Fewer than 35 major-league baseball military veterans of the Second World War survive today. Five of these veterans live in Texas, three reside in the Fort Worth area, and they represent more than 500 major leaguers who paused their baseball careers to serve in the war.
Texas’ Greatest Generation big leaguers include Dr. Bobby Brown, 94, and Eddie Robinson, 98, of Fort Worth, Wayne “Twig” Terwilliger, 93, of Weatherford, Larry Miggins, 93, of Houston, and Frank Saucier, 92, of Amarillo. They knew Boston Red Sox hitter Ted Williams, a Marine Corps combat pilot who served in WWII and Korea, and shared the field with Jackie Robinson, an Army veteran, who broke the color barrier in baseball. As war veterans, these gentlemen know firsthand that freedom is priceless and take more pride in their military service than any laurel earned on the ballfield.
Retired cardiologist Dr. Bobby Brown, played on four World Series championships with the New York Yankees. After enrolling in Stanford University as a pre-med student, Brown joined the Navy in 1942. Known as the “Golden Boy,” he graduated from Tulane University School of Medicine while playing third base for the New York Yankees—a feat baseball fans may never again see in the majors. In 1952, Brown was called up for a second tour to serve as a doctor in the Korean War. He marched off a ship at Incheon, loaded down with equipment, on the opening day of the World Series as the Yankees faced the Brooklyn Dodgers, but never regretted his service.
Reflecting on WWII Brown said, “Everyone wanted to serve. People lied about infirmities to get in uniform. It was an all-out effort by the whole country because we knew if we did not win the war we were done.”
Brown continued his cardiology practice, then went on to became vice president of the Texas Rangers and president of the American League, steering the League through its most challenging years. Like his peers, the humble Golden Boy would never call himself a hero. Instead Brown credits his friend Hank Greenberg, who reupped after Pearl Harbor, saying “now that is a hero.”
A reporter described 98-year-old Eddie Robinson as the “Forrest Gump of Baseball,” because he witnessed the most influential people and events of history. The Navy veteran nicknamed the “Big Easy” is still arrestingly handsome. The former All-Star first baseman and member of the Cleveland Indians’ 1948 World Series championship team racked up a 13-year major-league career, playing in seven of the eight American League franchises of his era with the exception of the Boston Red Sox. Today, the former coach and general manager of the Texas Rangers reins as the oldest-living player from teams such as the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Senators.
Like many of his peers, Robinson came from modest means, picking cotton in the East Texas heat to help support the family during the Depression. In his book, Lucky Me, My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball, Robinson recalled that baseball was a luxury and kids played in overalls—”if we were lucky enough to get a baseball, we played with it until the cover came off. Then we taped it up and played with it some more,” he said.
Robinson served in the Navy for three years during WWII, serving stateside with a tour in Hawaii where he played some stellar service-league baseball. When Robinson returned to pro ball, he worked off-season jobs with the railroad and the fire department. When he hung up his spikes as a player, the Big Easy went back to work as a coach, a farm director, scout, and general manager. Today, Robinson still gives back, cheering on the Texas Rangers at home games, and he continues to lobby for major-league players seeking pensions who had less than the required four years of big-league service.
Wayne “Twig” Terwilliger, age 93, enlisted in the Marine Corps before his 18th birthday, and he witnessed the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi.
“Joining the service was simply the thing to do,” said Terwilliger. “I was scared sh**less … but it was the right thing to do and I joined up as soon as possible.”
In 1951 Terwilliger served as backup second baseman to Jackie Robinson. He witnessed the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” homerun from the Dodgers’ dugout, but serving his country as a Marine is what drove Terwilliger’s ambition. In his 80s, Terwilliger shared the spotlight with Connie Mack as the oldest active manager in the history of professional baseball when he managed the Fort Worth Cats to a championship in 2005. At age 88, Twig took a job sacking groceries at the local Willow Park Brookshire’s grocery store, where he always made a point to say “thank you for your service” to strangers wearing military caps.
Larry Miggins was the son of Irish immigrants raised less than 15 miles from Polo Grounds in the Bronx. Giants’ scouts watched Miggins letter in football, basketball, and baseball at Fordham Prep, where he graduated as class valedictorian in 1943. In high school, one of Miggins’ best friends was Vin Scully, “The Voice of the Dodgers” and Hall of Fame sportscaster who served in the Navy during WWII. At age 15, Vin whispered into Miggins’ ear during school assembly, “some day you are going to be in the big leagues. The first time you hit a home run I’ll be the announcer telling the world about it.” Vin’s prediction came true, and tears rolled down his cheeks when he called his friend’s games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1948 and 1952.
Miggins joined the Merchant Marine Navy in 1944. He played against Jackie Robinson on April 18, 1946 when he debuted at Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium with the Montreal Royals, and Miggins recalls that he was utterly distracted by Ted Williams’ stellar abilities—”a wonderful guy, he was my idol,” he said.
A man of strong faith, Miggins offers kids the same advice that his father gave him before he headed to spring training for the Cardinals. He said, “Stay close to the Soggarth Aroon,” meaning stay close to the dear priest and your faith.
After Miggins retired from professional baseball, he earned a master’s degree and worked as the Chief U.S. Probation and Parole Officer for the Southern District of Texas, coaching baseball in his spare time. Coming full circle with his childhood roots near Polo Grounds, Miggins served on a citizens’ committee to support the passage of a bond issue to build another neighborhood ballpark—Houston’s Astrodome.
Frank Saucier grew up in Missouri and served as one of the youngest deck officers commissioned by the Navy in World War II. He graduated with a degree in math and physics from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, home of the National Churchill Museum, where Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946. In 1949, Saucier batted a blistering .446 with the Wichita Falls Spudders of the Big State League. In 1950, The Sporting News named Saucier as as Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .343 and winning the Texas League batting title with the San Antonio Missions.
In baseball circles, the Amarillo businessman is known for being replaced by major-league baseball’s smallest player, three-foot-seven-inch tall, 65-pound Eddie Gaedel, who wore the number “1/8” on his jersey when he pinch-hit for Saucier in a publicity stunt in 1951.
When war came again, the owner of the St. Louis Browns, Bill Veeck, a master showman, future Hall of Famer and former Marine, who lost a leg in WWII made an unsuccessful bid to exempt his outfielder from the Navy. Once again, Saucier left baseball to serve in the Korean War for two years and never looked back.
Saucier worked in the finance and oil business until he retired at age 85. Today, the Westminster College baseball field bears his name.
On this Memorial Day let us give thanks to all veterans—tipping our hats to this rare fraternity of Texas ballplayers who volunteered to serve and earned the freedoms we enjoy today.
Austin-based Anne Keene is the author of The Cloudbuster Nine: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team That Helped Win WWII. www.annerkeene.com