By Julie Provost
1941 was a good year for American baseball. But it wasn’t a good year for peace in America as the US entered World War II in December. More than 500 major league players were sent overseas to fight in the war effort, yet President Roosevelt believed that it was important to keep baseball going, even during World War II.
Over the years, dozens have served before or after and even in the middle of their major league careers. Here are the stories of eight of them:
1. Ted Williams
Ted Williams was left fielder for the Boston Red Sox. In 1942 he was drafted into the military but received a deferment because he was the only one who could support his mother. Later that year he enlisted in the Navy Reserve and was called to active duty in November 1942. He was never called into combat and came back to baseball in 1946. In 1952, he was called back from inactive reserves to fight in the Korean War. He arrived in Korea in February 1953 as a Marine fighter pilot, returning to baseball later in 1953.
2. Joe Dimaggio
Joe Dimaggio was a center fielder for the New York Yankees. He enlisted in the Air Force on February 17, 1943 as special services. He was stationed in California, Hawaii, and New Jersey during his time in the service. Dimaggio was medically released from service in September 1945 due to chronic stomach ulcers. During his time in the service he played baseball on the military teams to help the morale of the other soldiers.
3. Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson played as first and second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, becoming the first African American major league ball player. He joined the Army on April 3, 1942 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1943. He received an honorable discharge in 1944. He had been arrested and court-martialed for protesting segregation by refusing to move to the back of the bus during Army training. He was acquitted of all charges.
4. Hoyt Wilhelm
Hoyt Wilhelm played as a pitcher for the New York Giants as well as eight other teams. He served in the European theater in the Army during World War II, participating in the Battle of the Bulge and receiving a Purple Heart. He came back to the states with a piece of shrapnel lodged in his back, but he joined Giants in 1952 which started his 20-year career as a major league baseball player.
5. Al Bumbry
Al Bumbry was an outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles and the San Diego Padres, playing major league ball from 1972 to 1985. He served in the Army from July 1969 to June 1971 as a platoon leader during the Vietnam War. He earned the Bronze Star for heroism before he was discharged. He was also the 1973 Rookie of the Year.
6. Garry Maddox
Garry Maddox was a center fielder for the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies from 1972 to 1986. He served in the Army, including a tour in Vietnam during the 1969 and 1970 baseball season. Exposure to chemicals while he was in Vietnam left his skin very sensitive and has worn a beard ever since. Because of this, the Phillies had to wave their clean shaven rule to accommodate him.
7. Ed Figueroa
Born in Puerto Rico, Ed Figueroa was born in Puerto Rico was a pitcher for the California Angels and, later, the New York Yankees. He started his major league career in 1974 after serving in the Marine Corps. During his service, he spent close to a year in Vietnam and was discharged in 1970. After baseball, he went on to own two restaurants in Puerto Rico.
8. Willie Mays
Willie Mays was a center fielder who played major league ball from 1951 until 1973. He missed 266 games as well as part of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season because he was drafted into the Korean War. During his time in the Army, he played baseball at Ft. Eustis. He played for the New York Giants both before his military service and after, relocating with them to San Francisco in 1957. He continued to play for them until 1972 when he was traded to the New York Mets where he played until he retired in 1973.