Downtown Sports Network


Memorial Day: Honoring Those Who Served and Played Baseball

Photo from North Alabama Athletics

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. For our purposes, we are going to take a look at and honor those who laid down their lives for our country and played some sort of professional baseball.

Elmer Gedeon

Gedeon signed with the Washington Senators after graduating from the University of Michigan in the summer of 1939. Not only did Gedeon play baseball for the Wolverines, but he also earned three Varsity letters as an end on the football team.  Gedeon chose to sign with the Senators over a possible appearance as a member of the USA track team in the 1940 Summer Olympics. After spending most of 1940 in the minor leagues, he was called up to the Senators but did not appear in any games.

Gedeon was drafted into the military in January 1941, reporting to the Army instead of attending spring training. After being accepted into the Air Force pilot training program, Gedeon crashed while serving as a navigator in a B-25 bomber training mission over Raliegh, North Carolina. He survived burns and three broken ribs, and also rescued a fellow crew member from the burning wreckage.

He later served in combat, and was shot down and killed while piloting a B-26 bomber on a mission over France in April 1944. Originally listed as missing in action, his family received notice in May 1945 that his grave had been found in a small British Army cemetery at Saint-Pol, France. His remains were returned to the U.S. and later interred at Arlington National Cemetary.

Harry O’Neill

The catcher appeared in only one game for the Philadelphia A’s in 1939. After playing some minor league and semi-pro ball in years following, O’Neill enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942.

In June of 1944, O’Neil survived a shoulder wound during the second day of the Battle of Saipan. After recovering and returning to active duty, He was killed by a sniper at Iwo Jima on March 6, 1945.

Both O’Neill and Gedeon have become symbols of “baseball’s sacrifice” in the war effort during the Second World War.

Ralph Sharman

Sharman played 13 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, batting .297 and collecting 11 hits, 2 doubles, a triple, 2 RBI, a stolen base, and three walks. In November of 1917, Sharman enlisted in the Army, but died from drowning during training at Camp Sheridan, Alabama on May 24, 1918.

Sharman was one of eight Major League Baseball players known either to have been killed or died from illness while serving in the armed forces during World War I. The others were Alex Burr‚ Harry Chapman, Larry Chappell‚ Harry Glenn, Eddie Grant‚ Newt Halliday, and Bun Troy

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Even though he did not die during service, Alexander is included for what war did to him and his professional baseball career. Many baseball players, like Bob Feller, Ted Williams, and others, gave up big parts of the career by serving in the armed forces. This happened to many players during World War II and the Korean War. For Alexander, it was what happened to him during World War I that plagued him for the rest of his life.

Alexander was so dominant during the 1910s that many players and writers of his era referred to him as “the best pitcher to ever put on a pair of shoes”.

In 1918, Alexander was drafted and sent to France to fight in a Field Artillery Unit. During this time, he was exposed to German mustard gas and a shell exploded near him, causing partial hearing loss and triggering the onset of epilepsy. When he returned from the war, Alexander suffered from shell shock and was plagued with epileptic seizures, which helped trigger a drinking problem. He hit the bottle particularly hard as a result of the physical and emotional injuries inflicted by the war and this plagued him for the rest of his life.

He did pitch for the Cubs and Cardinals in the 1920s, even helping the Cards win a World Series in 1926. He did have a 20 win season in 1927, but his continued drinking finally did him in and he gave up major league baseball. Alexander’s alcoholism worsened after he left the sport, and he spent his last years struggling physically and financially before he passed away in 1950.

During this weekend we spend time remembering all men and women who lost their lives and could not come home, reflecting on their service and why we have the luxury and freedom that we enjoy today, which includes watching our nation’s pastime, baseball.








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