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.
Globe Life Park in Arlington may not have the history of old Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, but it has been home for the Texas Rangers over the last 26 summers. Memories with friends and family were made, though most are never known to the masses. In those summers, the Rangers made back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. Eight trips to October in all. Fans watched Hall of Famers Ivan Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre play. They watched Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Josh Hamilton play, but each will not reach Cooperstown for individual issues complicating their eligibility to play. Other players like Juan Gonzalez, Ian Kinsler, Prince Fielder, and Michael Young hold a special place in the hearts of Ranger fans. Memories were made.
Jesse, John, and I had the privilege to attend the final game at old Yankee Stadium. Baseball is beautiful. (The Winning Run/ JJ)
This weekend the Rangers close Globe Life Park and their season against the Yankees. Texas closes their second stadium since arriving from Washington in 1972. Closing out stadiums is becoming a habit for Jesse, John, and myself. Globe Life Park will be our third fine game attended. We sat in the left field seats as the Braves closed Turner Field and moved to the suburbs and SunTrust Park in 2016. Our first, and forever greatest, final game was sitting in the right field bleachers for the final game at old Yankee Stadium in 2008. The Yankees missed the Postseason for the first time since 1993, the House that Ruth Built did not see one final October. The history of old Yankee Stadium is unmatched in baseball. Closing out old Yankee Stadium was bittersweet, attending the Mets final home stand at Shea Stadium was not. Low flying planes, Shea shaking as we walked around, and Mets fans doing the wave remain vivid in my memory. It is hard competing with old Yankee Stadium.
Jesse, John, and I do attend games together when stadiums are not closing. A late night decision to drive 10 hours to watch the Pirates play at PNC Park was fantastic. Baseball creates memories that last a lifetime. Attending a game is always enjoyable. So once more we are hitting the road to say hello and goodbye to a baseball stadium, creating our own memories like so many fans before us.
Don Zimmer will have his #66 retired by the Tampa Bay Rays in a pregame ceremonial before their home opener on April 6th. The Rays may not be the team most associated with Zimmer, but it was the organization that he spent the most time with, 11 seasons, during his 66 year career in baseball. Zimmer was a player, coach, or manager for nearly half of the teams in Major League Baseball. During his career he was a member of the Brooklyn/ Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, Washington Senators, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays/ Rays. Zimmer also spent a season (1966) playing for the Toei Flyers in Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.
Zimmer was never an elite player. He hit a career .235, with 91 home runs, 352 RBI. He played more than 100 games only five times during his 12 year career, and was named an All Star in 1961. As a manager Zimmer collected 885 wins in 13 seasons at the helm with four different teams. He won 50.8% of the games he managed. He won his lone Division title with the 1989 Cubs, but lost to the Giants four games to one in the National League Championship Series.
None of the statistics which are associated with Don Zimmer should put him in elite company. However, his longevity and passion for the game do. Few, if anything written about Zimmer reflects negatively on the man. Yes, the local media and fans may have grown tired of his struggles on the field and as manager, but never of his desire to see his team win. Even the incident with Pedro Martinez in 2003 during the American League Championship Series should be seen as Zimmer sticking up for his team, even if his body was not up to the task his brain had in mind. He was sticking up for the Yankees, his guys. His apology afterwards can make a grown man cry, because you can sense the embarrassment he felt as he apologizes to everyone, before he leaves the press conference in tears.
Hopefully, over time this moment will no longer be what most people think of when they think of Don Zimmer. His broad smile and love of the game were on display everyday he put on a uniform. He never had to work a day in his life. Zimmer was the type of person who have propelled baseball through the generations. They allow for a real connection to exist between the past and present. Zimmer’s contribution to the game goes beyond the stat sheet, thus the honor the Rays are giving him in retiring his jersey number is a tribute not only to Zimmer, but also to the other baseball lifers. It is these individuals who, despite not making the world stop and take notice of their accomplishments, are immeasurably important to the game.
Several of the other teams which Zimmer played or worked for during his career could retire his number. The Red Sox, Cubs, and Yankees could have all justified retiring his number, but ultimately it is good that at least one team did retire his number. Regardless how important he was to any single organization, Don Zimmer was more important to the game of baseball. Zimmer spent his life around the game he loved; along the way the game loved him back. Now thanks to the Tampa Bay Rays, he will be loved far into the future even once the people he worked with in baseball are gone. Baseball has shown the epitome of a baseball life the love that the game as a whole can give a man after he spent a life time loving the game.
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.
Moe Berg played 15 seasons in Major League Baseball. While his career statistics will not jump out at you, Berg was a good player and an even better American. Berg’s career began in 1923 with the Brooklyn Robins. He spent two years in the minors due to poor play and missing spring training while traveling in Europe and attending Law School at Columbia University, before returning to the Majors for good in 1926 with the Chicago White Sox. Berg spent five seasons with the White Sox, before spending 1931 with the Cleveland Indians. He would spend the next two and a half seasons with the Washington Senators before returning to the Indians mid way through the 1934 season. Berg spent the final five seasons of his career with the Boston Red Sox, retiring after the 1939 season.
In 15 seasons, Moe Berg had a .243 Batting Average, 6 home runs, 206 RBI, and a .986 Fielding Percentage as a catcher. He played more than 100 games only once, in 1929 with the Indians (107). There are numerous players who have largely been forgotten by the passage of time who had even better numbers than Berg, however off the diamond is where Berg left his most important legacy.
After the United States entered World War II, Berg served his country as he worked as a spy, often behind enemy lines. He lent footage he filmed of Tokyo Bay he filmed while touring Japan, which was used in preparations for the Doolittle Raid. The Doolittle Raid was the American response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and showed that the United States could strike Japan.
Berg worked with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), collecting information in Yugoslavia for the American government to use in deciding if and how to support resistance groups during World War II. During his time in Yugoslavia, Berg met with and eventually helped to determine that Josip Broz Tito, future leader of Yugoslavia, was better equipped and supported to resist the Nazis. The OSS also enlisted Berg in investigating if the Germans had the ability or had already built a nuclear bomb. His efforts helped to determine that the Nazis had not developed the bomb.
His extensive efforts to protect his fellow Americans through his spying earned Moe Berg was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Individuals are given the award for “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” While Berg chose to not receive the medal, his family accepted it after he had passed away. Without a doubt Moe Berg was both a great individual and a great American. His contributions both on and off the diamond were those of an extraordinary individual.