Welcome Back Veterans Press Conference

JON MILLER: My name is Jon Miller, a humble baseball play by play broadcaster. My best line, the one I'm most famous for, maybe you've heard it, "low, ball one." A lot of guys are using that now, but I'm the one who really started it.

Anyway, today we have a very exciting program to honor some of the legendary figures of the game, who also actually had greater pursuits, as we are going to recognize, as Major League Baseball recognizes, the veterans who protect our country to this day, our freedoms, and who have done so in the past, as well, all veterans past and present have sacrificed, and in a pregame ceremony before the game tonight, Major League Baseball will honor those who delayed their careers to serve the United States during World War II.

We have some of those brave men with us here right now. Included in that group are some legends of the game and one young man who is here with us today, undoubtedly a hero. He has lost both legs and his left arm, went on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. But he will be out there on the field before the game 2 tonight throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. Please join me in welcoming and thanking Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, Nicholas Kimmel.

(Applause).

Sitting with Nicholas, a Hall of Famer and legendary figure in Boston and New England, I first met him when I broadcast games many, many years ago with Ken Coleman, but the thing I remember is getting to the park before the game and there he was with Alfredo Griffin, who was just a rookie and he was working on the field with a couple of bat boys to chase balls down, trying to get Griffin to keep from hitting so many pop ups, and he had devised a little system with it, and I just remember, I think it worked Bobby because Griffin played for a good long while and in the World Series, as well, but I remember being impressed with that because I knew he was one of the great players of the game and yet there he was still passing along that knowledge to a new generation of player.

He was a four time Major League All Star team four consecutive years in the early 40s and then his career was put on hold. He entered military service with the army, and he served for the duration of World War II as a sergeant, and when he returned to the majors in 1946 he made the All Star team five more times in his last six years.

Ladies and gentlemen, an outstanding legendary former Red Sox, a great former Major Leaguer and someone who served his country in wartime, Bobby Doerr.

(Applause).

Now, up here on the dais with us is a broadcaster, and a great one, who has broadcast longer than anybody, I think, in history. He has been inducted into two Halls of Fame, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He called Don Larsen's perfect game back in 1966, the legendary perfect game of the World Series. He also described Jackie Robinson's final Major League hit. He delayed the start of his legendary broadcasting, however, to serve as a lieutenant in the United States Navy in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. He was a supply officer during World War II.

He returned to Washington after the war, and he landed a job calling games for the Washington Senators, and the rest, as they say, is history. Please welcome the hall of fame broadcaster, the longest running broadcaster in television and radio history, Bob Wolff.

(Applause).

Now, our next honoree I think is fairly well known to anybody who has watched a ballgame in the last 50 years, at least. He was a three time World Series champion, once as a player -- that's probably not that well known, actually, in 1955 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, two times he guided the Los Angeles Dodgers to the World Series title, and he was named the National League Manager of the Year twice, but he was drafted way back when at age 18, was stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland and served two years toward the end of World War II. At the end of the war as a draftee he was given the option either to leave or reenlist, and he decided to stay with the army to serve, putting his pro baseball career on hold to fulfill his duty. He has supported the United States Armed Forces ever since, and over the course of the next 60 years he has given motivational addresses to more than 35 United States military bases around the world. He has accepted an advisory role in the United States Army, Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion. That was just four years ago, please welcome Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda.

(Applause).

And we have another Hall of Fame broadcaster here, and one of my favorites, was an All Star as a Yankee. Four times he won a World Series ring with the Yankees and then became the voice of the San Diego Padres, still known as that, bringing baseball in San Diego to generations of Padre fans. He signed originally with the Yankees when he was only 17, but when he was 18, he joined the Marine Corps as a Naval aviation cadet, and he flew as a second lieutenant 57 combat missions including Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines. He doesn't like to talk about these things, but that's why I'm going to mention them. He earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and seven air medals. As the Yankees' second baseman he won eight division titles, played in six World Series, was named the 1950 World Series MVP, so he was, I think you could say, pretty good. But right at the peak of his career, the military called him back, the Korean conflict, and he was recalled to active duty for combat service in Korea. There he flew 63 more strike missions, earning six more air medals. To this day, he is the only Major Leaguer in baseball history to have seen actual combat in two wars. Unfortunately for him, when he got back to the Yankees, they had found another second baseman. Bummer, dude.

But never looking back, he said, wow, you got called to service, and off you went. They needed me.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Jerry Coleman.

They really classed up the Ford C. Frick Award when they gave that award to Jerry Coleman. Jerry, thanks on behalf of all of us broadcasters.

JERRY COLEMAN: Can't win 'em all.

