Today is a day dedicated to looking back and honoring those who have made America what it is. Today we look back at a man who played 14 years in the Major Leagues, one of which was with the Padres. The San Diego Padres were established as a Major League Baseball team in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam War. The next June, while Dock Ellis was no-hitting the Padres (reportedly on LSD), Lieutenant Al Bumbry was arriving in Vietnam. Bumbry joined ROTC while attending Virginia State on a basketball scholarship because it was the only way to insure that he would be able to finish school before being drafted to go to Vietnam. Although he only played one season of college baseball, Bumbry was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles after batting .378 and winning his conference’s batting title. Bumbry played a few games in the minors before reporting for the duty that he knew throughout college would be coming after graduation.
Lieutenant Bumbry served as an Army Platoon Leader in Vietnam and prides himself on the fact that he was able to bring everyone in his Platoon home safely. It speaks to Lieutenant Bumbry’s character that he prides himself on this fact despite earning a Bronze Star for his bravery in battle. When Bumbry left for Vietnam, he was batting below .200 in the Minors. When he returned he batted over .300 and after his call-up, won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1973. A lot of the World War II war veterans’ lost Major League seasons leave us wondering what might have been. With Al Bumbry, without the lost season in Vietnam, he may have never been. Just like other war veterans such as myself, Al Bumbry came back from Vietnam with a change in priorities. Bumbry says that after the war success in baseball was relatively unimportant to him. Only 10 Major Leaguers served in Vietnam, which is why the fact that Al Bumbry played for the Padres during the 1985 season should be important to all Padres fans. Although he made his name with the Orioles, the Padres were lucky to have a true hero on their team prior to his retirement. We are all lucky to have heroes such as Lieutenant Al Bumbry who were willing to serve their country in her hour of need. Today is the day that we remember all of them.