On Memorial Day, as we honor the service men and women who died while in the United States Armed Forces, baseball followers should recall the Major League players who died while serving in the military. Three big league players died overseas during World War I. Eddie Grant was the most notable, as he was killed in action in France. Major Leaguers Elmer Gedeon and Harry M. O’Neill were killed in action during World War II. Major Leaguer Robert O. “Bob” Neighbors was never found after missing in action following a bombing mission during the Korean War.
Memorial Day is also a time to remember all veterans of the Armed Forces, so I’ve taken the opportunity to nominate a “Military Veterans” All-Star team of Major League players who interrupted their baseball careers with service in the Armed Forces. To round out the club, I’ve also incorporated a manager, two coaches, an executive, and even an umpire.
There are quite a few Hall of Famers among this group and yet many of them missed baseball seasons in the prime of their careers. Who knows how many victories Bob Feller would have posted or how many home runs Ted Williams would have slugged had they not missed those years!
Our sincere gratitude to all who served this country so well over the years—and not just the ballplayers!
Here’s my All-Star team:
1B – Hank Greenberg, one of the first Major League players to enlist during WW II, initially in the Army. Later enlisted in the Air Force where he rose to the rank of Captain with four battle stars. He missed the entire 1942-1944 seasons and part of 1945. HOFer.
2B – Charlie Gehringer, at age 39, enlisted in the Navy after the 1942 season during WW II and became a Lieutenant Commander. HOFer.
3B – Frank Malzone, missed the 1952 and 1953 seasons due to service in the Army, prior to his first Major League season. 6-time All-Star.
SS – Rabbit Maranville, missed most of the 1918 season during WW I, enlisting in the Navy and serving on the USS Pennsylvania as a gunner. HOFer.
OF – Ted Williams, missed almost five full seasons as Navy air corps pilot during World War II and 39 missions in the Marines’ air wing during the Korean conflict. HOFer.
OF – Joe DiMaggio, missed three full seasons while in the Army during WW II. HOFer.
OF – Johnny Mize, spent three years in the Navy, stationed on a Pacific island during WW II, missing the 1943-1945 seasons. HOFer.
C – Bill Dickey, missed the 1944 and 1945 seasons while in the Navy during WW II. HOFer.
DH – Ralph Kiner, spent the 1943-1945 seasons in the Navy during WW II. HOFer.
LHP – Warren Spahn, spent 1943-1945 and part of 1946 in the Army during WW II. Fought in the Battle of the Bulge, receiving a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Received a battlefield commission. HOFer.
RHP – Bob Feller, spent 1942-1945 seasons as chief specialist on the USS Alabama during WW II, earning five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars. HOFer.
RP – Hoyt Wilhelm, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received a Purple Heart during WW II, missed the 1943-1945 seasons. HOFer.
Mgr – Ralph Houk, saw combat action in WW II from 1942 to 1945, achieving the rank of Major.
Coach – Danny Ozark, spent three years in the Army during WW II, fighting at the Battle of the Bulge and Omaha Beach, receiving a Purple Heart and five battle stars.
Coach – Billy Hitchcock, spent 1943-1945 in the Army Air Corps during WW II, receiving a Bronze Star.
Exec – Larry MacPhail, enlisted as a private and rose to rank of Captain during WW I; served as a Colonel as special assistant to the Undersecretary of War during WW II. HOFer.
Ump – Nestor Chylak, served in the Army during WW II, seriously wounded in Battle of the Bulge.
Below are a few “honorable mention” players, not because of their play on the ball field, but due to their service on the battle field:
Moe Berg, fluent in twelve languages, a counter-intelligence spy during WW II in a military organization that was the forerunner of the CIA , serving after his playing career.
Hank Bauer, served in the Marines from 1942 to 1945 during WWII, receiving two Bronze Stars, seeing action at Guadalcanal.
Al Bumbry, awarded the Bronze Star for service in Vietnam during 1969 and 1970, prior to his Major League career.
Lloyd Merriman, trained as a pilot near the end of WW II, then served as a jet pilot with 80 combat missions in the Marine Corps during the Korean conflict, missing the 1952-1953 seasons.