JON MILLER: We're going to hear from some of these gentlemen about their experience in the military, but first I want to introduce a man who has guided baseball to its current unwavering support of our men and women in the armed forces who have so bravely served our country. Please welcome the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Mr. Bud Selig.

(Applause).

COMMISSIONER SELIG: Thank you, Jon, and I apologize, the first time I ever tried to preempt you, and I can promise you it won't happen again.

JON MILLER: It better not.

COMMISSIONER SELIG: Thank you, and good afternoon to everybody. As this most important event on the baseball calendar, the World Series, attracts the attention of fans certainly across the country and around the world, and so we're very proud to use this stage during the first four games of the Fall Classic to raise awareness for important initiatives that impact our community.

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.

And so as a result of that, this is really a privilege for us. Last night as part of our dedication to fight cancer with our great partners at Stand Up 2 Cancer, the players, fans, umpires, everybody joined together to honor loved ones who have been affected by this disease in what was really a powerful moment, and frankly, our whole relationship with Stand Up 2 Cancer, I know to everybody in baseball, it has been a privilege just to continue our efforts to fight this dreaded and horrible disease.

Tonight for Game 2, we're going to focus on the brave men and women who risk their lives to fight for and protect our country, our veterans. I had the privilege today to be in the hospital with various people, Mr. Coleman was there with me, and it's a very emotional time. I must tell you that I only saw four of them today, but as I left there, I understood how lucky we are that all these people, including Bobby, Bob, Tommy and Jerry and many others 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.

Through Welcome Back Veterans Initiative we founded in 2008, we've donated more than $13 million which has gone to care for the mental health of veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The support for this initiative from our clubs has been remarkable and overwhelming, and I want to acknowledge, first of all, Fred Wilpon, the chairman and CEO of the Mets, who was a driving force, and believe me, I mean driving force, in the formation of this initiative. And Fred, on behalf of people everywhere, and I wish you could have heard what I heard at the hospital today, you have our everlasting thanks. Fred Wilpon.

(Applause).

Second, a chairman of the Boston Red Sox, Tom Werner, whose Red Sox Foundation Mass General Program Home Base is part of Welcome Back Veterans. Tommy has been right along with Fred every step of the way, a remarkable Tom, congratulations, and thank you from many, many people.

(Applause).

San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer. Is Larry here? He's probably out maybe trying to -- I don't know do what, but Dave is here, so I won't say anything. (Laughter).

And speaking of Dave, the Detroit Tigers president, CEO and general manager, Dave Dombrowski. Thank you for your support of this program and to all the clubs. I've often said, and I'd say it again, whether it's Stand Up 2 Cancer or this program, Welcome Back Veterans, it's a privilege to be a commissioner of a sport that has done the kind of work that this sport has done. So to all of you, we thank you.

In addition to acknowledging our most recent veterans, we are going to recognize and honor, as Jon most appropriately said, 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. And so they've all been introduced, but I truly want to say to them, all of them are friends of mine, and I say this to Bobby Doerr and Tommy Lasorda and Bob Wolff and Jerry Coleman, you've represented our sport brilliantly, and you made sacrifices for our country. We're proud that you're here. I get a chance to see these people, but I don't see my pal Bobby Doerr as much as I'd like. Welcome, Bobby, to all of you, and glad to have you.

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. And so, gentlemen, on behalf of everybody associated with Major League Baseball, the entire family as I like to call it, I want to thank you for serving our country with dignity, courage and honor. You've served the sport and the country better than words and I can articulate. Thank you.

(Applause).

JON MILLER: Thank you, Mr. Commissioner. Now, we broadcasters, we're really along for the ride. We have great things to describe because of the great players that are making these things happen, and sometimes we have the good fortune to broadcast something that makes a little bit of baseball history.

I was very fortunate last night, Pablo Sandoval hitting three home runs in a game, a Ruthian feat for sure, only the fourth player ever to have done that. The Babe did it twice.

Then there's the case of Bob Wolff who broadcast a game where something one of a kind happened, it has still not happened again in a World Series, Don Larsen's perfect game. Bob, go for it.

BOB WOLFF: Thank you, Jon. First of all, I'm just thrilled to be with you, and I'm certainly not just surprised, but I was just elated to receive the letter from Commissioner Bud Selig inviting me to be here, particularly because of his interest in the armed forces and all they've done. And I'm also just excited to be with so many people in the audience who care the same way baseball cares, and they show they care with what they do.

I'm indebted for the rest of my life, and always have been to baseball, and the most significant part of it was World War II. I wanted to be a professional baseball player when I started out, went to Duke University, played ball there, injured my ankle, went up to the broadcast booth at CBS locally, started broadcasting games; and then came World War II, and right after I graduated, instead of playing baseball I was in the armed forces as a Navy officer.

