Blue Wahoos to make baseball history with Ted Williams military honor

Two years after Ted Williams attained a feat unlikely to be replicated in Major League Baseball, he fulfilled a different kind of ultimate dream in his life.

He became a patriot. And Pensacola has a significant connection.

At age 25, Williams applied his determination and resolve – two skills that led to batting .406 for the Boston Red Sox in 1941 while en route to becoming one the sport’s greatest players – to serve his country through the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.

He sacrificed three entire MLB seasons (1943-45) in the prime of his 19-year, hall-of-fame career, all with the Red Sox, to serve during World War II. He then played only 43 games combined in 1952-53 when serving in the Korean War. He flew in 59 combat missions.

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He was twice stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola, the second time at his request, where he quickly learned skills that made him a fighter pilot and later an instructor to future Naval aviators and Marine Corps pilots.

“Think about this, for a guy like Ted Williams who was runner-up (in 1941) for (American) league MVP, then transitions from being ‘The Man’ on the baseball field – something that everyone can connect with – and the next thing you know, he’s a nobody. He is going through Marine Corps boot camp,” said retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad, president and chief executive officer of the National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation based at the museum at NAS Pensacola.

Ted Williams with teammates on the Bronson Field Bombers during his training at Bronson Field at NAS Pensacola during World War II.
Ted Williams with teammates on the Bronson Field Bombers during his training at Bronson Field at NAS Pensacola during World War II.

“The humility, the motivation,” Cozad said. “He is putting himself and fame aside to defend the United States Constitution. I mean if, that doesn’t motivate, then there is something wrong with your motivation.”

The incredible legacy of Williams will be honored Friday by the Blue Wahoos, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation as presenting sponsor, during the team’s Salute To Service Night and the team’s game against the Montgomery Biscuits. The night will honor all branches of the U.S. Armed Services, each of which has direct links to Pensacola.

The Blue Wahoos will be making baseball history with a Ted Williams Bobblehead giveaway, presented by the NAM Foundation, in likeness of Williams in his Bronson Field Bombers uniform,.

The first 1,000 fans Friday will receive a one-of-a-kind item.

It’s a figurine of Williams, then 25 years-old, in the Bronson baseball uniform he wore while playing on an all-star team that included other MLB players during World War II and stationed at NAS Pensacola.

Ted Williams, kneeling, second from far right, during training at NAS Pensacola during World War II with other professional baseball players.
Ted Williams, kneeling, second from far right, during training at NAS Pensacola during World War II with other professional baseball players.

Bronson Field was an auxiliary airfield near NAS Pensacola. It is now Blue Angel Naval Recreation Park, located off Bronson Road, for use by active duty and retired military members.

While Williams has been honored with a bobblehead multiple times by the Red Sox, along with the Texas Rangers for his one season (1972) as Rangers’ manager, the bobblehead on Friday in Pensacola will be a unique figurine to salute his Navy and Marine Corps duty in Pensacola.

“Our mission at the National Naval Aviation Museum is to educate and inspire,” Cozad said. “To educate about things that have happened in the past and were typically about people who do uncommon things like Ted Williams to inspire folks. Having a bobblehead of Ted Williams where he trained, I think that is a really neat story that ties that in.”

Inside the National Naval Aviation Museum, now back open to the public through the back entrance of NAS Pensacola, a replica of the Grumman F9F Panther jet that Williams flew in combat is on display from the ceiling inside the main entrance. In addition, a replica Vaught F4U Corsair that he flew in training during World War II and Korean War is on display in a main section of the museum.

Beyond the 19 MLB seasons Williams played, and the 2,654 hits, 521 home runs and 1,839 RBI he produced that qualify him on MLB’s Mount Rushmore of its most iconic stars, Williams’ decorated military service is something that separates him from the yesteryear heroes of sports.

“For a guy who could have lived a soft life (during wartime era) and played baseball in a military uniform, he chose to go overseas and defend his country,” said Cozad, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former chief of U.S. Naval Education and Training. “He was a national favorite on the baseball diamond, but he chose to serve his country. It is a really, really cool story.”

Williams was the last player in MLB history to bat .400 or better in a season. He went 6-for-8 in a doubleheader he insisted to play against the former Philadelphia Athletics on Sept. 28, 1941, to finish the season with a .406 average. A little more than two months later on Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor happened.

