Ted Williams played 21 seasons with the Boston Red Sox. His career was interrupted twice for military service as a pilot — World War II, 1942-46 and the Korean War, 1952-53. He reached the rank of captain.
Men in uniform
As we pay tribute to the men and women in uniform, we take a look at major league ballplayers who have served in the military. Learn about these brave men, who were heroes both on and off the field. Pictured: On July 22, 2002 at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox honored former player — and combat pilot — Ted Williams, who died July 5, 2002.
Rod Carew, Marine Reserves
Panamanian Rod Carew joined the Marine Reserves after graduating from high school in 1964, although he was a permanent resident but not a US citizen at the time. Carew spent six years in the Marines and served as a combat engineer. He later became a naturalized citizen. He was Rookie of the Year in 1967 when he stole home seven times, one shy of the all-time record of eight held by Ty Cobb. Starting in his rookie year, Carew made the All-Star team 18 straight times. Carew won seven batting titles, four in a row from 1972 to 1975 and he hit .388 in 1978 with 239 hits. He finished with a .328 career average and collected 3,028 hits.
Tom Seaver, Marine Corps. Reserves
Tom Seaver made his big-league debut with the Mets in 1967. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1962, serving in the unit for more than a year. According to the NY Daily News, Seaver attributes his military service with teaching him important values that helped him in baseball: "The principles that I learned in boot camp were the principles that I took to the mound — focus, dedication. I wouldn’t have made it without the Marine Corps.”
Nolan Ryan, Army Reserves
Nolan Ryan began his career with the New York Mets in 1966 and served six months in the Army Reserves. Recently, Ryan revealed during the podcast that his struggles with the Mets were related to his Reserves service during the Vietnam War. Ryan was called to duty every other weekend, so he sometimes had to skip his start in the roration, stalling his development.
Garry Maddox, Army
Maddox played in the minors for the Giants in 1968, then missed the next two seasons while serving the Army during the Vietnam War. While stationed in Vietnam, he was exposed to chemicals that damaged his skin. It was painful for Maddox to shave after that, so he grew the beard that became his trademark. He played well for Class-A Fresno in 1971 and Triple-A Phoenix in early 1972 before being promoted to the Giants in April 1972. He later played for the Phillies, winning eight Gold Gloves and earning the nickname, the “Secretary of Defense.” He won a World Series with the Phillies in 1980. Maddox retired in 1986 and went on to a broadcasting career, a stint as CEO at an office furniture company, director of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank and an acclaimed barbecue chef.
Roy Gleason, Army
Roy Gleason played just part of one major-league season, as a member of the 1963 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Gleason, a switch-hitter, played in just eight games in his month in the big leagues, pinch-running seven times and collecting just one at-bat. In 1967 he was drafted and served in combat with the United States Army during the Vietnam War, receiving a Purple Heart. After his return from Vietnam, he played in the Dodgers' farm system, but his war injuries had impaired his baseball skills and he never made it back to the major leagues. Gleason talks about his experience with FOX Sports West.
Don Larson, Army
Don Larsen, the Yankees pitcher best known for throwing the only perfect game in World Series history, pitched in the major leagues from 1953-67. After a stint in the minors, Larson spent 1951 and 1952 in the Army, playing baseball in Hawaii. He was called him the best service player since World War II. When he was discharged from the Army, he returned to the St. Louis Browns and began his career in the majors.
Phil Rizzuto, Navy
Hall of Fame shortstop and longtime Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto batted .307 in his rookie season with the Yankees in 1941 and was an All-Star the following season. He served at Norfolk Naval Training Station in 1943 where he played baseball on a regular basis. He was later in charge of 20 mm gun crew on a ship in the Pacific, but contracted malaria while in New Guinea. Rizzuto was sent to Australia to recover and coached the US Navy baseball team while there. Rizzuto was back with the Yankees in 1946. Nicknamed "Scooter," Rizzuto appeared in nine World Series and five All-Star Games.
Pee Wee Reese, Navy
Hall of Fame shortstop Reese, of the Brooklyn Dodgers, entered military service with the Navy on Jan. 30, 1943, and was stationed at Norfolk Naval Air Station, where he regularly played baseball. In 1944, he was sent to Hawaii and played for the Aiea Hospital team. Reese joined the Third Fleet team for the U.S. Navy's Pacific tour and was then assigned to Guam where he was shortstop and assistant coach for the 3rd Marine Division baseball team.
