Becoming a great hitter is best seen as a stepping-stone or an accompaniment to becoming a man of greatness. Hitting a baseball well is not as important as doing great deeds in life; it is most commendable when greatness in baseball leads to greatness in life. It is easy to glorify a great hitter and often easy or convenient to overlook the acts of a great man. A certain few great men are destined to be remembered for both hitting, and living, with excellence. Al Bumbry deserves to be one of those men.
Bumbry grew up in an impoverished Virginia neighborhood. He and his family lived in a downtrodden wood shack that had no insulation and leaked when it rained. Bumbry was blessed with breathtaking foot and hand speed, and with a wonderful, friendly, open demeanor. He parlayed his gifts of athleticism and personality into a basketball scholarship at Virginia State, and he also played baseball for a season. He liked baseball, in part because it required diligence and patience and a tremendous amount of practice.
Bumbry possessed a quick, short swing that attracted the attention of professional scouts. The Baltimore Orioles signed him to a minor league contract and Bumbry continued to work at his craft. “I’m a repetition guy … get the basics down … keep working hard … keep working harder…,” he said. Bumbry’s path to the Orioles was altered when the U.S. Army drafted him and sent him to officer’s training school.
Bumbry used his attributes of intelligence, leadership and hard work to rise to the rank of Lieutenant. He was rewarded with an 11-month tour of duty in war-torn Vietnam and served as an infantry platoon commander in charge of dozens of younger, less experienced soldiers. After many missions and many days of combat and an award for meritorious service, Bumbry was discharged and returned to his blossoming baseball career. He earned a fast promotion to the big league roster and was named “Rookie of the Year,” an achievement that heralded his eventual, distinguished 14-year career as a mainstay on a World Championship team and perennial contender. He hit a cumulative .281 during his career. More important, he was described as “… a fantastic teammate and an even better friend.”
Bumbry was an effervescent, ever-smiling man who nonetheless was haunted by his Army days of combat. No man under his command was killed or captured during his time in war, and thereafter Bumbry always claimed that as his greatest feat, far and above the many awards and distinctions he accrued on a baseball diamond.
Today, Bumbry is a contributor to many humanitarian causes and charitable concerns. His son is a rising minor-league outfielder in the Orioles organization who exhibits many of the same skills as his father, including a kind, friendly demeanor. Bumbry gives speeches to many youth groups and always tells them that a true hero is a man willing to put aside selfish concerns and serve his country. He mourns the lives of those fellow soldiers who died in the fight for freedom, and celebrates their sacrifice by spreading his love for baseball. He was a great hitter; he is a great man. He will always be remembered.