Hank Gowdy went from crouching behind the plate for the Boston Braves to crawling in a trench on a World War I battlefield in a matter of months. When it was over, the long-time major leaguer picked right up where he left off. Despite not having seen a big league pitch in two years, Gowdy smacked a single and finished the 1919 season with a .279 average, the highest of his career.
Featured on numerous baseball cards during his playing days, which included an MVP-type performance for the 1914 Miracle Braves, Gowdy didn’t make the Hall of Fame, but he’ll always be remembered as the first active major leaguer to enlist during that first Great War.
Our Photo of the Day shows the popular backstop warming up, not long after his return to baseball following a hitch in the military, one that saw him involved in some of Europe’s heaviest trench warfare. A member of the famed ‘Rainbow Brigade’, Gowdy was remembered as a popular leader who regaled his fellow soldiers with tales from his career between fierce fighting.
The original 7×11” NEA photo carries an August 1919 date stamp on the back. It’s being offered at RMY Auctions, with bidding set to close Sunday night.
Gowdy chose to return to baseball that summer despite being offered a sizeable sum to tour the country speaking about his experiences. He continued to play until 1925 when he was released by the New York Giants, but returned to Boston as a player coach a few years later and proved he could still hit.
His military career wasn’t over yet, though.
Gowdy returned to duty at age 53 following the outbreak of World War II, becoming the Athletic Officer at Ft. Benning, GA.