Ted Williams became a U.S. Marines pilot during training at NAS Pensacola.
Ted Williams became a U.S. Marines pilot during training at NAS Pensacola.

Since that season, no one MLB history has challenged that batting mark. This season, Miami Marlins second baseman Luis Arraez, who played in Pensacola for the Blue Wahoos in 2019, was hitting above .400 for the Marlins as late as June 24, but has since fallen under .370.

In his book, “Baseball in Pensacola,” published in 2013, author Scott Brown chronicled the many connections of Williams and Pensacola, as part of his comprehensive research on how all branches of the U.S. Armed Services and baseball are connected in the Pensacola area.

In his book, Brown detailed that in May 1942, Williams enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps through a Department of Navy recruiting office. In December 1943, he arrived in Pensacola to begin advanced training at NAS Pensacola. On May 2, 1944, Williams accepted appointment as second lieutenant and received his Wings of Gold as a Naval aviator and Marine Corps pilot.

“To me, what the Blue Wahoos are doing in the special way is not only honoring Ted Williams, but honoring of the parallel life of the military in Pensacola and the game of baseball,” Brown said. “You could not write the history of the game in Pensacola, as I did, without intertwining the Navy and our push to defend our country in wartime periods.

“(Williams) understood what this meant for his country,” Brown said. “And it was so impacting, that he was willing to forego his own personal advantages, records and income, to defend his country.

“And that is why he was able to train young men as pilots, because he had this foreseeable insight that was very different from those around him. That is how he played the game and how he took his military career as well.”

While in Pensacola, as Brown chronicles, Williams fell in love with the community. Prior to Williams' death in 2002, Jack Reed, former director of Morale, Welfare and Recreation at NAS Pensacola, contacted Williams’ daughter Claudia, to let her know of a picture he found of Williams in his Bronson Bombers uniform.

When Claudia told her bedridden father that someone from NAS Pensacola had a photo of him and wanted to send it, she explained to Reed that her father’s face lit up and she said, “I haven’t seen my dad smile like that in years.”

Said Brown: “Ted Williams gained his love for Florida in Pensacola. He gained his love for sport fishing and boating and the outdoors atmosphere in Pensacola.”

Ted Williams, left, sits with a teammate.
Ted Williams, left, sits with a teammate.

To make this special night happen on Friday has been a year-long process. The Blue Wahoos first reached out to the Red Sox, who provided contact with the Ted Williams family and Ted Williams Foundation. After receiving approval from Major League Baseball, the Blue Wahoos went through a military approval process that began with NAS Pensacola, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense.

“Practically everyone interested in baseball knows the name Ted Williams. His influence as a player to generations of athletes goes without saying,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Terrence Shashaty, Commanding Officer of NAS Pensacola, who will attend Friday and be part of the ceremonial first pitch guests. “But to the generations of service members training here, I think it's important that they understand the devotion to duty he had.

“(Williams) missed seasons of baseball through his military service, and his connection to the greatest U.S. Navy air station is something I hope each person going to this game, or visiting our base, appreciates.”

The Blue Wahoos players will be wearing specially-created uniforms on Friday, which have been approved, honoring all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

On Aug. 1, Shashaty led a group from NAS Pensacola that visited with Blue Wahoos players to explain the military call signs – a specialized form of nicknames – that the Blue Wahoos players chose for each of their teammates.

“(NAS Pensacola) has been such a part of this great city for so long, and partnerships such as this are something I truly enjoy,” Shashaty said. “Being able to talk with some of these young players about naval aviation and have a connection with arguably one of the greatest ballplayers of all time has been a remarkable experience.”

Bill Vilona is a retired Pensacola News Journal sports columnist and now senior writer for Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He can be reached at


The Blue Wahoos are honoring military legacy of Ted Williams during Salute To Service Night with a bobblehead giveaway on Friday.
The Blue Wahoos are honoring military legacy of Ted Williams during Salute To Service Night with a bobblehead giveaway on Friday.

WHAT: Blue Wahoos Salute To Service Night

WHO: Blue Wahoos vs. Montgomery Biscuits

WHEN: Friday, 6:35 p.m.

WHERE: Blue Wahoos Stadium

PROMOTION: One-of-a-kind, Ted Williams Bobblehead in Bronson Bombers uniform as giveaway to first 1,000 fans

OTHER ACTIVITIES: All branches of U.S. Armed Forces to be recognized.

TICKETS: or 850-934-8444.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Blue Wahoos to honor Ted Williams, military