Bill Dickey, Navy
Yogi Berra’s predecessor as Yankees catcher, Dickey missed the 1944 and '45 seasons serving in World War II. Dickey was drafted on June 3, 1944, even though he was 37 and suffered from a bad sinus condition. He was sworn in at Memphis, as a deck volunteer specialist with the US Naval Reserve. Dickey served as an athletic officer in the Pacific and managed the US Navy team that won 1944 Service World Series in Hawaii. He won seven World Series as a member of the Bronx Bombers and was an 11-time All-Star. Dickey played himself in two movies: "Pride of the Yankees" (1942), starring Gary Cooper, about Gehrig’s life; and "The Stratton Story" (1949), starring Jimmy Stewart, about Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton.
Whitey Ford, Army
Edward "Whitey" Ford began his career with the New York Yankees in 1950 and won 9 games that year. He then enlisted in the military during the Korean War. He served as a private in the signal corps at Fort Monmouth. He played 20 games as a pitcher and 20 as an OF while in the Army. His service lasted two years, after which he returned the Yankees where he played until 1967. Ford has been quoted as saying, "Army life was rough. Would you believe it, they actually wanted me to pitch three times a week."
Eddie Collins, Marines
From 1906-1926, Eddie Collins played for the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Athletics. He was part of the notorious "Black Sox" team that threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds but was not accused of being part of the conspiracy. Prior to his playing career, he served in the United States Marine Corps.
Don Newcombe, Army
Newcombe is the only baseball player to have won the Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young in his career. In 1949, he became the first black pitcher to start a World Series game. In 1950, he won 19 games, and 20 the following season. After two years in the Army during the Korean War, Newcombe suffered a disappointing season in 1954, but returned to form the next year by finishing second in the NL in both wins and earned run average, as the Dodgers won the first World Series in franchise history. Newcombe struggled with alcoholism but has been sober since 1967 and has helped numerous people battling substance abuse.
Stan Musial, Navy
Stan Musial played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1941-63. He missed the 1945 season while serving in the U.S. Navy. He was assigned to noncombat duty at the Naval Training Station in Bainbridge, Md. Later he was on ship repair duty at Pearl Harbor, where he participated in the naval base's eight-team league.
Willie Mays, Army
The Say Hey Kid's career with the New York/San Francisco Giants (1951-72) was interrupted during the Korean War when he was drafted by the United States Army. He missed most of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season, but did not see combat duty. He was an army baseball instructor/player at Fort Eustis, Va. He finished his baseball career with the New York Mets (1972-72).
Joe DiMaggio, Air Force
Joe DiMaggio missed three seasons of his career with the Yankees (1936-51) while he served in the United States Army Air Forces from 1943-45. He rose to the rank of sergeant and was stationed at Santa Ana, Calif., Hawaii and Atlantic City, NJ. He served as a physical education instructor and did not see combat duty.
Larry Doby, Navy
Outfielder Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians was the second African-American in the major leagues and the first in the American League. In 1942, second baseman Doby, 17, won the Negro National League batting title with a .427 average for the Newark Eagles. Doby enlisted in the military at the end of the Eagles' 1943 season, and served in the Navy at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, where he played with the Negro baseball team. He was later stationed at Ulithi Atoll in the Pacific. He served for two years. He made his major league debut on July 5, 1947, three months after Jackie Robinson's historic debut. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998 by the Veteran's Committee. He died in 2003 at age 79.
Curt Simmons, Army
Simmons was one of the twin anchors of the starting rotation of the "Whiz Kids", the Philadelphia Phillies' 1950 National League championship team. With the outbreak of the Korean War, Simmons was called to active military service in September 1950, with a month remaining in the campaign. Simmons was stationed at Camp Atterbury and requested and was granted a leave on Oct. 4 to attend the World Series. The Phillies chose not to request that Commissioner Chandler rule Simmons eligible for the Series but Simmons chose to attend to support the team. Simmons also missed the entire 1951 campaign while in the military, but he returned in 1952 to win 14 games.
Jackie Robinson, Army
Robinson, the first African-American in the major leagues, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947-56. In 1942, Robinson was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas. Upon finishing Officer Candidate School, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in January 1943. He never saw combat duty.
