Armed Forces Day Tribute - May 21 Print E-mail
Written by Jim Rednour   
Friday, 29 April 2011

500HRC 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 and was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1946. He returned to the Red Sox 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, he joined VMF-311 in Korea and flew 37 combat missions, including one in which he had a narrow escape when he crash-landed a flak damaged aircraft. 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.


 

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 well.”