Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.
Al Bumbry was a center fielder for two Major League Baseball teams, the Baltimore Orioles from 1972 to 1984 and the San Diego Padres in 1985. He won the World Series with the Orioles in 1983.
Bumbry credits his Army service for his MLB success.
In 1969, he played 35 games for the Orioles’ Class A Stockton farm team, batting just .171. That same year, he was drafted into the Army.
Since Bumbry graduated from Virginia State College, he was commissioned a second lieutenant.
After spending a year at Fort Meade, Maryland, he deployed to South Vietnam, commanding 45 soldiers in a tank platoon for 11 months.
“As the platoon leader, I was responsible not only for my life, but for the men in my platoon,” Bumbry told Bill Stetka in a Nov. 11, 2020, Veterans Day interview for the Orioles.
“We had to go out in the jungle, and I remember my commander telling me, ‘This war was going on before you got here, and it will be going on after you leave. Your main objective is to see that you and your men get home safely.’ I always kept that in the back of my mind,” Bumbry said.
“Being responsible for other lives, I think it made me focus more. I’m sure it changed me,” he said, adding that he did lose one man who was killed in action.
Once, his platoon intercepted a large shipment of supplies heading for the Viet Cong. For that, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal.
“People ask how did I do so poorly in the minors that first year, not play for two more years, and then come back and make it to the big leagues so quickly. The answer I gave then, and I give now, is the changes I went through going to Vietnam and the maturity factor. I think I realized that I had been in a do-or-die situation, that I was responsible not just for my life but for other men as well. It must have made me focus more on what I had to do and what my responsibilities were. After that, baseball just didn’t seem as hard as it was before,” he said.
Bumbry is one of 10 major league players to have served in Vietnam, and he’s the only one who is a former Oriole.
In 1973, Bumbry won the American League Rookie of the Year award, becoming the first Oriole to record 200 hits in a season, ranking among the club’s leaders in numerous offensive categories, and helping win two American League pennants and a World Series championship.