Today's Thursday, so The Common Man is going to hit the old random button again on baseballreference.com. And this week's spin of fortune's wheel brought The Common Man face to face with Jim Carlin, who spent part of 1941 with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies of that era (like the Phillies of most eras) were indescribably bad. The team was at the absolute bottom of a five year run of 100 loss seasons. It was the ninth of 16 straight seasons under .500 (in the middle of a run where they finished above .500 once from 1918 to 1948). Playing for the Phillies in this era was like being some Dickensian moppet but never finding you have a long lost rich uncle somewhere. Terrible year after terrible year got foisted upon this team's fans, and it's no wonder Philadelphians turned out the way they did.
But Carlin wasn't around long enough to get too much of the stink on himself, playing just 16 games and getting only 24 plate appearances. And his .143/.250/.333 didn't really earn him any additional opportunities. Still, he was only 23 and undoubtedly had some growth left, had he stuck with the Phils. Instead, of course, the United States began gearing up for World War II, and Carlin joined up that same year.
In all, according to the newly released When Baseball Went to War (review forthcoming), more than 300 professional ballplayers served during the fight, and many of them were largely anonymous, like Jim Carlin. Sure, Ted Williams (rightfully) got a ton of hype for his heroics. And Cecil Travis has earned acclaim for his time at the Battle of the Bulge and for sustaining debilitating frostbite to his feet. And Bob Feller is widely hailed for his time as an anti-aircraft gun operator on the USS Alabama. And baseball scholars have been left to debate what those careers (and those of other luminaries Joe DiMaggio, Luke Appling, Joe Gordon, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Stan Musial and Warren Spahn) would have looked like if not for the war.
But what are less visible and far less quantifiable, are the sacrifices made by the Jim Carlins, players who might have made it, might have carved out a roster spot and established themselves as major leaguers, but who served their country instead. They never entered the public consciousness. Their lost years (and lives) were never mourned. And their careers were far too short to be properly analyzed. Instead, they get included on long lists of ballplayer soldiers and rooted out during random searches of BR.com. Their dreams tantalizing them, just out of reach.
By the time Carlin got out of the service in the winter of 1945, he had missed four full seasons and was 27 years old. His career would never get going again, and he stalled out in the Appalacian League, playing for the Welch Miners in 1947 and '48. He is a symbol, for baseball fans anyway, of the sacrifice war requires, and the willingness of Americans to serve their country. It is simultaneously extremely sad and inspiring.
Carlin died in 2003 in Birmingham, Alabama at the age of 85. Thanks Jim.
(additional information for this article was taken from Gary Bedingfield's Baseball in Wartime)