It’s a funny thing, but, as years go by, I think you appreciate more and more what a great thing it was to be a United States Marine… People will tell me what a shame it was I had to go back into the service a second time, but I’m kinda glad I did.. Besides, I am a U.S. Marine and I’ll be one till I die.
– Ted Williams
When I was a kid I had 2 responses to the question “what you want to be when you grow up?”. Easy I thought; first was to be a Professional Baseball player which, to that I would always get the “You are dumb kid, you have no idea how life works” eye roll and smile response and then asked what “realistically” I wanted to be (thanks for the support teach!). Second would be a soldier, I wanted to follow in my family’s long tradition of serving in the military with honor. That was a more acceptable response as the data would show that more people make it into the military then play professional baseball, and that made me appreciate the players that were able to do both.
America has seen its fair share of conflicts, and whether you agree with the reasons or not the ones usually left behind are the military persons that answered the call. Nothing is more American than the game of baseball and growing up my favorite player was, and will always be, Ted Williams. Ted Williams is widely considered the greatest hitter in the history of baseball but put off his playing days twice to serve in the United States Marine Corps. His selflessness made me appreciate what he did in the league even more. When his country called he sacrificed career years to answer.
This Monday Americans will celebrate a holiday that has been created specifically to remember the sacrifices the men and women of the military made for this country. If you have read any of the previous articles you will know that I hate holidays, (well holidays that don’t offer a day off work) but something about this day is different and feels less commercially driven to make money. It feels right to have a baseball game on the day that we remember Americas heroes (what’s more American than a hotdog, beer, and ball game?).
Originally Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day and originated in the years following the Civil War becoming an official federal holiday in 1971. When the cry for battle calls the brave and the honorable answer the call, and ball players are not immune to the calling as well. Many professional baseball players sacrificed prime years of their careers to serve when their country needed them most and some never returned.
The first documented baseball player to lose his life during a war was a fellow named Cptn. Edward Bredell, Jr. a Confederate soldier who died in 1864 during a battle in Virginia. Not much is known about Bredell other than he was an amateur and likely never made a cent playing baseball. The first known pro player (in this case, he was a minor leaguer) was catcher Leonard Weikart who died in Cuba in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. However, just a few months before Weikart’s death, nearly the entire baseball team of the battleship USS Maine was killed when the ship was blown apart. This act triggered the war with Spain and resulted in the death of 261 men.
The first well-known player to lose his life during a war was Giants’ third baseman Eddie Grant who died in 1918 when an exploding shell killed him. Each generation had their own stories of valor and sacrifices and their voices should not be ignored, I encourage you to do an internet search and learn the names of the players that never made it home. There are many more players that have had a cup of coffee in the big league and decided to put off their dreams of playing for the call to action. Each story unique but with some similarities of patriotism and willingness to do what they felt was the right thing to do, and they should be remembered for their sacrifices as well.
Monday when you gather outside around a BBQ, cold beer in your hand (or Iced tea, either one is still great), Dogs grilling, and your favorite team on tv. Stop for a minute to reflect on the reason you are off work today. Remember the forgotten that chose to hold off on dreams of Major League glory to fight for the ideas and beliefs that Americans share and guard with their lives. We honor their memories with a thank you, a tip of the cap and a crack of the bat. Thank you to all that served and never made it back, you will not be forgotten, at least for today. Play Ball