When most baseball analysts discuss players who missed out on better careers thanks to wars, names like Williams, Feller and DiMaggio come to mind–very few think of Bumbry. Al “The Bumblebee” Bumbry was one of the most decorated Vietnam veterans to play in the Majors. As a platoon leader in foreign land, Al led soldiers through battle and came out able-bodied and ready to resume his baseball career. Despite his stint in Vietnam, Al still posted over 1,400 career hits and swiped over 250 bases.
Bumbry was originally drafted by the Orioles in 1968 out of Virgina State University. He was assigned to the minors but shortly into his pro career his Guard unit was activated and he was shipped to the jungles of Vietnam. After spending time fighting overseas, Al’s unit was deactivated and he was sent back to America and returned to the minors to further his baseball seasoning. Baltimore called The Bumblebee up for a look at the end of the 1972 season. In 1973, Al played regularly for Earl Weaver’s Orioles and he hit .337, led the American League in triples and was awarded the Rookie of the Year trophy. Bumbry survived the war and made his dreams of baseball stardom come true.
But his career wasn’t all rosy at the beginning as he suffered from the infamous Sophomore Jinx in 1974. He got back on track in 1975 and in ’76 he swiped 42 bases for the Orioles. Bumbry rotated between left field and center field in 1976 and played more center field in ’77. That year he led center fielders in fielding percentage and hit a robust .317. After an injury-plagued ’78 season, Baltimore made it to the postseason in 1979 as Al hit .285 with 37 steals. In the ALCS he hit .250 but the Pirates’ “We Are Family” pitching staff stymied him in the World Series and Pittsburgh won the title.
The Bumblebee enjoyed his best year in 1980. That season he set personal highs in runs scored with 118 (3rd in the AL), 205 hits (5th in the AL) and 44 stolen bases (also 5th in the AL). Named to the All-Star Team, Al hit .318 with a terrific .392 on-base percentage. The Bumblebee patrolled center field with the best of them, finishing second in putouts and third in fielding percentage among center fielders. During the strike shortened ’81 season, Bumbry scored 61 runs. But by 1982 the veteran’s speed was beginning to wane as he pilfered just ten bases that season. The Orioles captured the AL East flag in 1983 as Al hit .275, but he only went 2-for-19 in the postseason. After one final year with the Orioles AL signed a free agent deal with the defending NL champion Padres in 1985 and finished his career on the west coast.
G 1,496/R 778/H 1,422/2B 220/3B 52/HR 54/RBI 402/SB 254/BB 471/SO 709/BA .281/OBP .343/SA .378