Baseball is the quintessential American sport. At stadiums throughout the country, feelings of patriotism fill the air as fans listen to the Star Spangled Banner and proudly salute the American flag before watching their beloved team.
Baseball is commonly referred to as “America’s favorite pastime” and the sport has a long-standing history of supporting service members. Ballparks offer military discounts for tickets, military are invited to throw ceremonial first pitches, and teams pay public tribute to soldiers at various times during the year. But did you know that many National Baseball Hall of Fame Members were soldiers themselves, and that 64 served the U.S. Armed Forces during wartime?
Here are 6 Hall of Fame Baseball Players Who Served During World War I & II
- Grover Alexander – Known as “Old Pete,” Grover Alexander was a pitcher who played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Cardinals. He made his MLB debut on April 15, 1911 but was drafted in the Army during World War I, spending the 1918 season in France serving the 342nd Field Artillery as a Sergeant. He lost part of his hearing during the war when a shell exploded near him, and this injury prompted the onset of epilepsy. After returning from service, he played until 1930. His career highlights include 90 shutouts (a National League record) and 373 wins.
- Eddie Collins – Born Edward Trowbridge Collins, Eddie Collins was primarily a second baseman who played for the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago White Sox. In 1915 he was the sixth person to join the 3,000 hit club. In 1918, during World War I, he joined the U.S. Marines and was honorably discharged the next year. He is the only American League Player to steal six bases in a single game, and is only one of four players with more than 500 steals and a .400 on-base percentage. Collins had a post-playing career as a General Manager, Vice President, and part owner of the Boston Red Sox.
- Yogi Berra – Many consider Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra to be one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, but his first few years as a professional player were sidelined due to his serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was trained as a gunner and participated in D-Day. In this MSNBC video, Yogi Berra talks about serving in World War II and his Normandy Invasion experience.Berra resumed his baseball career upon his discharge from the Navy in 1946. He is a three-time American League VIP Award winner, a 10-time World Series champion and a 15-time All-Star. After retiring as a player, he managed the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. Yogi Berra recently celebrated his 90th birthday.
- Joe DiMaggio – “The Yankee Clipper,” Joe DiMaggio, was a New York Yankees center fielder who had a 56-game hitting streak, a record that still stands today. He was already playing for the Yankees when he was invited to enlist in the Army Air Force in 1943. He was stationed at the Santa Ana Air Base in California and spent most of his time in the military playing on the baseball team as a way to entertain the troops and improve public morale. DiMaggio never served in combat.
- Jackie Robinson – Before Jackie Robinson broke color barriers by becoming the first African American major league baseball player, he was a second lieutenant in the Army from 1942-1944. Upon his discharge in 1944, Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro National League. The second baseman was called up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, eventually leading his team to six pennants and one World Series Championship.
- Ted Williams – Ted “The Kid” Williams, often referred to as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, played with the Boston Red Sox from 1939 – 1960. In 1942, the year after Williams posted a legendary .406 batting average, he received notice that he was going to be drafted to serve in World War II. He fought the draft board and got them to classify him as being unable to serve due to the fact that he was the sole supporter of his mother. The press found out and people criticized him as being “unpatriotic.” As a result of the negative press, he signed up to serve in 1942 and became a Marines naval aviator. He was involved with training during World War II and was promoted to Second Lieutenant. He also served during the Korean War. He fought in combat and had several close calls with death, including an F9 Panther crash landing. In 1991 he was awarded the Presidential Medial of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S.
For a complete list of Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans who have served during wartime, visit Baseball-Almanac.com.