After 19 years in the big leagues, Ruffing called up for military service
Though his New York Yankee teammates Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth often occupied the limelight, right-handed pitcher Red Ruffing was a star in his own right during his 16 years in the Bronx.
But with World War II raging, the 37-year-old Ruffing – who seemed to get better with age – was called into military service on Jan. 4, 1943.
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Initially signed by the Red Sox, Ruffing pitched well at the start of his career, but Boston consistently finished last in each of his five seasons with the team. During that time he hit well, even batting .314 during the 1928 season, and the Red Sox considered moving him to the outfield. But Ruffing had lost four toes on his left foot in a mining accident when he was 15, which made him too slow to play regularly in the field.
Finally in 1930, with the Great Depression devouring profits, the Red Sox traded Ruffing to the Yankees. With the strength of New York’s offensive line-up behind him, Ruffing’s career took off.
The steady right-hander helped carry the Yankees to championships in 1932, 1936-39 and 1941, going 7-2 in his World Series starts and earning 20+ wins in New York’s 1936-39 consecutive title stretch. He also continued to be a talented batsman, leading the 1935 Yankees in wins and batting average – besting future Hall of Famers Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey and Earle Combs.
That all came to a stop when Ruffing was drafted into the United States Army Air Corps, despite his age, his wounded foot and the fact that he dependents at home (he and his wife had adopted a young boy, and his mother also lived with them). Ruffing was designated for noncombat duty, and served his country until June 6, 1945, when he was discharged following the War Department’s ordered release of soldiers over 40.
Ruffing’s time in the military was not without baseball, however. During his two-and-a-half years of service, he pitched for the Sixth Ferrying Group of the Air Transport Command and appeared on a military all-star team. He even threw his first no-hitter during this time, on July 28, 1943, with a 2-0 shutout over former teammate Joe DiMaggio’s Santa Ana Army Air Base team.
Ruffing returned to New York shortly thereafter his release from the military, and took the hill on July 26, 1945. True to his steadfast nature, the right-hander threw six innings of three-run ball and the Yankees beat the Philadelphia Athletics 13-4.
Ruffing would spend 1946 in the Bronx before finishing out his career in Chicago with the White Sox in 1947. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.
Isabelle Minasian was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum