Thousands of Major League Baseball players have answered the nation’s call, serving in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and peacetime. The following is a brief list of players who served in the United States Armed Forces, and will be added to frequently.
Hall of Fame Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto led a 20mm gun crew in the Pacific during World War II and played baseball for the Navy while he recovered from contracting malaria in New Guinea.
[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.
On April 27, 1971, Hank Aaron faces fellow Hall-of-Famer Gaylord Perry, sending the infamous San Francisco spitballer’s pitch sailing 350 feet into Atlanta’s left field stands – Aaron’s 600th home run.
The 18-year veteran becomes just the third player to reach the elite milestone, joining Babe Ruth and Willy Mays.
600 Home Run Club
|Ken Griffey, Jr.||630|
|Albert Pujols (active)||619*|
* – as of April 27, 2018
While Aaron takes the longest to reach 600, the player who accomplished the feat in the shortest amount of time is Barry Bonds. On this day in 1996, Bonds hits his 300th home run, becoming one of only four athletes (to that point) to hit 300 home runs and also steal 300 bases.
Bonds joins his father Bobby and godfather Willie Mays, who watched Aaron hit his 600th HR from the Giant dugout 25 years ago, along with Andre Dawson in the 300-300 club.
Also, on this date in 1983, Montreal Expos pinch hitter Brad Mills strikes out looking at a backdoor curveball from Houston Astros’ hurler Nolan Ryan (featured image) as Ryan eclipses Walter Johnson’s 56-year record of 3,508 strikeouts. The “Ryan Express” accomplishes the feat a full five seasons quicker than Johnson and will finish his career with 5,714 strike outs – the most by any pitcher in history.
On this day in 1934, Washington Senator’s backup catcher Morris “Moe” Berg’s streak of 117 games in a row without committing an error comes to an end, setting an American League record.
Berg wasn’t your typical athlete: before signing with the Brooklyn Robins (they wouldn’t become the Dodgers until 1932), he graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. magna cum laude in modern languages. Ted Lyons, Berg’s teammate with the White Sox, would say that “he can speak seven languages but can’t hit in any of them.”
Berg didn’t have a great bat, but when every one of manager Ray Shalk’s White Sox that could catch were out with injuries in 1927, Shalk – a player/manager who himself was one of the injured catchers – asked the right fielder to suit up, and it turned out he had a great arm and was a fantastic defensive catcher. He stayed behind the plate for the rest of his career. He worked around his baseball schedule to complete a law degree from Columbia University and passed the New York State bar exam. He would work for a Wall Street law firm during the off season.
In 1934, a group of future Hall of Famers traveled to Japan for a series of exhibition games against a Japanese all-star team. Somehow the inconspicuous Berg made the roster along with Babe Ruth (whom Berg became friends with on the trip), Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Lefty Gomez. While the team was in Toyko, Berg tricked the Japanese into thinking he was going to visit the American ambassador and instead made his way to the rooftop of one of the tallest buildings, taking photos and video of the city and port. The footage Berg shot was reportedly used for bombing missions during World War II.
His playing career ended in 1939, and he began a brief coaching career with the Boston Red Sox. When the United States entered World War II, William “Wild Bill” Donovan recruited Berg to join the Office of Strategic Services. He parachuted behind enemy lines on a mission to evaluate which Yugoslavian resistance movement the United States should back. After meeting and evaluating Draza Mihajlovic and Tito (Josip Broz)’s forces, Berg determined that Tito’s Communist partisans were the best bet.
On this day in 1939 at Yankee Stadium, a young rookie named Ted Williams makes his big league debut. He faces New York ace Red Ruffing, striking out twice but slapping a double as Ruffing shuts out the visiting Boston Red Sox 2-0.
Williams will spend three baseball seasons serving his country during World War II, earning his Naval aviators wings and then as an instructor pilot at Pensacola Naval Air Station (Fla.) for the Vought F4U Corsair fighter plane. While he awaited assignment for combat duty, the war in the Pacific ended before Williams had to fight.
When war breaks out in Korea, the Marines recall Capt. Williams in 1952. He trains on the Grumman F9F Panther jet fighter and ships out with Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMF-311) to Pohang, South Korea. Williams will often fly as wingman for fellow Marine and future astronaut John Glenn.
On one of his 39 combat missions, damage from enemy flak forces Williams crash-lands his crippled jet at Suwon’s K-13 airstrip. During a massive 200-plane raid on a troop encampment, Williams was hit by enemy ground fire which knocked out his instrument panel, landing gear, and hydraulic system; damaged his control surfaces; and set the plane on fire.
Rather than eject (and risk damaging his knees) Williams brings the plane down on its belly and skids down the runway for over a mile before the mortally wounded plane comes to a stop. A bout with pneumonia will disqualify Williams from flight duty and he is able to return for the final stretch of the 1953 season and resume the rest of his Hall of Fame baseball career.
Also on this date in 1944, a B-26 Marauder flown by Capt. Elmer Gedeon of the 586th Bombardment Squadron is shot down while attacking a V-1 flying bomb site in France. The former Washington Senators outfielder becomes the first of two professional baseball players to be killed during World War II.
In 1942, while Gedeon served as navigator aboard a B-25 Mitchell during training in the United States, his bomber crashed in North Carolina shortly after takeoff, killing two of his fellow crew. After managing to escape the burning aircraft, Gedeon ignored severe burns and broken ribs and crawled back into the fuselage to rescue another comrade. For his actions, Gedeon was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.
While not related to military history, it is interesting to note that the April 20, 1939 Red Sox-Yankee game marks the only time Williams will face Yankee Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. The “Iron Horse” goes 0-for-4 and grounds into two double plays.
In just ten days (April 30) Gehrig will take the field for the last game, setting a remarkable streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. After the team enjoys a day off, Gehrig informs Yankee manager Joe McCarthy that he is benching himself.
He will never play again.