Hank Bauer, Marines
Bauer was playing in the White Sox farm system in January 1942, when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Bauer served in G Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment, 6th Marine Division. He suffered through several bouts of malaria and was injured by shrapnel twice. His military career ended after 32 months of combat, 11 campaign ribbons, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. His brother Herman was killed in action in France. Bauer took factory work upon returning to the states, thinking his baseball career was over, but was offered a tryout with a Yankees’ farm club. He played more than games in pinstripes over 11 seasons, making nine World Series appearances.
Ernie Banks, Army
Ernie Banks played for the Chicago Cubs from 1953-71. In 1950 Banks was signed by the Kansas City Monarchs, of the Negro Leagues. After one season with the Monarchs, Banks enlsted in the U.S. Army and served for two years. After his discharge, as he was signed by the Chicago Cubs where he became a fixture at shortstop.
Jerry Coleman, Marines
At 18, Jerry Coleman joined the USMC in 1942, becoming a pilot. He flew 57 combat missions in the Solomon Islands and the Philippines. In January 1946 he was transferred from active duty to the inactive reserve list, and started his baseball career, playing second base for the Yankees. He was Rookie of the Year in 1949, an All-Star and MVP in the 1950 World Series. He was called up for active duty in the Korean War. After finishing his combat tour in Korea, he rejoined the Yankees and played in 321 games, retiring in 1957. He went on to a distinguished career as broadcaster with Yankees, Angels and Padres. In 1980 he managed the Padres for one season. He was given the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, in 2005. He was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals, and three Navy Citations.
Bobby Doerr, Army
Bobby Doerr signed with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1934 as a 16-year-old second baseman. Doerr was purchased by the Boston Red Sox for $75,000 in November 1935 and made his major league debut with the Red Sox just 13 days after his 19th birthday. Doerr's major league career was put on hold when he entered military service with the Army on Sept. 20, 1944. A punctured eardrum, suffered when he was six years old, might have kept him out of service but he passed his physical. Sgt. Doerr played baseball at Camp Roberts, Calif. He received his discharge from service on Dec. 15, 1945, and returned to the Red Sox in 1946. After he retired as a player he remained with the Red Sox as a scout and a coach.
George Sisler, Army
George Sisler played for the St. Louis Browns (1915-1927), Washington Senators (1928) and Boston Braves (1928-1930). Prior to his baseball career, Sisler served in the Army in World War I. Lieutenant Sisler, along with Captains Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson, served under Major Branch Rickey (president of the St. Louis Cardinals) in the Gas and Flame Division where they trained soldiers for chemical attacks by exposing them to gas chambers in a controlled environment.
Ty Cobb, Army
Ty Cobb played for the Detroit Tigers(1905-26) and the Philadelphia Athletics (1927-28). In October 1918, Cobb enlisted in the Chemical Corps branch of the United States Army and served as a captain In the waning days of World War I.
Tommy Lasorda, Army
Tommy Lasorda signed with the Philadelphia Phillies at age 18 as an undrafted free agent in 1945 and began his professional career with the Concord Weavers. He was drafted into the US Army and missed the 1946 and 1947 seasons. Stationed at Fort Mead, Md., after completing basic training at Fort McClelland, Ala., Lasorda served two years at the end of World War II. Lasorda pitched until 1960, including three seasons in the major leagues (1954-1956). After his playing career, he became a scout, minor league manager, coach, manager, general manager and vice president, all in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. He has participated in many goodwill missions for the military since his service.
Gil Hodges, Marines
Gil Hodges made his major league debut at the age of 19 with the Brooklyn Dodgers on Oct. 3, 1943, the last day of the season. Eleven days later, Hodges entered the Marine Corps. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor and later Kauai, where he played baseball with the 16th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. In April 1945, Sgt. Hodges served with the assault echelon at Okinawa and was assigned to his battalion's operations and intelligence section. He was awarded a Bronze Star. Hodges went on to have an impressive career with the Dodgers, in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and later the New York Mets. He continued his baseball career as a manager with the Washington Senators and the Mets, leading the 1969 "Miracle Mets" to a World Series championship. He died of a heart attack in 1972, two days before his 48th birthday.