And as a Navy officer, I went out with the CBs into the Solomon Islands, and from there the CBs were going to construct a base out of jungles with the hot weather and the water coming down, the rain forevermore. But their job was to carve out a landing base for the next thrust forward up into the north toward Japan.

And I found that I couldn't even find any requisitions. They were all buried in the mud and the dirt. So I made up my own rules. The supplies that we had then was just by going out to the ships which were coming into the port, armed forces ships. We had send out the trinkets that the CBs made in exchange for milk or butter or anything we could get, bread and so forth, and that's how we lived for a long time.

So I took a photographer, made pictures of what it looked like before and after, wrote a book telling the Navy that what they taught me was about Navy supply on ships. What we needed to inform the people going out in the future was what to do when they were based on land at an advance base.

I sent the book back to the Navy department. Within two weeks I had air mail orders to fly back, I thought either to be court martialed telling the Navy how to run the war or else perhaps to be commended. That was really a turning point in my life because they published the book. I was now put in charge of rewriting all the Navy regulations about advance base supply. That's how I got to Washington, D C.

I met a beautiful Navy nurse, and I married that Navy nurse. She was a Navy lieutenant as I was a Navy lieutenant then. That brought me to Washington, where I heard about an invention called television. I became the first TV announcer in Washington. So it all started actually through World War II. So to say that I care about it is -- I'm not a hero like people right here who have faced the bullets and the fighting and all the rest. But I in my heart knew that what I had done by preparing a new way of coping with the advance bases at least made a contribution.

And this contribution that all of you are making and baseball are making is so superb and means so much, particularly knowing the loneliness of being in war and fighting and doing your best for your country can't be overexaggerated. So thank you, Commissioner. Thank you, baseball, and thank all of you for being here today.

(Applause).

JON MILLER: By the way, I want to recognize a couple people who are here, the Former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Peter Ueberroth. And when you've been up to Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame, they give an award to the broadcasters. Everybody says Hall of Fame, but we know it's an award that the Hall of Fame gives the players, the managers, the umpires, people who play the game and make the game happen are the actual Hall of Famers. But I think there should be another wing, though. There's the Hall of Famers and then there are the all time great Hall of Famers, and this guy would definitely go into that wing, the all time great wing, No. 20, an all time great for sure, one of the greatest to ever play the game, Frank Robinson.

I only do that to Frank because Tommy told me, and Tommy would have been one of my favorites. I said that Jerry Coleman was always one of my favorites, but Tommy could have been, but I'm a Giants broadcaster. It just never was really going to work out that way for me.

TOMMY LASORDA: You really went downhill.

JON MILLER: Not one of my favorites, actually. Ladies and gentlemen, a great ambassador for baseball, Tommy Lasorda, with a few remarks.

TOMMY LASORDA: Thank you, Jon. Thank you, Mr. Commissioner. I want to thank you for what you've done for the military. You recognized it and tried to have everyone who served to understand that baseball and military go hand in hand. That was great that you did that.

I went over not too long ago to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I got the opportunity to speak to the military men, women, all of them. And it was such a wonderful trip, to listen to them, talk to them and how many of them saying, I'm here because I'm here for our country. None of them wanted to come back. They all wanted to stay there and fight if they had to do it.

So baseball and the United States recognizes -- you know, I had heroes like Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth, but I look at that marine here, he's one of my heroes. He's given so much.

Over in Afghanistan and Iraq, you look around and you see young women. I see women putting things around carrying their purse, but I saw these young women putting something around their shoulder, but it was a gun. And to see them there, right there where the action is, was really, really enlightening.

And Commissioner, I want to congratulate you because when you put the wild card, a lot of people felt that you were demeaning baseball. All you did was to bring more people into the game of baseball by having the wild card, because when a team had no chance to win the pennant in September. If they had a chance with a wild card, they came to the ballpark. And then you've increased it now to two wild cards, and we're going to get more people in the stands because of it.

But I served a couple years in the United States Army, and I wore that uniform with pride, dignity and character. I wore a uniform of the Boy Scouts. I was proud to be a Boy Scout. I wore the uniform of the greatest nation in the world, the United States. And then I wore the uniform that said on the front of the shirt, USA, when we went to the Olympics. I was so proud.

You know, coaches, they never got medals in the Olympics, and they felt bad for me. I said, hey, I got my medal when I saw them put the medal around my players. I got my medal when they raised that American flag. I got my medal when they played our National Anthem. I cried. I cried because I know I had done something for my country, and it was the proudest moment of my life to be able to do something for my country.

And I know I've -- I had an experience. Italian girl saved my life. She hid me in her cellar for two weeks, but it was in the Bronx. (Laughter).

