On the last day of Black History Month, it's worth noting that Al Bumbry was a hero, both on and off the field.Bumbry, 70, played in the big leagues for 14 seasons, mostly with the Orioles. He is not sure if he would have lasted that long if he hadn't
On the last day of Black History Month, it's worth noting that Al Bumbry was a hero, both on and off the field.
Bumbry, 70, played in the big leagues for 14 seasons, mostly with the Orioles. He is not sure if he would have lasted that long if he hadn't gone into the Army.
Bumbry will be the first to acknowledge he had a lot to learn after being drafted by Baltimore in the 11th round in 1968. In early '69, Bumbry had a .178 batting average for Class A Stockton before going into the Military later that year.
"The Orioles wanted to see what I could do prior to going to active duty," Bumbry said. "I went [to Stockton], because the Rookie League season didn't start until June. I was terrible. When June came around, I was glad to leave, because it was not so much the military obligations, it was because I had done so poorly [in the Minor Leagues]."
Bumbry then did a tour in Vietnam. He won the Bronze Star for his service as a tank platoon leader, and he was proud to never lose a man in his platoon.
"Every day and every minute, your concern is focusing on staying alive," Bumbry said. "And since I was a platoon leader, it was not just my life I was responsible for. I had 40-something men in my platoon that I was responsible for.
"That's a major responsibility. I think I matured quite a bit from that experience. Then, when I came back [to the U.S.], I guess baseball didn't seem as [hard] as it was before I went over."
Once he returned to baseball in 1971, Bumbry realized he had the confidence to excel on the field. By '72, he got his first cup of coffee in the big leagues, and he went on to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1973.
Bumbry's best season was in 1980 -- and what a year that was. He led the Orioles in batting average [.318], hits , runs scored , stolen bases  and WAR [6.1].
Bumbry also helped the Orioles reach the postseason four times, including winning the World Series in 1983.
Bumbry said gaining maturity in the Army helped improve his skills in baseball. Suddenly, he could hit the baseball with consistency and was a major player in the Orioles' lineup.
"I'm thankful and grateful," Bumbry said. "God blessed me by getting me through the war. He blessed me even more to have the career I had with the Orioles. I never lost sight of the fact that I know I have been very blessed."
Bumbry's playing career ended in 1985. He currently gives private hitting lessons to kids and does baseball clinics around the Baltimore area. He will also run a baseball camp in July. He also does public relations work for the Orioles.
Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from '02-16. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.