Sports heroes who served: World Series Champion served in Navy during WWII

Eddie Robinson strikes a pose in his New York Yankees uniform. Photo courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Before his death on Oct. 4 at age 100, Eddie Robinson was the last living person to have won the World Series with the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He was also the oldest living player on a World Series-winning team and the oldest living member of the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Philadelphia and Kansas City Athletics and Washington Senators.

He was the last living Major League Baseball player who played at League Park in Cleveland, which the Indians abandoned after the 1946 season. Following the death of Val Heim on Nov. 21, 2019, Robinson became the oldest living former player. Robinson was also the last living player from the 1942 season, as well as the oldest living player whose major league career was interrupted by World War II service.

Robinson’s career started with the Indians in 1942 and ended with the Orioles in 1957. His overall MLB batting average was .278. He hit 172 home runs and had 723 runs batted in.

Robinson’s time with the Indians was put on hold after the 1942 season when he enlisted in the Navy. Robinson said he was recruited by former world heavyweight boxing champion and World War I veteran Gene Tunney, who encouraged athletes to join the military.

For almost four years, Robinson played first base for the Bluejackets at Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia. They went up against military and MLB teams.

Because McClure Baseball Field was close to the Atlantic Ocean, civilians were not allowed to enter the base to watch the games due to German U-boats operating in the area. Even reporters were banned from entering the base, so military writers and photographers covered the games.

In 1943, Robinson led the club with eight home runs and 79 RBIs. On May 24, 1943, the Bluejackets defeated the Washington Senators 4-3 at Griffith Park in Washington. The $2 million ticket proceeds were donated for the purchase of war bonds.

The U-boat menace along the East Coast increased, and besides playing baseball, Robinson received antisubmarine warfare training in 1944.

In 1944, Robinson tied with St. Louis Browns’ outfielder Glenn “Red” McQuillen with 11 home runs and 26 doubles and finished the season with 99 RBIs and a .282 batting average.

After his MLB career as a player ended in 1957, Robinson coached and managed a number of MLB teams.

In 2011, Robinson wrote his autobiography, “Lucky Me: My Sixty-five Years in Baseball.”

One of Robinson’s sons later served in the Navy aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in the early 1970s.

The 1943 Bluejackets appear in a team portrait with captain Henry McClure and manager Gary Bodie. Eddie Robinson is in the second row, fifth from the left. Photo courtesy of Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library
Eddie Robinson played first base for the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets for four years in Virginia. From left, Robinson and teammates Benny McCoy and Phil Rizzuto pose for a photo in the team uniforms. Photo courtesy of Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library