Friday, June 16, 2006

June 16th, 1914

Johnnie Wittig Born

Or, as Chris Berman might say Johnnie "It would've been better for all involved if Hamlet had stayed at" Wittig(berg). Then again, maybe not, that's a trifle long for Chris, to say nothing of the Hamlet reference being fairly obscure, even for fans of the play. But never mind, on to the career of Mr. Wittig. He saw limited time in 1938, '39 and '41 for the Giants pitching generally ineffectively (141 and a 1/3 innings, 5.60 ERA) and not demonstrating anything that would suggest he would ever see regular time for any franchise. As it turned out, Wittig would instead spend a season in 1943 as a regular, and regularly ineffective, member of the Giants rotation. He got there thanks to a helping hand from these sort of people, who required the attentions of many of the men who would ordinarily have been pitching those innings.

All of this got me thinking however, how many guys have careers of any note--as much as careers like Wittig's can be described as of note--purely on account of the Second World War? It's true that while some players (Ted Williams, most famously) saw actual action during the course of the war, many others, possibly a majority, were assigned to moral and fund raising activities. The Hall of Fame writes that "nearly all everyday players served overseas" during the War, while other sources produce less grand statements but generally agree a majority of Big Leaguers went into the service.

If that's so, and I have no reason to believe it isn't, it would seem that the Johnnie Wittig's of the world are more common than I could've previously imagined. There were still only sixteen teams back then, but working on the theory that at least two-thirds of players went to the war efforts, that means there were around two hundred and fifty players who either made the Majors, or saw significant time in them that otherwise would've been retired or playing the Newark, New Jersey and Columbus, Ohio’s of the world. That's a big group of guys, and might even be a conservative estimate. So maybe Johnnie Wittig deserves more recognition than as a would-be Bermanism, he's now my representative for the small army (pardon the pun) of ballplayers who spent their time at the top of the game on account of the war.

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