Memorial Day, Monday, May 28, 2001
Story last updated at 8:16 p.m. on Sunday, May 27, 2001
Baseball stars were willing to fight in '41
If you look at the old-timers' statistics in certain baseball encyclopedias, you
may notice sandwiched between the familiar rows of familiar numbers --
at-bats, hits, home runs, etc. -- there are those nearly empty lines.
-- MILITARY SERVICE -"You mean he didn't play?" I would ask
incredulously when I was a kid. "Why?"
As hard as it was to fathom the scenario then -- that Ted Williams, Stan
Musial, Joe DiMaggio and hundreds of other major-leaguers had stopped
playing, often in the prime of their careers, to go to war -- it is even harder to
We can picture today's athlete demanding a private charter.
But can we see him flying a Navy jet?
We can picture him fighting for free agency.
But can we see him fighting for freedom?
On this Memorial Day -- with Americans heading to air-conditioned theaters
all over the country to watch Pearl Harbor -- it seems fitting to remember
what happened to baseball in 1941.
Remember Hugh "Losing Pitcher" Mulcahy.
Mulcahy, who earned his nickname after losing 76 games in four seasons with
the lowly Philadelphia Phillies, was the first major-leaguer drafted. He
reported to Camp Devens, Mass., and said, "I'm on a winning team now."
Remember Hank Greenberg.
He was 30 years old and coming off his second MVP season with the Detroit
Tigers -- .340, 41 HR, 150 RBI -- when he was drafted 19 games into the
1941 season. He gave up a $55,000 salary and took $21-a-month Army
pay, telling the Sporting News: "If there's any last message to be given the
public, let it be that I'm going to be a good soldier."
He served until being discharged on Dec.5, 1941.
Four days later, he re-enlisted.
Remember Bob Feller.
Feller, then 23, rushed to enlist after hearing about Pearl Harbor. He joined
the Navy, serving as a chief petty officer aboard the Alabama.
Remember Ted Williams.
Williams, who has spent this year fighting for his life, hit 521 home runs
despite interrupting his career twice and giving five seasons to his country. In
1942 -- following a Triple Crown season -- Williams enlisted in the Navy and
served as a flight instructor. In 1952, he went to Korea. He was 33 years old.
He was hitting .400. He completed 39 combat missions, was hit by
anti-aircraft fire three times and had to crash-land his plane once.
Remember those statistics.
Remember Joe DiMaggio.
In 1941, he hit safely in 56 consecutive games. In 1942, he became a
$50-a-month enlisted man.
Remember Phil Marchildon, a Philadelphia Athletics pitcher who spent nine
months in a German prison camp; Cecil Travis, a Washington shortstop who
suffered frostbitten feet at the Battle of the Bulge; Billy Southworth, a St.
Louis manager who lost his son.
Remember that 5,800 players were in the majors and minors at the time of
Remember that, according to a 1945 New York Times story, 5,400 of them
ended up in the service.
Remember that more than 50 died.
Remember all of this the next time an athlete says he doesn't get any respect,
or an announcer gushes about a golfer's courageous shot, or a sports writer
describes a game-winning play as heroic.
Mark Woods' column usually appears each Monday, Wednesday, Friday
and Sunday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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