On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy addressed a Joint Session of Congress with a Special Message To The Congress On Urgent National Needs. As every President does, Kennedy spoke of the pressing needs facing the nation and his plan to solve them. When the speech reached the ninth section, President Kennedy told Congress, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” The Space Race began before Kennedy took office, but he pushed the race with the Soviets to the next level. The Soviets reached space first, but the moon was America’s opportunity to win.
On July 20, 1969, 2,979 days after President Kennedy spoke to Congress, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle in Tranquility Base as Michael Collins circled in lunar orbit in the Columbia Command Module. America achieved Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.
Wally Moon adjusted his swing to take advantage of the strange configuration at the Coliseum. (Los Angeles Times)
Back on earth, the Dodgers and the Giants have one of the most intense rivalries in baseball, regardless of the standings. In 1958, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Construction on Dodger Stadium would not begin until September 1959 forcing the Dodgers to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum is home, most prominently, to the University of Southern California football team. Turning the Coliseum into a baseball field meant the fence in Leftfield was only 251 feet from home plate. A 41 foot tall screen was constructed, making Home Runs more difficult. Batters needed to loft the ball high above the screen for a Home Run, and no player is more remembered for this than Wally Moon and his Moonshots.
Wally Moon broke into the Majors in 1954 with the St. Louis Cardinals, winning the Rookie of the Year Award over Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron. He was an All Star in 1957 before a disappointing 1958 season made him expendable. Moon and Phil Paine were traded to the Dodgers for Gino Cimoli. Moon played 12 seasons in the Majors, five in St. Louis and seven in Los Angeles. In 1,457 career Games, Moon hit .289, with a .371 OBP, .445 SLG, and .817 OPS. He scored 737 Runs, collected 1,399 Hits, 212 Doubles, 60 Triples, slugged 142 Home Runs, drove in 661 RBI, stole 89 bases, drew 644 walks, and struck out 591 times. He was a three time All Star, 1957 and twice in 1959, and won a Gold Glove in Leftfield in 1960. Moon won two World Series with the Dodgers, 1959 and 1965. His pinch hit ground out in Game 6 of the 1965 Fall Classic was his final game. Moon sat on the bench in Game 7, watching Sandy Koufax pitch a Complete Game shutout to secure the World Series victory. Wally Moon enjoyed a successful career, however he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot just once, in 1971, receiving just two votes (0.6%) and falling off the ballot.
Arriving in Los Angeles, Wally Moon was greeted by two things. The short, yet high porch in Leftfield and the rivalry with the Giants. Moon, hitting from the left side, understood he did not possess the power to launch baseballs out of the Coliseum to Rightfield, as the wall was 440 feet away. His career high in Home Runs was just 24. Moon adjusted his swing with Stan Musial’s help to hit balls to the opposite field.
The Coliseum created one of the strangest field configurations in baseball. (www.cbssports.com)
The Dodgers and Giants were locked in a pennant race as summer began to wane in 1959. San Francisco held a slim two game lead entering play at the Coliseum on August 31. Jack Sanford and Sandy Koufax were locked in a pitchers duel, allowing two runs each in the first eight innings. Koufax struck out the side on just 10 pitches in the top of the ninth. Sanford began the ninth by inducing a Maury Wills ground out. Koufax and Jim Gilliam hit back to back singles to Left. Giants manager Bill Rigney called in Al Worthington from the bullpen to end the threat. Worthington threw a first pitch strike to Wally Moon. His next pitch missed. On the third pitch, Moon lofted a deep fly ball to Left, clearing the screen. The Moonshot gave the Dodgers a 5 to 2 walk off victory. Los Angeles trailed the Giants by one game.
The Dodgers won the 1959 National League Pennant, two games ahead of the Milwaukee Braves and four ahead of the third place Giants. Los Angeles defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games, winning the only World Series ever played at the Coliseum. Wally Moon’s Moonshot against the Giants came 634 days before President Kennedy presented his vision of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth.
The Moonshot took men to the moon and safely returned them back to earth. (NASA)
A walk off Home Run between bitter rivals foreshadowed the next stage of the Space Race. Wally Moon used the short porch in Leftfield at the Coliseum to his advantage. President Kennedy and NASA did the unimaginable, sending a man to the moon and back defeating the non-baseball playing Soviet Union. The United States won the Space Race with a few steps by Neil Armstrong, while Wally Moon helped to win the Pennant with one swing of his bat. Both were incredible Moonshots.
Happy 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing.
