Nicholas Kimmel, a corporal in the United States Marine Corps, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Kimmel, who lost both legs and his left arm while on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, was accompanied by Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who missed most of the 1952 season and all 1953 serving during the Korean War.
Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig said he was proud to "focus on the brave men and women who risk their lives to fight for and protect our country, our veterans" as part of the Welcome Back Veterans initiative. Since its founding in 2008, Major League Baseball has donated more than $13 million to care for the mental health of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg are among the long-ago stars who had their careers shortened by military service. They were all represented at AT&T Park on Thursday by four living veterans: Bobby Doerr, Jerry Coleman, Tommy Lasorda and Bob Wolff.
"Many fought for us, many obviously gave their lives, and so people have often said, and I regard this as a privilege for us, to be able to do something for people and attract the kind of attention that they richly, richly deserve," Selig said.
"In addition to acknowledging our most recent veterans, we are going to recognize and honor living members of the baseball community who represented the U.S. in World War II. These men did what seems unthinkable now. They put their baseball careers on hold to risk their lives in combat. They are members of what is now called, 'The Greatest Generation,' and tonight we're going to recognize their bravery, their service and their sacrifice."
Doerr was an All-Star for the Red Sox four consecutive years before going into the Army. After serving as a sergeant, he returned to baseball in 1946 and was named an All-Star five more times in his last six years.
Coleman signed originally with the Yankees when he was 17. A year later, he joined the Marine Corps as a Naval aviation candidate and flew 57 combat missions while earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses and seven air medals. As the Yankees' second baseman, Coleman played in six World Series. Then he was called back to active duty in Korea and flew 63 more missions. Now, Coleman is an institution in San Diego as a Padres broadcaster.
Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager, served two years at the end of World War II and then re-enlisted. Over the last 60 years, he's given motivational addresses to more than 35 military bases. Four years ago, Lasorda accepted an advisory role in the United States Army, Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion.
Wolff called Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series and also Jackie Robinson's final Major League hit. Before beginning his legendary broadcasting career, he was a lieutenant in the Navy in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific and was a supply officer during World War II.
Selig also singled out Mets president and CEO Fred Wilpon, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, Giants CEO Larry Baer and Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski for their contributions to the program.
Concluded Selig: "The support for this initiative from our clubs has been remarkable and overwhelming. As many of you in baseball know, I've often said that baseball is a social institution, and there's no question that it is. And as a result of that, it has enormous social responsibilities. It's a privilege to be a commissioner of a sport that has done the kind of work that this sport has done."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.