500 HRC Greats Battled At The Plate…And In The Military
Members of the 500 Home Run Club were known for their ability to “fight off” inside fastballs and knock baseballs into the “wild blue yonder.” But two of MLB’s greatest sluggers (Ted Williams and Willie Mays) also took time out of the playing career to serve in our nation’s military.
“Teddy Ballgame” Earned His Wings As A Naval Aviator
Despite having been classified 3-A due to the fact that his mother was totally dependent on him, Ted Williams appealed to his draft board and had his classification changed to 1-A following the U.S. entry into World War II. He enlisted in the Navy on May 22, 1942 and joined the V-5 program and set his sights on being a Naval Aviator. He was in Hawaii awaiting orders as a replacement pilot when the war ended. Williams returned to the States in December and was discharged from the Navy on January 28, 1946.Williams returned to the Red Sox in 1946 and took up where he had left off, leading the team to the World Series, and winning the MVP crown. In 1947 and 1948, he won the American League batting championship and was the MVP again in 1949.
On May 2, 1952, Williams was recalled to active duty due to the Korean War. After completing jet refresher training in the F9F at Cherry Point, NC, Williams joined VMF-311 in Korea. He flew 37 combat missions and had a narrow escape when he crash-landed a flak damaged aircraft. Several missions were flown with John Glenn.
Among the decorations he received was the Air Medal with two Gold Stars for meritorious achievement. Ted was relieved from active duty on July 28, 1953 and returned to the Red Sox for the remainder of the season, batting .407 with 13 homeruns.
For further details the Korean War article on Ted Williams Official Website
Willie Mays Played As Hard For Uncle Sam As He Did For Uncle Leo
After the “Say Hey” kid’s rookie year of 1951, during which he made MLB history by being a member of professional baseball’s first all-black outfield (along with Hall of Famer Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson) and earned Rookie of the Year honors, Willie Mays was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1952. He subsequently missed part of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season…and caused many a sleepless night for his New York Giants coach Leo Durocher.
Despite the conflict in Korea, Mays spent most of his time in the army playing baseball at Fort Eustis, Va. Mays missed about 266 games due to military service. “I was brought up saying ‘Yes, Sir’ and I always respected authority,” Willie said, “so the Army and I got along very well.”
After basic training, Mays was assigned to the instructional division of the physical training department at Camp (Ft.) Eustis, Virginia. But his major task in the Army was exactly as it had been in civilian life…he was there to play baseball. His base commander enjoyed the bragging rights that his Mays-lead team earned for the base. And “The Say Hey Kid” did not disappoint, hitting .420 and .398 in his two 90-game “army-league” seasons.
Mays returned to the Giants in 1954, hitting for a league-leading .345 batting average and also slugging 41 home runs. Mays won the National League Most Valuable Player Award. In addition, the Giants won the National League pennant and the 1954 World Series, sweeping the Cleveland Indians in four games. The 1954 series is perhaps best remembered for "The Catch," an over-the-shoulder running grab by Mays in deep center field of the Polo Grounds of a long drive off the bat of Vic Wertz during the eighth inning of Game.