Lou Gehrig is remembered for three things: his greatness on the field, a speech, and the disease that claimed his life. He left a legacy in baseball and for those facing adversity, especially those battling ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Today is the 80th anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium and Gehrig delivering baseball’s most famous speech. He did not focus on his problems, rather he spoke of the good in his life. A life cut short less than two years later.
On the diamond, Lou Gehrig was a tremendous competitor, forming the toughest duo in baseball history with Babe Ruth. Gehrig played 17 seasons for the Yankees, 1923 to 1939. In 2,164 Games, Gehrig collected 2,721 Hits, 534 Doubles, 163 Triples, 493 Home Runs, 1,995 RBI, scored 1,888 Runs, Stole 102 Bases, drew 1,508 Walks, 790 Strike Outs, .340 BA, .447 OBP, .632 SLG, and 1.080 OPS. Gehrig’s career numbers ensured his enshrinement into Cooperstown, even without his special election in 1939.
Putting Lou Gehrig’s greatness into perspective, consider his all time rankings today. Gehrig ranks 64th in Hits with 2,271. He is 42nd in Doubles with 534 and 33rd in Triples with 163. His 493 Home Runs still ranks him 28th. His 1,995 RBI are seventh all time. Gehrig’s 1,190 extra base hits are 11th most and his 5,060 total bases are 19th all time. His 1,888 runs scored rank 12th all time. He walked 1,508 times, 17th most. A career .340 hitter, 16th best. His .447 OBP is fifth, his .632 SLG and 1.079 OPS both place him third all time. His 179 OPS+ ranks fourth and his 112.3 oWAR places him 14th. 80 years after his final game, Lou Gehrig remains an all time great.
Hall of Fame numbers are not compiled in a few good seasons here and there, they come from excellence year after year. In Gehrig’s 17 seasons with the Yankees, he played fewer than 13 games in three seasons. Playing 14 full seasons before ALS robbed him of his abilities further shows Gehrig’s greatness. The Iron Horse registered eight seasons of 200 or more hits, leading the league in 1931. In 1927 and 1928 he led baseball in Doubles with 52 and 47 respectively. In 1926, his 20 triples paced baseball. Gehrig was the Home Run King three times (1931, 1934, and 1936). He was perfectly placed in Murderers’ Row, leading the league in RBI five times, driving in at least 109 in 13 consecutive seasons. He led baseball in Runs Scored four times, scoring 115 or more Runs in 13 consecutive seasons. The Iron Horse possessed both power and patience at the plate, drawing at least 100 Walks in 11 seasons, leading baseball on three occasions. Gehrig struck out a career high 84 times in 1927, he would never strike out more than 75 times in any other season. Gehrig hit .300 or better in 12 straight seasons, led the league in Slugging twice, OPS three times with 11 consecutive seasons above 1.000. He had five seasons with at least 400 total bases, leading baseball four times. In 1934, Gehrig won the American League Triple Crown with a .363 BA, 49 Home Runs, and 166 RBI. Shockingly he finished fifth in MVP voting behind a trio of Tigers (Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, and Schoolboy Rowe) and teammate Lefty Gomez. Gehrig did win two MVP Awards (1927 and 1936), while finishing in the top five in six other seasons. The Iron Horse was always a MVP contender.
Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest players to ever step on a diamond. (Mark Rucker/ Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
The Yankees during the Gehrig years were seemingly in the World Series every October. Lou Gehrig played in seven Fall Classics. New York won six World Series with Gehrig (1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, and 1938), sweeping their National League opponents four times. Gehrig played in 34 Games with 119 At Bats. He collected 43 Hits, 8 Doubles, 3 Triples, 10 Home Runs, 35 RBI, and scored 30 Runs. He drew 26 walks against 17 Strikeouts. Gehrig hit .361, .483 OBP, .731 SLG, and 1.214 OPS. The Iron Horse helped the Yankees reach and win multiple World Series.
Despite his greatness on the diamond, Lou Gehrig is best remembered for the speech he gave on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Day, as the Yankees honored him as he fought ALS. The Gettysburg Address of Baseball remains one of the most famous moments in baseball history. There is no known full recording of the speech, however we do have a partial recording and a transcript of Gehrig’s words.
“For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift- that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies- that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter- that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body- it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed- that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”
There is getaway day and then there was September 28, 1919. The New York Giants hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in a doubleheader on the last day of the season. The first game, all nine innings lasted just 51 minutes, the fastest game in Major League history. MLB is eager to increase the pace of play, New York and Philadelphia may have taken this too far a century before pace of play was an issue. The game was the opposite of Dan Barry’s Bottom of the 33rd.
