Hall of Famers at War: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg

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Hall of Famers at War: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg
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Ted Williams might have passed Babe Ruth except for military service

Those of us who are baseball fans generally know statistics for the greatest players of the game.

But sometimes we fail to consider how some of the greatest had altered statistics because they served their country during times of war.

Let's consider four Hall of Fame Players whose numbers could have been so much greater.

Ted Williams is generally regarded as the greatest hitter ever to play baseball.

Williams finished his career with a lifetime average of .344. He had 521 home runs and 2654 hits.

But what many fans of today fail to realize is that Ted Williams missed almost five full seasons because of military duty in World War II and the Korean War.

Williams was trained as a pilot but saw no combat duty during WWII.  But when he returned to active duty during the Korean War, he flew combat missions. He played only 6 games in 1952 and only 37 games in 1953.

During his first military service Williams went in when he was 24 years old. After the Korean Conflict, he was still only 34 when he got out. So he was missing during the prime of his career.

Proof of this is that in 1954 when he played his first full year after the war, he hit .345 and had 29 homers.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
The Yankee Clipper Missed Three Full Seasons

In a 162 game average season, Ted had 188 hits and 37 home runs for his career. Let’s apply those numbers to the years he lost to military service.

If one could give Ted back the five years he served our country, he would have had 940 more hits and 185 more home runs. He would have finished his career with 3594 hits and 706 home runs.

In addition to the statistical bashing Williams took, he also suffered financially by serving his country. Controversy involving his initial draft status in 1942 cost him a major commercial contract with Quaker Oats.

He also lost his salary for three years in WWII after he had made $30,000 in 1942 playing for the Red Sox.  By the time he went to Korea he was earning a reported $100,000 per year.

The player of his era to whom Ted Williams was most frequently compared was Joe Dimaggio.  Dimaggio lost time to service in WWII as well. He served the same three years from 1943-1945 as Ted Williams.

Dimaggio was assigned as a physical education instructor and served in California and on the east coast. He never saw combat.

Dimaggio had a relatively short career of only 13 seasons primarily because of the three seasons he missed during the war.

For his career, Joe D hit .325 and finished his career with 2214 hits and 361 home runs.

Dave Martin/Getty Images
Bob Feller's Numbers Could Have Been So Much Higher

Over an average of 162 games Joe averaged 207 hits per year and 34 home runs.

So if you gave him back the three years he was in the Army, Joe would have finished with 2835 hits and 463 dingers.

More realistically, Dimag would probably have hit more home runs and garnered more hits in the three years he was gone, because he was also in his prime. In 1943, the first year he lost, he would have been 28 years old.

Dimaggio also lost financially.  According to Baseball Almanac, Dimaggio made $43,750 in 1942 and 1946 when he returned. So he lost $131,250 during the War.

Bob Feller was one of the greatest pitchers ever to climb up a major league mound.  Feller lost virtually four full seasons during WWII. He came back to pitch in nine games in 1945 but he won 26 games his first full season back in 1946.

Feller enlisted in the Navy and saw combat as a Gun Captain aboard the USS Alabama.

When Feller went to military service he was only 23 years old. In the previous three seasons he had won 24, 27 and 25 games respectively.

For his 18 season career Feller won 266 games while losing 162.  He had 2581 strikeouts for his career.

If we could give him back the almost four years he lost he would have at least 63 more wins and 609 more strikeouts. But that is based on his 162 game average.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Hank Served Four Full Years in Army

If you take his averages for the three years immediately before his service he would have won 96 more games and had 963 more strikeouts. 

Using these numbers Bob would have finished his career with 362 wins and 3544 strikeouts.

According to Baseball Almanac, Feller lost $160,000 during WWII.

Hank Greenberg earned his Hall of Fame credentials as a first baseman for the Detroit Tigers.

Greenberg was actually drafted in 1940 and was able to play only 19 games for the Tigers in 1941. He missed the next three full seasons and most of 1945 due to his military service.

Hank served in the Pacific Theater spotting bombing locations for B-29s.

Greenberg’s stats for the Hall of Fame saw him finish with a .313 career batting average and he averaged 187 hits per year for his career. His final numbers included 1628 hits and 331 home runs.

But his military service probably cost him at least 150 home runs and 750 hits.  Hank Greenberg would probably have finished with 480 home runs or more and 2400 hits if he had not served during WWII.

Based on salary figures from Baseball Almanac, Greenberg lost about $220,000 in the four years he served our country.

And Hank served in the military when he was older than the other players mentioned here. When he began the 1946 season he was 35 years old and his best years had been lost.

 

 

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