So Commissioner, thank you for recognizing the members of the armed forces, and to see Jerry Coleman and my man over there from the Red Sox, they're two of the greatest, greatest players and people that ever lived. I'm proud to know them as a friend. You guys take care of yourselves. And Jon, too bad you didn't get to the Dodgers because you lowered your standards right now.

JON MILLER: I changed my mind, Tommy, the gold medal coach of the Olympic team, war hero in the Bronx, you are one of my favorites.

TOMMY LASORDA: Well, there's a certain saying in this country, and it may get to you, Jon, later on, and it says, if you don't pull for the Dodgers, you may not get into Heaven. Thank you.

JON MILLER: Well, we'll see about that.

All right, they love him in San Diego, his voice to Padres fans means baseball, and not just a great broadcaster and a great player, but a great American, Jerry Coleman.

JERRY COLEMAN: Thank you, Jon, and Mr. Commissioner and ladies and gentlemen listening to Tommy Lasorda. I never liked him, you know. But he does a pretty darned good job.

But basically I've been thinking about this greatest generation over and over again, and I have a theory about this. I think that any generation is the greatest generation if challenged. We were challenged, we came forward, we did what we had to do, some of it not very pleasant. And for Corporal Nick over there, God bless you, I hope things go better for you in the future. Just remember one thing, when I go to young groups, I ask them what's your greatest weapon. My arm, my leg no, it's your brain. That's what you want to do, Nick, get that going. It'll work for you just fine. In any event, I never thought about going into the service when it happened, and the more I think about it, the more I realize there are two great things in my life: One are the people you love and who love you, and that includes friends and also your country. As long as you have that to fight for and to be part of, you've got something going.

Here in the United States there's nothing like it. I've been all over the world and I've seen it all and I've seen the desperate situations all over Korea and Japan and elsewhere, and there's nothing in the world that matches the United States, and as long as we keep that in mind, we'll be just fine.

We don't know where we're going now. I thought when World War II ended in August 1945, I figured, well, that's over. Five years later, they brought in Korea, then Vietnam, and now the Middle East. And the problem that I have with life is why can't we get together, whoever you are, whatever you are, and that's the thing that has to be worked on dramatically, strongly and hard.

It's wonderful what these young men are doing. I recall when I got back from Korea, they said, where were you? Korea. Where is that? Nobody even knew it. The reason they talked about why I was drafted twice, so to speak, was because from 1945 to 1950 no pilots were trained anywhere. The war was over, melt down, and suddenly the war wasn't over in 1950 when the North Koreans hit South Korea, and they had to go into the reserves.

A squadron is manned by 40 pilots. We had 17 in Korea. We didn't have any pilots. It was tragic, really. And I hope that we understand that, that the future is not going to be easy. We have to keep going all the way. Baseball has been to me -- I've been in baseball for 70 years. I've been with the Padres for 40 years. Only won three times, you know.

Well, it is a bit unfortunate. Maybe five or six, you know. I've been waiting for years for them to win again. They don't do it. Maybe next year.

But more importantly, baseball to me has always been my life, and the Commissioner has done a spectacular job in keeping it going. That's one thing we should give him a hand. We gave everybody else a hand. Let's give the Commissioner a hand for what he has done.

(Applause).

A friend of mine left the Padres -- why would you do that, for Heaven's sakes? It's so cold there in the winter time. But Corporal Nick, good luck to you, keep your brain going.

Bobby Doerr, when I played baseball you see these gatherings in the outfield, both teams getting together and joking and laughing and so forth. At one time you were fined $50 if you talked to the opposition before the game. Now Bobby Doerr, Mickey Vernon were the only two men in baseball I said hi to. Vernon was a first baseman. He was second. Bobby and I went by a lot, I said hi, he said hi and that was it. I went by Dominic DiMaggio 7000 times, he never looked at me. I was waiting for him. I said, I'm your brother's teammate. He didn't care.

Anyway, baseball to me still is the most difficult, fascinating sport in the world, not because I'm in it, but when I look at all the things that are going on, it's harder than all the rest. So thank you for having me. Commissioner, good luck to you, God bless you. If you need me here, I'll be here any time, anywhere, and let's see if we can keep it going. We had a great year attendance wise, didn't we. That's because they found out I was on the air and they all came to see me and came to the games.

JON MILLER: We want all the honorees to head out to the field now because they're going to be on the field for the pregame ceremonies. If you could just hold off for a minute while they all make their leave. Thank you, Jerry, Tommy, Commissioner, Bob Wolff, Bobby Doerr, and Corporal Nick Kimmel. Good luck tonight with that first pitch ceremony.