It was the final day of the season, neither team won the pennant, and both teams knew the faster they played, the sooner they could head home for the winter. The Giants finished the season in second place, 9 games behind the eventual World Series champion Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati’s World Series victory is a story for another day. Philadelphia’s season was over in August, the Phillies finished last in the National League, 8th place, 47.5 games behind the Reds. The doubleheader was played simply because it was on the schedule.
The first game featured six future Hall of Famers; four players, a manager, and an umpire. Dave Bancroft was Philadelphia’s future Hall of Fame shortstop. New York had future Hall of Famer Ross Youngs in Right Field, Frankie Frisch at Third, High Pockets Kelly at First, and manager John McGraw. Umpiring the game were Future Hall of Famer Bill Klem and the notorious Bob Emslie. Klem is the father of baseball umpiring, working a record 18 World Series. He was the first umpire to wear a chest protector, taught other umpires to call balls and strikes from the slot, and the first to use arm signals when making his calls. Emslie was the base umpire during Merkle’s Boner in 1908. The controversial play earned him the despised nickname Blind Bob.
The Polo Grounds, a few seasons after the 51 minute sprint in 1919. The view from the outfield bleachers towards the infield and Coogan’s Bluff, with fans watching from behind the Grandstand. (Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
The Phillies got off to a great start, scoring in the top of the first inning. Lena Blackburne doubled and later scored thanks to an Art Fletcher error, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 lead. Philadelphia held the Giants scoreless in their turn at bat, and New York returned the favor in the top of the second.
In the bottom of the second, the Giants offense awoke. New York scored one in the second, three in the third, and two in the sixth on their way to a 6 to 1 victory. The Giants pounded out 13 hits, including five doubles, and drew three walks. Every Giants starter collected at least one hit; Larry Doyle and Art Fletcher collected two hits and High Pockets Kelly collected three hits. The final line for Phillies starting pitcher Lee Meadows was ugly: 8 innings (Complete Game), 13 Hits, 6 Runs, 5 Earned Runs, 3 walks, and 1 strikeout. Taking the loss, Meadows, who split the 1919 season between the Cardinals and Phillies, finished with a 12-20 record and 2.59 ERA.
The Phillies completed their anemic campaign on the final day of the season. Philadelphia collected five hits, one double, no walks, two strikeouts, scoring one unearned run. New York’s Jesse Barnes pitched 9 innings (Complete Game), allowing 5 hits, 1 run, 0 earned runs, no walks, and 2 strikeouts. The victory gave Barnes his National League leading 25th victory, finishing with a 25-9 record and a 2.40 ERA. The Giants swept the Phillies, winning Game Two 7 to 1, closing the 1919 season and the career of Phillies’ catcher Bert Adams.
Jesse Barnes, winning pitcher, fastest game in MLB history. (1922 Eastern Exhibit Supply Company/ http://www.vintagecardprices.com)
Some games are historically significant for Major League Baseball, others are played because they are on the schedule. The Giants and Phillies played a doubleheader on September 28, 1919 because the games were on the schedule. While neither game altered the 1919 season or baseball history, the first game set an almost unbreakable record and gave insight into the future of both franchises.
The Phillies were just four seasons removed from their first World Series appearance, yet they were in the second of 14 consecutive losing seasons. The team would not return to the Fall Classic until 1950. The Phillies had just four winning season (1916, 1917, 1932, and 1949) between their first and second World Series appearances. The 1919 Phillies changed managers midseason. Jack Coombs began the season, managing the Phillies to an 18-44-1 record before he was replaced by Gavvy Cravath. Cravath finished the season 29-46. He would return to the Phillies for the 1920 before he was fired at seasons end, concluding his playing and managing career. Coombs went on to become the winningest baseball coach in Duke University history, winning 381 games over 24 seasons in Durham.
The Giants thrived with 28 winning seasons between 1919 and their move to San Francisco in 1957. They played in nine World Series, winning four. New York finished within five games of the National League pennant in seven other seasons. John McGraw managed the Giants until 1932, compiling 2,583 wins for New York. The Giants were a powerhouse.
One game, even if not important in the moment, can tell you so much about baseball and a franchise. Never underestimate a baseball game, regardless of the pace of play, or if it is played just because it is on the schedule.
We lost an important bridge to our collective past last week. Monte Irvin played in the Negro League for the Newark Eagles, in the Major Leagues primarily for the New York Giants and also served in World War II. Irvin, like Dr. King, helped positively transform the society we live in today.
