham makes it to first on another error by Thome. He then scores again on a double to right by Albert Belle. The score is now Ray Durham 3, Cleveland 1.
Congratulations to former St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols for surpassing Babe Ruth on the (official) all-time runs batted in list.
Sure, Ruth’s numbers are lower due to the fact that Major League Baseball didn’t count RBIs until 1920, but even counting the Bambino’s actual numbers, Pujols could be just one swing away from passing both Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds to become fourth on the all-time records.
All-Time RBI Leaders (as of April 21, 2019)
Equally impressive is the fact that he is one of only seven active players to have driven in over 1,000 runs, and other than Miguel Cabrera, no one else even comes close.
Pujols (39 years old) 1,993 RBI
Miguel Cabrera (36) 1,640
Robinson Cano (36) 1,242
Edwin Encarnacion (36) 1,171
Ryan Braun (35) 1,068
Nelson Cruz (38) 1,023
Matt Kemp (34) 1,010
Theoretically, Miguel Cabrera could catch Pujols, but even that appears unlikely. Looking at their last three full seasons (119, 101, 64 RBI for Pujols and 108, 60, 22 for Cabrera), Pujols is clearly pulling away from Cabrera despite being three years older. From 2016-2018 Pujols drove in 284 runs in 1,651 at-bats while Cabrera knocked 190 RBI in just 1,198 at-bats. That works out to one run every 5.8 at-bats for Pujols and one every 6.3 for Cabrera. Plus, to drive in runs you need your team to get on base; you could make the case that Pujols put up his higher numbers despite the Angels being a weaker offensive team than the Tigers.
[Featured image: Brooklyn legends (left to right) Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and fellow Army veteran Jackie Robinson]
1939: New York Yankee ironman Lou Gehrig tells manager Joe McCarthy that he is taking himself out of the starting lineup.
Gehrig will never play again.
His record of 2,130 straight games played will stand until Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken tops the streak in 1995.
1949: Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe gets his first career start, shutting out the Cincinnati Reds 3-0. He goes on to lead the Dodgers’ pitching rotation with 17 wins on their way to a National League pennant. Newcombe will lose two seasons to the Army during the Korean War.
1954: The St. Louis Cardinals’ Stan “The Man” Musial, who served in the Navy during World War II, hits five home runs in a double header against the New York Giants.
Musial’s victims that day are pitchers Johnny Antonelli (who served in Korea), Jim Hearn (an Army artilleryman during World War II), Ray Jablonski (an Army military policeman in France during World War II), and Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt “Old Sarge” Wilhelm (fought and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge).
In the Sportsman’s Park stands watching is eight-year-old St. Louis native Nate Colbert, who will go on to hit five home runs for the San Diego Padres in a 1972 double header.
On this day in 1912, University of Michigan freshman picher George Sisler strikes out an incredible 20 batters in seven innings. Sisler will go on to serve in a chemical weapons unit commanded by Branch Rickey during World War I before an outstanding 15-year Hall of Fame career.
1951: Minnie Minoso – the first black White Sox player – hits a home run off the New York Yankee’s Vic Raschi in his first major league at bat. Raschi, who served as a physical trainer for the Army Air Force during World War II before winning 21 games three years in a row and winning six World Series, will also allow Hank Aaron’s first major league home run three years later.
In the same game, Chicago right hander Randy Gumpert (who served in the Coast Guard during World War II) watches as rookie Mickey Mantle sends his pitch sailing over the wall – the Mick’s first major league home run. Although Mantle wanted to serve in the military, an old high school football injury prevented him from joining.