There is a full slate of Major League Baseball games on tap for Memorial Day, which makes it a perfect time to pause and remember the six former major leaguers who gave their lives during military service.
Three MLB players were killed during World War I. Additionally, Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson was accidentally exposed to mustard gas during a training exercise in 1918 while serving in the United States Army, was subsequently diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1921, and died in 1925. However, the connection between the gassing, the tuberculosis, and Mathewson's death is not entirely rock solid.
Two more major leaguers were killed during World War II. Another was killed in Korea. None have died in military action since.
In alphabetical order:
Alex Burr, OF, New York Yankees: Killed in 1918 during World War I
A pitcher by trade, Burr appeared in one game with the Yankees in 1914 as a defensive player in center field, never appearing at the plate.
As a member of the U.S. Army Air Service, Burr was killed on October 12, 1918, when a plane he was piloting in Cazaux, France, collided midair with another plane. Both aircrafts burst into flames and plunged into a lake. It took 12 days for Burr's body to surface.
Elmer Gedeon, OF, Washington Senators: Killed in 1943 during World War II
Gedeon excelled at football, baseball, and track and field at the University of Michigan, playing first base and outfield for the Wolverines. He signed with the Senators in 1939 and was called up from the minor leagues for five games in September of that year. He started four of those games at center field and made an appearance in right field in a fifth game. In a total of 15 at-bats in the major leagues, Gideon collected three hits, an RBI, and a run scored.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1941, and around Memorial Day of that year, he transferred to the Army Air Corps, where he was serving as a navigator in a B-25 bomber that crashed on takeoff on August 9, 1942. After pulling himself from the wreckage, Gedeon crawled back into the burning wreckage and saved the life of a fellow crewman. He received the Soldiers' Medal for his heroics.
After healing from significant wounds from that crash, including severe burns that required skin grafts, Gedeon became a pilot of a B-26 Marauder. While flying his 13th mission on April 20, 1944, his twin-engine bomber was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire over France.
Eddie Grant, 3B, Cleveland Naps, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, New York Giants: Killed in 1918 during World War I
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Grant enlisted in the military. As a captain with the 307th Infantry of the 77th Division, he was part of an attempt to rescue "The Lost Battalion" from German forces in the Argonne Forest in France. He was killed by an enemy mortar on October 5, 1918, while waving for stretcher bearers to come to the aid of other wounded soldiers. He was the first major leaguer to be killed in action.
On Memorial Day in 1921, a plaque was erected at the Polo Grounds in Grant's honor. After the Giants' last game at the stadium in 1957, the plaque disappeared and was never recovered. Despite repeated requests, the Giants refused to replace it, and it was rumored that a curse was placed on the team as a result. After winning five World Series titles between 1905 and 1954, the well ran dry for the team for decades.
A replacement plaque was finally erected by the San Francisco Giants in 2006. The team won the World Series in 2010.
Robert Neighbors, SS, St. Louis Browns: Killed in 1952 in North Korea
Neighbors played in seven games for the 1939 Browns, collecting two hits--including a home run--and scoring three runs in 11 at-bats.
In March of 1942, Neighbors enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces and served in Italy and in the Pacific during World War II. After the war ended, Neighbors decided against a return to professional baseball, deciding instead to continue his Air Force career.
On August 8, 1952, Neighbors and his crew were stationed at Kunsan Air Base in Korea and volunteered for an extra mission after the original pilot fell ill. During the mission, they ran into unexpected enemy anti-aircraft fire and radioed in that they had been hit and were bailing out. Their exact location over North Korea was unknown, and none of the crew was ever heard from again.
Neighbors was initially listed as Missing in Action but was officially declared dead on December 31, 1953, when he was not among the repatriated prisoners of war six months after the war ended. He is the last major leaguer to die during military service.
Harry O'Neill, C, Philadelphia A's: Killed in 1945 during World War II
O'Neill played football, basketball, and baseball at Gettysburg College before joining the A's. On July 23, 1939, he played catcher during the bottom half of the 8th inning of a 16-3 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. He never batted in the game, and he never appeared in another MLB game.
In September of 1942, O'Neill enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. As a first lieutenant in the 4th Marine Division, he was deployed to the Pacific Theater in January of 1944. On February 19, 1945, his division landed in Iwo Jima. On March 6, 1945, he was killed by a sniper's bullet.
Robert "Bun" Troy, P, Detroit Tigers: Killed in 1918 in World War I
Troy appeared in one game for the 1912 Tigers as a starting pitcher. He pitched 6.2 innings, allowing 9 hits, 4 runs, 3 walks, and one hit batter in a loss.
Troy was killed in action in France on October 7, 1918, succumbing to his battle wounds.
While pausing on Memorial Day to remember the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country, take one more moment to remember these six ballplayers, too.
All of our deceased soldiers deserve it.
Also by this Author: Memorial Day and the NFL: Players Killed During Military Service