Debuting at the age of 19 in 1938, Monte Irvin became one of the best players in the Negro Leagues. He spent nine seasons with the Newark Eagles, interrupted by a single season with the Veracruz Azules of the Mexican League in 1942 and military service from 1942 through 1945. After his discharge from the military, Irvin returned to Newark and continued playing for the Eagles until his contract was purchased by the New York Giants in 1949.
Monte Irvin made up for lost time when he was signed by the New York Giants in 1949. (www.cnn.com)
Monte Irvin debuted for the Giants in 1949, when he was already 30 years old. Despite this late start, Irvin still enjoyed plenty of success over his eight seasons in the Majors. Irvin hit 99 HR, 443 RBI, .293 BA, .383 OBP, .475 SLG, and .858 OPS. He finished third in the 1951 National League MVP voting and was elected to the 1952 All Star game. The true career stat line for Irvin has been lost to history, but spending just over half of his career in the Majors gives everyone an understanding how special of a player Monte Irvin was.
Continuing to make an impact after he finished his playing career, Irvin worked as a scout for the New York Mets for two seasons, 1967 to 1968. In 1968, Irvin was named an MLB Public Relations Specialist for the Commissioner’s Office for then Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. In his role under the Commissioner, Irvin was the first African-American executive in professional baseball, outside of the Negro Leagues. Irvin’s accomplishments on and off the diamond paved the way for so many other who would follow behind him.
“Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team,” said Hall of Famer Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles. “We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character, ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences and physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s. Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”
It was with this belief and understanding of how great a player and person Monte Irvin was that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Negro League Committee. Irvin was enshrined due to his play in the Negro Leagues. While MLB has not been perfect on recognizing the contributions of Negro League players to the development of the game of baseball, it has attempted to correct past wrongs.
Monte Irvin was a Hall of Fame player, but his impact on baseball and society went far beyond the diamond. (www.baseballhall.org)
Respect is something that is earned over a lifetime. Monte Irvin had the respect of his peers and executives while he was still playing for the Newark Eagles and for the New York Giants. This respect carried over after Irvin retired from playing as he was brought back to baseball as a scout by the Mets and quickly hired by the Commissioner’s Office. The ability to be away from the game for nearly a decade, and then return and quickly have an impact speaks volumes about the respect people in baseball had for Irvin, and Irvin’s own ability and power to deliver.
At the age of 96, Monte Irvin was the oldest living former Negro League player. In the same way we as a nation are losing our direct connection to the past as more and more World War II veterans pass away, so too are we losing our connection to the Negro Leagues. The necessity of the Negro League will always be a sad experience in our nation’s history. While some efforts have been made to correct the wrongs of the era, the unfortunate truth is history cannot be rewritten and we must learn from our mistakes. The ability for us as a society to stop making the same mistakes and to move forward together depends on individuals such as Monte Irvin. His career was hindered simply due to the color of his skin. Irvin put any animosity he harbored, which would have been justified, aside and worked tirelessly to play the game he loved. He continued this after his playing days were over as he was a trailblazer for African-Americans, and other minorities, as he worked as a scout and an executive. Monte Irvin understood his opportunities and knew he would help lay the groundwork for those following behind him. Every day we are losing the men who played in the Negro Leagues, and with them the stories of those games. While it is sad that this chapter in our collective history ever existed, and that much of it has indeed been lost to history, we must remember how these men and women, working under difficult circumstances, tore down a bastion of institutionalized racism in baseball. The game of baseball has long been the forerunner to social change in America. Men like Monte Irvin, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, and Sam Jethroe helped move the United States towards recognizing that all men are created equal by displaying their talents on the baseball diamond. The passing of Monte Irvin is a loss for baseball and America. His contributions to both will continue to reverberate for decades to come.
Happy belated Martin Luther King Day. Let us always remember those who have come before us and righted the wrongs of society, and let us continue their work every day.
The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming
1908 was a great year for baseball. It was more than just the most recent World Series title for the Chicago Cubs. The season was one of the most exciting pennant races in baseball history. The Chicago Cubs, the New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates fought each other from Opening Day throughout the season until the final day of the season. Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, (Joe) Tinker-to-(Johnny) Evers-to-(Frank) Chance, John McGraw played prominent roles throughout the season.
The excitement of the pennant race is retold through newspaper articles that were published during the great 1908 season in The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming. This approach to the retelling of the pennant race allows the reader to be transported back in time. The use of the newspaper articles prevents the book from taking on too much of an academic tone, but rather it exudes the storytelling of every man. Fleming only inserts necessary background information, which helps to bridge the gap over the years and prevents any information from going by without understood. The daily notes regarding the previous day’s action show the dominance of the Pirates, Cubs, and Giants over the rest of the National League. The ebb and flow of these three great teams only built the tension and excitement of the season the closer it drew to October.
