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Baseball's Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service by Gary Beding

Discussion in 'Biographies and Everything Else' started by dgmitchell, Dec 18, 2009.

  1. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

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    Gary Bedingfield is a passionate and dedicated man. He has a passion for professional baseball and a sincere dedication to preserving the memory of the pro ballplayers who died in service during the Second World War. Anyone who doubts that needs to look no further than Bedingfield's excellent Baseball in Wartime website or his blog to see and experience his passion and dedication.

    Bedingfield's study of the intersection of baseball and WWII has now yielded his captivating exploration of Baseball's Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players who Died in Service (McFarland, December 2010; 272) and students of both the game and the war will be both impressed and amazed by the exhaustiveness of his study.

    Baseball fans know that a lot of baseball's stars enlisted for, or were drafted into, wartime service. Ted Williams was a flyer who would go on to fight in a second war in Korea. Bob Feller served on a ship in the Pacific Theater. Hank Greenberg was in the China-Burma-India theater. Even lesser known players are known for their wartime service. Catcher Moe Berg, for example, was a long time spy for the United States and served in the OSS during the war.

    Of course, part of the reason that we know about the service years of Williams, Feller, Greenberg and Berg is because they lived through the war. They came back and, in the case of Williams, Feller and Greenberg, went on to have Hall of Fame careers.

    Not all ballplayers were so lucky. Many men who might have been stars were killed before they ever had a chance to take the field professionally. Others, such as the 125 minor league ball players who died in service, never had the opportunity to play a major league game. And then there were catcher Harry O'Neill and outfielder Elmer Gedeon -- the two major league players who died while in the service during the second world war. Without Bedingfield's passion and dedication, they would be all but forgotten by now.

    Baseball's Dead of World War II is a thorough examination of the lives of the professional baseball players who did not return home after the war and, as such, it is a remarkable chronicle of how the war affected an entire industry that succeeded only the strength of the men who took the field to play the game of baseball. Bedingfield has compiled and abstracted the lives of each pro baseball player who died in service during WWII and provided readers with an amazing chronicle of sacrifices by men who came ever so close to realizing the dream of playing professional baseball, only to have the dream stolen by the Axis.

    Elmer J. Wachtler, for example, was born in 1918 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was a great sandlot player in his youth but struggled when he made it to the minor leagues in 1942. By 1944, he was in the army and, in January 1945, Staff Sergeant Elmer J. Wachtler was dead, a casualty of the Battle of the Bulge.

    Then there was George Meyer of Blackduck, Minnesota. He played one season of minor league ball in 1942 before being called to duty as an 18 year old youth. Ten days after Elmer Wachtler died, Meyer was in a barn in Belgium. The enemy attacked the area with mortars. Meyer did not survive the attack.

    None of us will find the names of Elmer J. Wachtler or George Meyer in any history books, and their names are not immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame. A hundred years from now when baseball fans still no the names Williams and Feller and Greenberg, Wachtler and Meyer will be just random names that are not recalled, but who really contributed more to America?

    Bedingfield has made it his mission to remind all of us of the contributions that professional baseball players made to the war effort during World War II and of the supreme sacrifice that 125 minor league and 2 major league players made in that effort. We will never know what might have become of the careers of those 127 men, but without there sacrifice and the sacrifices of so many other men and women from so many other professions, we can speculate that Williams and Feller and Greenberg might never have played baseball again.

    Baseball's Dead of World War II is a great book and one that sports fans and war buffs will both enjoy. The biographies of each of the 127 players who died during the war are like the baseball cards that might have been made of those men but never were. As Bob Feller once said, "I'm no hero. Heroes don't come back." Baseball's Dead of World War II is a fine and fitting tribute to baseball's heroes.
     
    Tomcat, mikebatzel and 107thcav like this.
  2. tfer13

    tfer13 Member

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    Thanks for posting this. I was a professional baseball player just after the Viet Nam
    War. This made me consider whether this was an issue during that time. Did players get drafted? Were they exempted somehow?
     
  3. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

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    tfer - I have not done a lot of reading of the intersection of pro baseball and the Viet Nam war. I have sent a message to Gary Bedingfield (who wrote Baseball's Dead of World War II) and have asked him if he can point me to any resources. I'll let you know what I learn as soon as I hear from Gary, likely after Christmas.
     
  4. luketdrifter

    luketdrifter Ace

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    Thanks for posting this! I have always wondered about the boys who didn't come back. I am putting this book to the head of my reading list.
     

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