May 31, 2010
Memorial Day Remembrance
I have accrued enough memories in 23 years of covering the major leagues to last five lifetimes, covering World Series, League Championship Series, Division Series, All-Star Games, and a World Baseball Classic. I have had the chance to interview and make the acquaintance of people I could have only dreamed about meeting while growing up in rural Ohioville, Pennsylvania.
Yet while I cherish and appreciate all of that, there is one evening I spent with a retired major-league pitcher in 1991, the 50th anniversary of the start of World War II, which stands with anything I have ever experienced. I had a chance to sit down with Hugh Mulcahy, who pitched in the major leagues for nine seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1935-47.
Mulcahy was tagged with the nickname "Losing Pitcher" back in his playing days, a time before the idea of political correctness had been hatched. He came by the moniker honestly, as his career record was just 45-89. He led the National League in losses twice while pitching for some dreadful Phillies teams, but if sabermetrics had been invented in those days, they would have shown that Mulcahy wasn't such a bad pitcher. When he went 13-22 in 1940 and was the NL loss leader, his ERA+ was actually 108.
Mulcahy had an easy laugh and could joke about his nickname. "You know, in sports, somebody's gotta win and somebody's gotta lose," he said. "Well, I was the guy who always lost."
Mulcahy knew having the unique nickname perpetuated the memory of his career. He never ceased to be amazed that a week didn't go by that someone didn't send a letter or card requesting an autograph. Mulcahy knew if he would have finished with a .336 lifetime winning percentage and just been known as Hugh that he likely would have been forgotten.
However, on this Memorial Day, Mulcahy should be remembered for something more significant than his won-loss record. It was Mulacahy who was the first major-league player to be drafted into the United States Army for World War II.
The United States did not enter the fray until declaring war on Japan after it bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. However, in anticipation of America eventually getting involved in the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act on Sept, 16, 1940, paving the way for the first peacetime draft in our nation's history. The 27-year-old Mulcahy was just getting ready to leave his Massachusetts home to report to spring training with the Phillies at Miami Beach, Florida, when he was called up to the military on March 8, 1941.
"I was all packed and ready to go, but I had a little change in plans," Mulcahy said.
He wound up taking a four-year detour away from the major leagues that all but ended his professional baseball career. Mulcahy was first assigned to Camp Edwards, near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for infantry training. His stint at Camp Edwards lasted just 10 months as Congress discharged all men 28 or older from the military on December 5, 1941. Two days later came the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Mulcahy was back in the Army.
Mulcahy's service took to him to Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and the Second Army Headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. He was then deployed overseas to the Pacific Theatre to New Guinea and the Philippines as he rose to the rank of Master Sergeant.
Mulcahy never saw combat duty as, like many major leaguers in the service, he played in a series of baseball games that were designed to entertain the troops and keep their morale high. However, Mulcahy contracted dysentery in 1945 while in the Philippines, lost 30 pounds, and was discharged in July with a Bronze Star.
Mulcahy returned to the Phillies and pitched in five games before being placed on the disabled list for the remainder of the season because he was still too weak from his sickness. He pitched in 16 games, including five starts, for the Phillies in 1946, made two relief appearances for the Pirates the following season, then was released. Mulcahy spent the rest of 1947 pitching for the Oakland Oaks in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and retired at the end of the season.
Mulcahy was 31 when he returned to the major leagues but clearly was not the same pitcher. Though he had what should have been some of the prime seasons of his career taken away by Uncle Sam, Mulcahy said he had no regrets. In fact, after retiring as a player, he spent more than 30 years in baseball as a scout and minor-league manager and coach, and also had a one-year stint as the White Sox' major-league pitching coach in 1970.
"I don't look back on it with any anger or bitterness," Mulcahy said. "Our country was at war, and that was more important than baseball. There were a lot of guys who had their career interrupted because of the war. You didn't think twice about it, though, because you doing your duty by serving your country. A lot of guys went to the war and didn't come back. I came back and had a long career in baseball. I feel I was fortunate, not cheated."
Mulcahy died on October 19, 2001, a little more than a month after his 88th birthday. He is buried in the town cemetery in Beaver, 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. In the ground in the front of his tombstone today waves a miniature American flag in honor of Memorial Day.