Hank Greenberg, Army
Greenberg was the 1935 AL MVP, helping steer the Tigers to the World Series title. In 1941 Greenberg was inducted in the Army and reported to Fort Custer at Battle Creek, Mich, but was honorably discharged later that year after Congress released men aged 28 years and older from service. A few months later, Sergeant Greenberg re-enlisted, was inducted at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and volunteered for service in the United States Army Air Corps. He graduated from Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the USAAF. He eventually served overseas in the China-Burma-India Theater, scouting locations for B-29 bomber bases. Promoted to captain, Greenberg served 45 months, the longest of any major league player. On Aug. 26, 1943, he was involved in a war bonds game that raised $800 million dollars in war bond pledges.
Tris Speaker, Navy
Tris Speaker, who played for four teams from 1907 to 1928, was in the second class inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Prior to his career he served in World War I with the U.S. Navy.
Johnny Peksy, Marines
Longtime Red Sox shortstop, coach, manager and ambassador Johnny Pesky (pictured with teammate Ted Williams) spent three years in the Navy during World War II. He entered naval aviator training, along with teammate Ted Williams, at Amherst College in Massachusetts before the end of the 1942 season. Pesky then trained in North Carolina and Atlanta. He met his wife Ruth in Atlanta, where she was serving with the WAVES — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. Pesky finished his service in Hawaii as player-manger of Naval Air Station Honolulu’s baseball team.
Christy Mathewson, Army
Christy Mathewson played for the New York Giants from 1900-1916 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1916 and was in the first class inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1918, Mathewson enlisted in the United States Army for World War I and served overseas as a captain in the newly formed chemical service along with Ty Cobb. While in France, during a training exercise he was accidentally gassed and consequently developed tuberculosis.
Yogi Berra, Navy
Yogi Berra played for the New York Yankees from 1946-1963 and the New York Mets in 1965. Prior to his major league career, Berra was in the U.S. Navy during World War II where, as an 18-year-old, he served as a Gunner's Mate in the D-Day invasion.
Grover Cleveland Alexander, Army
From 1911 to 1930, Grover Cleveland Alexander played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. After the 1917 season, Alexander was drafted into the Army and spent most of the 1918 season in combat as an artillery officer in France during World War I. After a shell burst in his ear, he suffered from shell shock, partial hearing loss and seizures. His drinking problems worsened after the war and his pitching skills suffered.
Warren Spahn, Army
In a 23-year career, Warren Spahn played for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves (1942, 1946–1964), the New York Mets (1965) and the San Francisco Giants (1965). Spahn missed three full seasons after he enlisted in the Army folllowing the 1942 season. He saw action in the Battle of the Bulge and at the Ludendorff Bridge as a combat engineer and was awarded a battlefield commission, a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for bravery.
Bob Feller, Navy
Bob Feller (right), missed four seasons of his 20-year career with the Cleveland Indians (1936-56), while he served in World War II. The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Feller made the decision to enlist in the Navy. He played on the Great Lakes Naval Base baseball team with Mickey Cochrane (also pictured). Feller finished his service and returned to Major League Baseball.
Hoyt Wilhelm, Army
From 1952-72, pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm was a member of eight different teams and played until the age of 50. He enlisted in military service with the Army at Camp Croft, S.C. in 1942. He served in Europe with the 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division, where he was a staff sergeant in charge of a heavy machine-gun section. He was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries suffered during the Battle of the Bulge.
Lou Brissie, Army
Lou Brissie was signed to a professional baseball contract by Athletics’ manager Connie Mack on the day he graduated high school in 1942. Brissie enlisted with the Army in December 1942 and was sent to Italy with the 88th Infantry Division and served as a squad leader with G Company of the 351st Infantry Regiment. On Dec. 7, 1944, Brissie's squad was hit by an artillery attack and his left tibia was shattered in more than 30 pieces and his left ankle and right foot were broken. Brissie persuaded doctors not to amputate his leg and ended up undergoing 23 operations and 40 blood transfusions. Brissie received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. While recovering, he received a letter from Connie Mack promising that when he was ready to play ball he would have the opportunity. In 1947, he played with the Savannah Indians of the South Atlantic League, winning 23 games with a 1.19 ERA. In September 1947, with his leg in a specially designed brace, Brissie made his major league debut for the Philadelphia Athletics, pitching seven innings and strking out four Yankees in a 5-3 loss. Brissie returned with the Athletics for the 1948 season, posting a 14-10 record. In 1949, he won 16 games for the Athletics and continued to pitch in the majors until 1953.