This June 14th we will be celebrating the Army’s 248th birthday. The Continental Army was formed on this day in 1775 by a resolution passed by the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia after the war’s outbreak. To honor that day, the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation is recognizing Joe Gordon’s contribution, commitment, and sacrifice that he demonstrated through his service in the U.S. Army.
Before entering the military, Gordon attended the University of Oregon. He was signed by the New York Yankees in 1936 and was called up to their Major League club in 1938 as a second baseman. He had an exceptional rookie season by batting .255, with 25 home runs, and 97 RBIs. He was nicknamed “The Flash” for completing plays that seemed impossible. Gordon formed a strong trio with fellow players, Frank Crosetti and Phil Rizzuto. He was an American League All-Star for 5 consecutive years, appeared in 5 World Series, and was the Most Valuable Player in 1942.
Gordon enlisted in the Army on May 8, 1944, in San Francisco. He was assigned to Camp Luna in New Mexico, and quickly sought to integrate baseball at the base, organizing the Camp Luna Airtrancos baseball team. He was transferred to Camp Hamilton, near San Francisco, in July 1944, and then was stationed at Hickam Field in the Hawaiian Islands with the Seventh Army Air Force. There he was reunited with his Yankees teammate Joe DiMaggio. They also had Don Lang, Bob Dillinger, Walter Judnich, Mike McCormick, and Red Ruffing on the roster. Despite their stellar line-up, they lost to the Navy’s team in the servicemen’s World Series.
Gordon also served as the organizer of intramural sports, setting up the Air Transport Command baseball team. He clearly saw the impact that baseball had on the soldiers and understood the healing tendencies the sport offered. Gordon believed baseball would become more popular after the war because soldiers loved playing each other and Major League players were giving advice and tips to them. “Baseball is played in Army camps throughout the United States whenever possible,” he told The Sporting News. “They play at the Naval bases and overseas, near the front lines, whenever they have enough time and equipment.”
Gordon returned to Hawaii during the summer of 1945 and played for the team at Wheeler Army Airfield. He was once used as a ringer in a game between the Navy’s press censors and a team of war correspondents at Guam. He was introduced as “Joe Hollister”, but once the press censors became aware of who he really was, he was ejected from the game.
Gordon was discharged on November 14, 1945, and returned to the Yankees in 1946. He played with the Cleveland Indians for 4 seasons, and then became a player-manager for Sacramento and San Francisco in the Pacific Coast League. After he retired from his playing career, he managed the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers and was the skipper for the Kansas City Athletics. He also worked as a scout and batting instructor for the Angels, before becoming the manager of the Kansas City Royals for one year in 1969. He then served in a scouting and instructional capacity until 1972 for the Royals. Gordon was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.
The Foundation honors Joe Gordon on the Army’s birthday for his resilience and passion that was shown during his service in WWII. He inspired those around him and brought joy to others through the sport of baseball.