The Korean War has the unfortunate nickname of the Forgotten War. The conflict in Korea was wedged between World War II and the Vietnam War, but it was no less horrific for the soldiers. 36,574 Americans were killed in just over 3 years of fighting. The Forgotten War cut short the lives of many soldiers. Among those killed in Korea was Major Robert Neighbors of the Army Air Force.
Major Neighbors joined the Army Air Force on May 8, 1942. He served with the 22nd Air Transport Training Detachment in Wichita Falls, Texas. He also spent part of his time playing baseball for the Sheppard Field Mechanics. After the German and Japanese surrenders, the United States began demobilizing large parts of its military. However, Neighbors decided to stay and make a career in the Army Air Force.
Roughly five years later, on June 25, 1950 North Korea attacked South Korea sparking the Korean War. The conflict was both an attempt to unify the Korean peninsula under one flag and an escalation of the Cold War. The United States was immediately drawn into the conflict defending its South Korean ally and preventing the spread of Communism. Major Neighbors was assigned to the 13th Bomb Squadron of the 3rd Bomb group. On August 8, 1952 Neighbors and his crew, First-Lieutenant William Holcom and Staff-Sergeant Grady Weeks, flew a night mission over North Korea. They were originally not scheduled for the mission but the pilot of the scheduled crew was sick. During their mission Neighbors and his crew were shot down. They radioed they were hit but did not provide a location. The crew bailed out of their Douglas B-26 Invader and were never heard from again. Neighbors and his crew were officially declared dead on December 31, 1953 after they were not among the Prisoners of War repatriated in accordance with the Armistice. He was 34 years old and left behind his second wife, his first wife was hit and killed by a car in 1941, and a 2 year old son. Neighbors was the only Major League player killed during the Korean War, and is the last Major League player killed in combat.
Major Robert Neighbors is the most recent MLB player killed in war. (www.mlb.com)
Neighbors’ spent 6 seasons in the Minor Leagues playing primarily for teams in Texas and Arkansas. He began his professional career in 1936 with the Siloam Springs Travelers of the Class D Arkansas-Missouri League. He returned to Siloam Springs to begin 1937 before joining the Abbeville A’s of the Class D Evangeline League. In 1938, Neighbors played for the Class A1 San Antonio Missions in the Texas League and the Palestine Pals of the Class C East Texas League. In 1939, he joined the Class B Springfield Browns of the Triple I League before his September call up. Neighbors was back in the Minors in 1940 with the Toledo MudHens of the Class AA American Association, before playing for both San Antonio and Palestine. Neighbors spent 1941, his final season of professional ball, with San Antonio. It was during a road trip that his first wife was hit and killed. Across 6 seasons in the Minors, Neighbors hit .268 with a solid to very good glove at Shortstop.
September call ups reward young prospects with a taste of the Major Leagues. Bob Neighbors was not the next super star the Browns were always searching for, but his play earned him a cup of coffee in the Big Leagues. He debuted on September 16, 1939 against the Washington Senators as a Pinch Runner. In 7 games, Neighbors had 2 Hits in 11 At Bats (.182), including a solo Home Run for his only RBI, scored 3 Runs, with 1 Strikeout. In the field, he played 28 Innings at Shortstop. He had 12 Chances, made 5 Putouts, 6 Assists, 1 Error, and turned 1 Double Play.
