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Baseball and Military Service

By Mike Silva ~ February 26th, 2010. Filed under: Mike Silva.

The other day Rob Neyer of ESPN discussed a story regarding Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo who is suppose to serve in the Korean military before his thirtieth birthday. This service is for two years and would cut into Choo’s prime. Some pointed out that losing Coo would be a blow to Cleveland, especially since he has an OPS just under .900 for his career wearing an Indians uniform. It doesn’t appear that it will happen since Choo very well may choose to become a US citizen or not return to his homeland.

Neyer went on to make a great point: What if this were an American player rejecting military service? Obviously a polarizing topic in today’s politically charged environment. What many forget are how many players back in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam lost time fighting for our country. According to stripes.com more than 4,000 ballplayers had their careers interrupted during WWII. One of the most famous, Ted Williams, was a pilot and missed three full seasons which probably cost him 3,000 hits for his career. Willie Mays served two years during the Korean War and likely would have hit 700+ homers if not for that service. Recently I was watching SNY’s Mets Yearbooks and there were many mentions of how players would miss weeks at a time for military service. Imagine Curtis Granderson, David Wright, Derek Jeter, or A-Rod taken away from their team to serve the country.

Neyer talks about his close call with Desert Storm in the early nineties. He goes on to wonder what he would have done if he were in the same situation as Choo. Knowing the limited amount of time to make one’s career work he understands Choo’s decision. Fortunately, our society has enough brave men and women that it’s no longer necessary for ballplayers, sportswriters, or anyone who doesn’t volunteer to serve. Although Shin-Soo Choo’s plight has nothing to do with the United States, his story reminds us of a time when we all had to band together for a greater good. Even baseball was not immune and player’s careers were impacted because of it. Not all were as lucky as Williams and Mays and lost their life fighting for our freedom. We may never have heard of them, but Baseball in Wartime doesn’t want it to go unnoticed listing 200 plus baseball players who lost their lives in service.

That period of time seems almost like a movie to many of us today. Reading Choo’s story made me remember how lucky we are to have the benefits of that type of sacrifice. Let’s remember “those who died that others might be free.” A freedom that allows us to enjoy the game of baseball and talk about it on websites like this.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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5 Responses to Baseball and Military Service

  1. Bill Nowlin

    Ted Williams missed much more than three seasons. He missed most of two more seasons in 1952-53 while flying 39 combat missions during the Korean War.

  2. Mike Silva


    Thanks for the clarification, I did know that, but figured the 3 “full seasons” proved the point. He hardly played in 52 and 53 so if you want to count 4 full seasons or 4.5 that i fair.

    Wow, another 800 hits perhaps? 3,400 total? One can only wonder.

  3. Bill Nowlin

    There have been lots of projections done by various people over the years, mostly focusing on home runs and wondering how many homers Ted would have hit if he’d not missed all that time. He had a total of 10 at-bats in 1952, so that’s pretty much an entire year off. And he had 91 at-bats in 1953. Add those together and you get 101. His average in the 17 other seasons he played was 447 at-bats. So I guess – mathematically – you’d want to say he missed 4.8 seasons.

    You might also want to allow as how that, in 1952, he knew he was leaving for the Marines so his mind may not fully have been on baseball. And in 1953, there was no spring training for him. Plus he’d crashed his plane once and been hit badly another time, and spent two separate stretches on hospital ships with other ailments. So in 1953, he was maybe not his best, either. (Remarkably, he hit .400 both years, though!)

  4. Bill Nowlin

    By the way, my book TED WILLIAMS AT WAR does detail his full military experience in both WWII and Korea, including descriptions of each one of the 39 missions he went on – some of them flying alongside squadronmate John Glenn.

  5. bomoni

    there are 30,000 US soldirs in Korea protecting Choo’s homeland from the N Koreans.

    Ted Williams fought in Korea to protect their freedom against North Koreans.

    Why does Choo think he is any special?

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