Ken Holtzman in Vietnam

 

1970topps410

The handful of cards I was contemplating this Thanksgiving morning included Holtzman, Sal Bando, Ted Williams, Bob Gibson, Pat Corrales and Tito Fuentes.

Ken Holtzman missed the 1967 Major League baseball season, or most of it, because of military service. That’s what it says on the back of his 1971 black-border Topps card. It actually says he was 9-0 for the Cubs at the time of his inscription. He had perhaps his best  season in 1970  with 202 strikeouts, and 17 wins. He later played for the A’s. I recall they had a “Get A Hit Off Ken Holtzman” contest. Apropos of the military — which in this case I presume means Vietnam — I also recall that it was said of Willie Mays — he of 660 career home runs –that he not Aaron would have broken Babe Ruth’s record of 714 if he had not served 2 years in the Korean War (i.e. 54 homers or 27 per season — easy enough if you are Willie Mays).

Who would send Willie Mays to war?

Who would send Ken Holtzman to Vietnam?

There must be more to this story.

edit to add: ok, the headline is a misnomer in that Ken served in National Guard duty which limited him to 92 innings and not 200 plus like the previous year. Bruce Markusen in 2010 wrote about at least six major leaguers who served in the South Asian theatre including Jim Bibby, Carlos May, Mark Belanger and Ed Figueroa. I reader commented on Ken thusly:

I think Ken Holtzman needs at least a passing mention. Because of the ongoing war, he was required to fulfill National Guard duties. In 1967, on days in which the Guard let him take a day off to pitch big-league baseball, he went a perfect 9-0 (ERA+ of 141). Not bad for a 21-year-old part-time player.

During the Cub’s 1969 debacle, Holtzman was still working for the Guard, which might have kept him from winning 20 games that year (instead of the 17 he did win).

I don’t mean to compare working on home soil to brave service in Vietnam, but there are many players who paid a price for being a young man in the late ‘60’s. Holtzman was heralded as “the next Koufax” when he came up, and it seems as if the extended time he served may have taken away some important grooming time from him. We’ll never know.

from LA Times on Bibby, 65:

Born Oct. 29, 1944, in Franklinton, N.C., Bibby played baseball and basketball at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. He signed as a free agent with the New York Mets in 1965, but his baseball career was interrupted when he was drafted into the Army. After driving trucks in Vietnam during the war, he returned to baseball and overcame a spinal fusion operation in 1971.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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