The Boston Red Sox were finishing out the 1939 season. Their new super star Ted Williams had arrived in April, slugging 31 Home Runs, a league best 145 RBI, and hitting .327. Boston would finish the season 89-62, but it did not matter. The Yankees won the American League pennant by 17 games. Even good seasons at Fenway were not enough. The St. Louis Browns came to Fenway on September 21, 1939 to play a game because it was on the schedule. The official attendance was 598. Five Hundred and Ninety Eight. In the Bottom of the 6th, the Red Sox loaded the bases with 1 out. Doc Cramer hit a ground ball to Neighbors who threw to Johnny Berardino covering Second to force out Red Nonnenkamp. Instead of throwing to First, Berardino threw to 3rd Baseman Harlond Clift to tag Denny Galehouse. Before the 3rd out was made, Gene Desautels scampered home to score. Only the Browns could turn an inning ending Double Play while allowing a run to score. Neighbors was up second in the Top of the 7th with 1 out. He drove a pitch from Galehouse over the Green Monster for his only career Home Run. Neighbors’ best day in his short Major League career was not enough, the Browns lost 6-2. His final game was nine days later on September 30, 1939 in the second game of a Doubleheader against the White Sox. The Browns went 1-6 with Neighbors on the team, finishing dead last in the American League at 43-111. 1939 was the Browns’ 10th consecutive losing season.
Bob Neighbors did not have a long, memorable career. He, like so many others, had a cup of coffee in the Majors. He is forever listed among the select few who have played Major League Baseball. While his career was far from spectacular, his dedication to his country went beyond the call of duty. Major Robert Neighbors is among those we remember this Memorial Day who gave their lives in defense of our nation. He stands out for playing in the Major Leagues, but he is no different than the thousands of soldiers lost in war. Neighbors is the most recent Major League player killed in war. Hopefully he retains this title forever and fewer sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins go off to war and do not return.
Thanksgiving is when we show our gratitude for the wonderful things in our lives. We ought to give thanks more than once a year, as there is always good in our lives. Life is not perfect but there is always a reason to be thankful. I have many things to be thankful for, and one of them is baseball. Baseball is so much more than just a game. It touches every area of my life.
I am thankful for the close friends I have because of baseball. John, Bernie, and Kevin are a few of my friends who share in my obsession with the game. Discussions of a game, a player, a stat, or something funny are daily occurrences. Whether we are together or a thousand miles apart, friends make life and baseball better.
Bernie, Kevin, and I at our second Pirates games over Memorial Day Weekend 2017. We saw Pittsburgh play the Mets and Diamondbacks that weekend. (The Winning Run)
I am thankful for my family and the memories we have because of baseball. Attending baseball games with my Parents and Jesse. Watching the Braves play on television with my Grandfather and Great Aunt. Sharing my love of the game with my Wife. Plotting the baseball indoctrination of my Nephew and Niece. Who better to share what you love than with who you love.
I am thankful for the travel my love of baseball has spurred. Driving to Boston with my now Wife to watch a game at Fenway on Memorial Day. Going to Giants and Athletics games on our honeymoon. Last minute trips to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play. Planned trips to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play the Mets and Diamondbacks. Flying to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to see historic ballparks. Minor League road trips. Exploring Cooperstown and the Negro Leagues Museum. I love traveling and baseball, they are better when they are together.
I am thankful I became an umpire. Having a front row seat to a baseball game is the best way to watch. Baseball makes the weather perfect, regardless if it means calling games on the surface of the sun in July or in the Polar arctic in March. The bumps, bruises, and trips to the Emergency Room are the cost of admission. Umpiring was not in my life’s plan, but I am glad life does not always follow the plan. There is no better way to spend a day than calling balls and strikes in the sunshine. I umpire for the love of baseball, not the paycheck.
Jesse, John, and myself at a Pirates game in 2013. We decided to drive to Pittsburgh for the game at 2 a.m. that morning. It was a long drive but worth it. (The Winning Run)
I am thankful for endless baseball trivia. Learning random tidbits and then quizzing friends and family on said information is always entertaining. You will never know everything about baseball, but this does not stop me from trying. Baseball trivia is mostly useless in real life, but each tidbit broadens my understanding of the game.
I am thankful for the feeling baseball gives you. Playing catch or hitting a baseball on the sweet spot. The sounds, smells, and feel of the game are timeless. The joy of the game never ends. We do not remember the score of the games, but we remember how we felt. Baseball is fun. It makes you smile and warms your soul.
I am thankful for baseball, it is so much more than a game.
Attending a baseball game is as much about experiencing the stadium and the crowd as it is about watching the game. The simple pleasure of watching the sunset as you eat a hot dog and watch the pitcher go into his windup is tough to beat. Attending a game to watch your local team, regardless of level, is enjoyable. Traveling to a new stadium to watch a new team in their home park is even better.
Bernie and I are embarking on a small baseball road trip. We are going to see four baseball games in four different cities in four days. This will be my first proper baseball road trip. I have traveled to see games in various cities, but never as part of a baseball centered road trip. I have never been to any of these stadiums, so every game will be a new experience.
Last year Bernie, Kevin, and I went to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play at PNC Park over Memorial Day weekend. Sunday night the Pirates hosted the Mets and we watched Matt Harvey’s terrible base running in person. Monday afternoon we watched the Pirates play the Diamondbacks. One city, two visiting teams, two days. We could not meet up at a new stadium to watch a game this Memorial Day, but Bernie and I were determined to turn our trip to Pittsburgh into a yearly tradition. Kevin will not join us this year as he is anxiously waiting for the start of New Zealand’s inaugural season in the Australian Baseball League. His baseball road trip is a little longer than ours.
Last year in Pittsburgh watching the Pirates host the Diamondbacks. We will miss Kevin this year. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Over the four days of our baseball road trip we will drive 1,100 miles to watch the Lansing Lugnuts host the Dayton Dragons. The next day we drive to Detroit to watch the Tigers take on the Minnesota Twins. After Detroit we head to Indiana to watch the Fort Wayne TinCaps play the West Michigan Whitecaps. Our road trip concludes with the South Bend Cubs hosting the Lake County Captains on Mister Rogers Day.
Traveling around Michigan and Indiana to watch baseball with a friend is a great way to end my summer break. New cities, new stadiums, new food, and a good friend. Here’s to year two of what I hope is an annual tradition.
It seems like only yesterday the Mets were poised to have a scary starting rotation for years to come. A rotation rivaling the Braves’ rotation in the 1990’s which had three Hall of Fame pitchers coming at you night after night. The future of the Amazings had Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Jacob deGrom. This rotation would dominate the division and baseball for years to come. Yeah…about that. The Dark Knight was banished from Gotham and is now pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, and even the Reds are beginning to discuss trading high on Matt Harvey before he crashes again. Noah Syndergaard has not pitched since before Memorial Day due to injury. Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are having forgettable seasons and rumors are swirling about one or both leaving Queens. Neither would yield a huge return, but the Mets may be more concerned about getting something before their trade value becomes nothing. This leaves only Jacob deGrom on the mound for the Mets.
Even as Jacob deGrom is producing a career year, the Mets are wasting the work of their best pitcher. The Mets are terrible this year, may be time for a rebuild in Queens, even when deGrom is lights out. deGrom is leading all of baseball in ERA, FIP, and ERA+. Regardless what you think about FIP and ERA+, leading MLB in ERA, with a 1.79 ERA is no small feat. In 18 starts this season, deGrom has pitched 115 ⅓ innings, allowing 23 Earned Runs, with 142 strikeouts against only 29 walks. He also has a 0.988 WHIP. He has gone at least seven innings in 11 starts. Yet despite his brilliance, deGrom has a 5-4 record and the Mets are 7-11 when deGrom starts. No team is successful when they struggle to win with their best pitcher on the mound.
Jacob deGrom has had to grin and bear it this year as he watches his great starts wasted by the Mets. (Michael Reaves/ Getty Images)
The Mets have scored 69 runs, 3.83 per game, in games deGrom starts. However, they have given up 70 runs, 3.88 per game. The bullpen is letting the team down, having allowed 46 runs in deGrom starts. Any close game deGrom leaves the bullpen is struggling to hold the lead or keep the game close for the offense. deGrom is 2-2 at Citi Field and 3-2 on the road. The Mets are currently 35-51 and in 4th place in the National League East, ahead of only the disaster in Miami in the standings. Not a great return for the pitching deGrom is delivering every fifth day.