The most infamous play of the 1908 season surrounded the actions of Fred Merkle. While I knew the story of Merkle prior to reading The Unforgettable Season, Fleming allows the newspapers to paint a much clearer picture of the man prior to his gaining infamy. This clearer picture of what he could have become as a player before the newspapers and fans used him as a scapegoat for why the Giants did not reach the World Series. (Keith Olbermann of ESPN recounts Merkle’s story well).
Fleming does an excellent job of stay out of the way of history. He allows the story to tell itself. This is a refreshing approach, as it would be easy for any author to unintentionally get into the middle of the story. Modern day analysis of the season could shed more light on the details of the 1908 season. However, I believe Fleming was smart to simply stay out of the way of the history. The Unforgettable Season provides a glimpse of how great a pennant race can be, however the pennant race is not the same as it once was as the playoffs have expanded beyond just the World Series. The expanded playoffs are not better or worse, just different. The expanded playoffs allow more teams and fans to stay engaged in the baseball season later in the season than they might otherwise. Fleming provides an excellent read for anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of baseball and its history.
More from The Winning Run library.
Long winters without baseball are awful. However, one of the best ways to keep your love of the game alive and well is by reading baseball. My library has plenty and I wanted to share a few with you.
One of Mickey Mantle’s many biographies. In The Mick you get a view of his life during his career but not so much on the field. He talks about teammates, parties, his family, and career moments. You get a feel for his love of the game, but also the hatred of things that occurred in his career. It is an enjoyable and quick read.
Yes this one is about the Red Sox and their championship season in 2004. Yes it was painful to read (as the resident Yankee fan). Despite this, authors Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King make you keep reading as they chronicle the Red Sox through email and blog posts and their knowledge. They are true friends and true fans of baseball. They remind me of my two partners in this blog and their knowledge and passion. This is a great read and a great part of history.
A chronicling of Joe DiMaggio’s record 56 game hitting streak. This is a great book about DiMaggio’s life to that point and what he went through during that time. It looks into what pressures and stress, and how DiMaggio dealt with them, his family, and teammates. Books like 56 help to show the personal side to these legends we will never be able to meet in real life.
Why haven’t you read this? The movie is great, and the book is amazing. I didn’t want to even put it here but figured it deserved recognition. Read this or you will never get on base.
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.
A Day in the Bleachers by Arnold Hano captures the beauty of baseball and the connection of the fan to the game. Hano recounts his experience of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians at the Polo Grounds. He captures the excitement of going to a baseball game from the sights, sounds, and smells in the stands to the action on the field. Hano describes with great detail the thoughts and feelings any baseball fan goes through when they walk up to a game to buy a ticket. The excitement and nervousness of “will there be a ticket left in the area I want to sit”, “did I wait too late to get here”, “why are fans from other teams here?”
After getting into the Polo Grounds and finding his seat, Hano’s description of the fans around him rekindles the memories of every reader who has ever attended a baseball game. The conversations about the game and about life outside of baseball, the banter between rival fans, the look of the field and the players all provide the reader with an understanding of how the game looked and felt that day. The play by play allows anyone to visualize the game in its entirety. The drama that occurs throughout the game continues to rise until it reaches its climax or anticlimax, depending on which team you are rooting for.
The climax for Giants fans comes in the eighth inning with Al Rosen on first and Larry Doby on second. Cleveland first baseman Vic Wertz hammers a pitch to deep centerfield which appears headed for the cavernous confines of the Polo Grounds; straightaway centerfield was 483 feet from home plate. Willie Mays turned and chased down the ball before it could land for Wertz’s fourth hit of the day, much to the chagrin of Indian fans. What is often lost in The Catch is the throw back to the infield which prevented the Indians from scoring. Doby was able to tag up and move to third but Rosen had to remain at first. The momentum for Cleveland died in Mays’ glove, as they did not score again and only managed one more hit the entire game (the game went to the tenth inning).
Arnold Hano captures the best of baseball and allows everyone who was not at the game on September 29, 1954 to live the experience for themselves. The description of the game in A Day in the Bleachers is as relevant to baseball fans today as it was in 1955 when it was written. Though he is writing about a game that was played nearly sixty years ago, Hano provides a look back in time to the 1954 World Series, which every baseball fan can appreciate and enjoy.