Tom Koval - Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Tom Koval

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: March 7, 1915 Philadelphia, PA
Date and Place of Death:    December 8, 1984 Phildaelphia, PA
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Outfield
Rank: Private
Military Unit: 80th Infantry Division US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

Tom Koval, was born Thomas J. Kavalauskas, on March 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, before transferring to St. Mary's Prep School, Connecticut, where he played baseball and football, and boxed. Following graduation from St. Mary's, he played
baseball with the Southwark Men's Club, Fleisher, and the South Phillies.

In 1939, Fred Lucas, a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, signed him and he had a trial with the Rochester Red Wings of the Class AA International League, before being assigned to the Cambridge Cardinals of the Class D Eastern Shore League. In 117 games, the big, powerful center fielder batted .281 and hit 22 home runs. In 1940, Koval played for the Asheville Tourists, the Springfield Cardinals and the Johnson City Cardinals, hitting 19 home runs over the year. He was back with Cambridge in 1941, and batted .326 with 16 home runs, advancing to the Allentown Wings of the Class B Interstate League for 1942, where the 27-year-old batted .277 and hit a career-best 27 home runs.

In 1943, Koval advanced to the Rochester Red Wings and batted .242 in 86 games, before rejoining Allentown as player/manager for the last six weeks of the season. In 32 games, he hit .227.

Koval entered military service on January 21, 1944, and served as a rifleman with the 80th Infantry Division in Europe. He had been overseas less than four months when he was seriously wounded by a German machine-gunner. Koval was hit twice in the shoulder, twice in the back and three times in the right arm, his throwing arm. Most of the bone around the elbow was shot away.

"We were out on a demolition job, one other fellow and myself, near the Luxembourg border," he recalled. "We'd placed our explosives outside a Jerry pillbox and set the fuse. The fuse takes seven seconds to go off and soon as we'd set it we started to get out of there. That's about the time the Germans let go with the machine gun. They'd dropped back to a concealed position about 70 yards from the pillbox and sat back and waited for us to get out in the open. Luckily, I was hit after I'd gotten far enough from the pillbox to miss the blast. My buddy didn't."

After convalescing for two months in England, Koval came back to the United States in February 1945. He was a patient for two months at Oliver General Hospital, in Augusta, Georgia, then was transferred to Ashford General Hospital at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. "I've had so many operations I've lost count," he said in mid-1946. "The doctors have done a
great job. They plan two more major operations, and if they're successful I'll be able to move the fingers again. If they aren't - well, I'm willing to keep trying as long as they say so."

"Back from the wars with a shattered, lifeless right arm, [Koval] is through at 28 as a baseball player," wrote Ed Klein in the Philadelphia Inquirer in February 1946, "but he is ready to put on his spikes again the first chance he gets to coach or manage.

"A quiet-spoken six-footer with streaks of prematurely-grey hair," wrote Ed Klein in the Philadelphia Inquirer in February 1946, "[Koval] focused a cheerful eye toward the future yesterday and summed up his chances to stay in baseball. 'I've had this arm injury for more than a year,' he said, 'and I've had a lot of time to figure just where I stand. I'm finished as a player — that's sure. I have no regrets about that. I'm lucky to be alive and to have gotten out as well as I did. There's more to baseball than playing. I love the sport and I'd like to stay in it. I managed Allentown for about six weeks before I was inducted and I'm sure I could make good if I got another chance. I haven't heard anything definite, but I'm hopeful I will soon.'"

Koval learned to play one-handed golf on Ashford's course. He underwent a bone fusion and had further operations involving a nerve repair and tendon transplant. "I've had so many operations I've lost count," he said in 1946. "The doctors have done a great job. They plan two more operations, and if they're successful
I'll be able to move the fingers again. If they aren't — well, I'm willing to keep trying as long as they say so.

"I have no regrets," he said, when asked the question. "If that's the way it had to be, that's it."

The job as a minor league manager didn't happen. Back home in Philadelphia, he learned clerical work on the docks and became a member of Clerks & Checkers Local 1242 of the International Longshoremen's Union. He also became active in civic and veterans' groups. In 1948, Koval was presented with a lifetime pass to all major and minor league games. George M. Trautman, president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs announced in May of that year, that passes would be made available to "all players whose careers were ended because of injuries or illness received in the line of duty."

Tom Koval, who lived in Center City, Pennsylvania, passed away on December 8, 1984, at the Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He was 69 years old and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.

Tom Koval
Tom Koval showing his mother some of the
Nazi souvenirs he brought home

Date Added January 30, 2018

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