The Amazings cannot expect deGrom to continue putting up these numbers with nothing to show for it. The Mets need to rebuild around deGrom or find a trade while he is hot. A pitcher like deGrom should bring back a slew of prospects that could turn the franchise around. deGrom does not reach free agency until 2021, he would be more than a trade deadline rental. Regardless what the team does, the Mets should not waste deGrom’s brilliance. The Mets are ridiculed for their decision-making, such as Bobby Bonilla and the Wilpons, but at some point the team needs to either act like a small market team that happens to play in New York or responsibility act like a big market team. Stop giving big contracts players at the back-end of their prime like Jason Bay, 4 years $66 million, and Yoenis Cespedes, 4 years $110 million. Spread the money around, spend money on the bullpen, spend money on developing a retaining guys like you did with David Wright, and hope they can avoid injury. Yes, Jacob deGrom is having an amazing season wasted by the Mets, but this is the latest symptom of the Mets inability to capitalize on the talent they draft and develop. The team needs to focus on putting a winning team on the field. Winning baseball will attract the fans and media attention and make New York a two team town.
It is not often that organizations as prominent or as influential as Major League Baseball, the Chicago White Sox, or the New York Yankees make a mistake solely because they missed the obvious. Unfortunately, this is what has happened. Major League Baseball, the Chicago White Sox, and the New York Yankees all decided to honor former players on Memorial Day weekend. Paul Konerko of the White Sox and Bernie Williams of the Yankees are both deserving of having their numbers retired by their former teams, however the timing of this honor goes beyond poor taste.
Memorial Day has become synonymous with the start of summer, big retail sales, and get aways to the beach or the lake. In baseball, school is out so more families start to come to the ballpark and the season really comes alive. However, Memorial Day is actually for remembering those who have given their lives in defense of our nation. Memorial Day, and its predecessors, dates back to 1868 just after the Civil War. Memorial Day is a time for reflection and gratitude for those who gave everything they could to safeguard our nation and the freedoms we enjoy. Memorial Day is when we as a nation honor the sacrifices of the men and women we have lost during times of war, and the wives, husbands, children, siblings, parents they have left behind.
The decision to honor former players on this, or any Memorial Day weekend, is in poor taste. Baseball is ultimately nothing more than a distraction from the important things in life. While the game is an important part of the American experience, it is and will always be just a game. Making critical decisions on the baseball field can alter the outcome of a game, a season, or the success of a franchise. Making critical decisions on the battlefield can alter lives regarding winning a battle, ending a war, and returning soldiers safely home. The importance of baseball is not in the same hemisphere as that of the military.
The players are not to blame for this mistake; rather it is the decision makers higher up in the individual teams and in Major League Baseball. The Commissioner’s Office, and Commissioner Rob Manfred, should have stepped in and strongly suggested the White Sox and the Yankees select a different weekend to honor their former players. Retiring a player’s number is a big draw for a team, so why would you try to combine it with Memorial Day. Baseball is a business, so it suits a team’s interest to not double down on events. Both teams would have benefited from separating Memorial Day and the retirement of their former players’ numbers. The Yankees, the White Sox, and Major League Baseball all individually and collectively made both poor business decisions and a poor decision regarding the honoring of those who have given their lives to protect the United States.
Memorial Day weekend is about remembering those who have given their lives for something far greater than themselves. Let us all remember these brave men and women, and not forget what this weekend is truly about.
Memorial Day is when we, collectively as a nation, pause to remember and honor the men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedoms. The impact of war goes beyond the soldiers who fought; it impacts their families and friends. When soldiers are deployed overseas, they not only miss anniversaries and birthdays, but they also miss the daily life events. If you have ever had the opportunity to walk the length of the Vietnam Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. you begin to understand the toll which war has taken on our nation. Every name on the wall is a brother, husband, father, son, grandson, uncle, cousin, and friend who never came home. The void their deaths have left behind cannot be filled. So this Memorial Day weekend, and every other day throughout the year, we should slow down from our busy lives and honor the brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
Among the many individuals who we honor this Memorial Day for their sacrifice,we allow six individuals to stand out here. These men are the only six men who have played in Major League Baseball and died during combat.
