Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 26, 2004
BASEBALL/WAR: Men of Honor
I have little to add about the death of Pat Tillman that hasn't been better said elsewhere, although a quote from General George S. Patton I'd seen used elsewhere lately seemed a fitting tribute: "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."
It is worthwhile, at such a time, to remember that Tillman is not the first professional athlete to put his athletic career aside and put his life on the line for his country. The sacrifices of the World War II generation, like Ted Williams, is also a tale that's been better told elsewhere, including the contributions of Williams, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra, Ralph Houk, Phil Rizzuto, Cecil Travis, Mickey Vernon, Dom DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Johnny Pesky, Dick Wakefield, Joe Gordon, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller, Alvin Dark, Sam Chapman, Buddy Lewis, Hank Sauer, Sid Gordon, Virgil Trucks, Hank Bauer, Barney McCosky, Ferris Fain, Eddie Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Wally Judnich, Enos Slaughter, Pete Reiser, Elbie Fletcher, Terry Moore, Al Rosen, Ralph Kiner, Pee Wee Reese, and others.
But baseball's sacrifices in the First World War need remembering, too, including:
*"Harvard Eddie" Grant, formerly an everyday third baseman for the Phillies and Reds, killed in action October 5, 1918 in the Argonne Forest.
*German-born Robert Gustave "Bun" Troy, who made a brief appearance with the Tigers in 1912, killed in action October 7, 1918 in Petit Maujouym, in France.
*Christy Mathewson, who suffered severe health problems from which he never recovered - possibly contributing to his death in 1925 at age 45 from tuberculosis - after inhaling poison gas in a training accident. (Ty Cobb also served in the same unit).
*Grover Cleveland Alexander, who as I explained here, would probably have made it to 400 wins or close to it if he hadn't lost a year at his peak to World War I, and who suffered lasting trauma from seeing combat with an artillery outfit.
*Sam Rice, who as I explained here, missed a year following his first big season after being drafted into the Army in World War I; Rice also got a late start in the majors because he’d joined the Navy at age 23 after his parents, wife and two children were killed by a tornado (Rice saw combat in the Navy, landing at Vera Cruz in 1914). Without those interruptions, Rice could easily have had 3500-3700 hits in the major leagues.
*Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville also missed a year to the Great War, as did several others I've overlooked here.
Perhaps not quite on the same level as a guy like Tillman, who volunteered for some of the Army's most hazardous duty, but in the long run those are just details. Heroes all.