Eddie Grant- WWI
“Harvard Eddie” Grant played 10 seasons in the Majors for the Cleveland Naps, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Giants. He compiled a career .249 batting average, stole 153 bases, hit 30 triples, all while playing all four infield positions. After his retirement in 1915, Grant opened a law firm in Boston before enlisting in the military in April 1917. Grant fought at the battle of Meuse-Argonne and assumed command after all his superior officers were killed during the four day search for the Lost Battalion. Grant was killed during the search by an exploding shell on October 5, 1918. He was the first Major League player to die in combat during World War I.
Robert “Bun” Troy- WWI
Troy was a German born pitcher who started his only career game on September 15, 1912 for the Detroit Tigers. In his only Major League appearance Troy went 6 2/3 innings, allowed nine hits, four runs, three walks, struck one batter out, and hit one batter. The Tigers lost to the Washington Senators 6 to 3. After several more years in the Minors Troy joined the United States military. He was shot during the battle of Meuse-Argonne. He would later die of his wounds at an evacuation hospital on October 7, 1918.
Tom Burr- WWI
Burr played in his only Major League game on April 21, 1914 for the New York Yankees. He was a late inning replacement in the Yankees 10 inning 3 to 2 victory over the Washington Senators. He did not have any fielding chances or plate appearances. He returned to Williams College but left for the Army Air Force before graduating. Burr was killed when the plane he was in collided with another plane on October 12, 1918 over Cazaux, France.
Elmer Gedeon- WWII
Gedeon played in five games for the Washington Senators in September 1939. He collected all three of his career hits as the starting Centerfielder in the September 19th victory over the Cleveland Indians. He was recalled from the minors again in 1940, but did not appear in any games. Gedeon was drafted by the Army in January 1941. He was later reassigned to the Army Air Force after being accepted into pilot school. He flew bombing missions over France until April 20, 1944, when his B-26 was assigned to take out a V-1 Buzz Bomb site which was under construction. Gedeon and five other crew men were killed after their plane was shot down by Germany anti-aircraft guns.
Harry O’Neill- WWII
O’Neill appeared in only one game for the 1939 Philadelphia Athletics. He caught two innings (8th and 9th inning) after replacing Frankie Hayes during the A’s 16 to 3 lose against the Detroit Tigers. O’Neill enlisted in the Marines in 1942 and saw action in Saipon were he was injured when he was hit in the shoulder with shrapnel. After recovering, he was sent back to the Pacific. He fought on Iwo Jima where he shot and killed by a sniper on March 6, 1945. He was the last player from Major League Baseball to be Killed in Action during World War II.
Robert Neighbors- Korea
Neighbors appeared in seven games in late September for the 1939 St. Louis Browns. He hit .182, with one home run and one RBI. He entered the Army Air Force in 1942 and remained in the service after World War II ended. Neighbors flew combat missions in Korea, including a night mission on August 8, 1952, during which his plane was shot down inside North Korea. No further contact was made with Neighbors or his crew. His status remained as Missing in Action until July 27, 1953 with the Korean Armistice Agreement and prisoner exchange. Neighbors status was changed to Killed in Action. He remains the last Major League Baseball player to die in combat.
These six men are among the thousands who have sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms we all enjoy. They are the only former Major League players to die in combat. However they are not the only ones associated with the game of baseball to have died serving our country. Former baseball players from every level have given their lives during their service in the military during in Pre-World War I, World War I, World War II, Korea, Peace time, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
This Memorial Day take some time to remember these men and the other men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. To those who have served or are serving, thank you for everything you have done. To those who have served and given the ultimate sacrifice, as well as the families they have left behind, we are forever in your debt. On this Memorial Day we thank you and honor the sacrifices you have made.