Thoughts on Jonathan Lucroy, Bob Feller, and the Labeling of Military Personnel as “Heroes”


Last week, Jonathan Lucroy was honored with the 2015 Bob Feller Act of Valor of Award in recognition of his support of military servicepersons. Lucroy was one of six winners, a group that also included Hall of Famer George Brett, Chief Petty Officer Genell Cody of the U.S. Navy, and Staff Sergeant Rene Segura of the U.S. Marines. Lucroy’s comments indicate he was humbled by the award:

“Obviously, there are a lot of players who do charitable initiatives geared toward veterans,” Lucroy said. “So to be selected from among that group is a tremendous honor itself.”

Lucroy will travel to Washington with his wife, Sarah, to accept the award, which is named for the Hall of Fame pitcher and World War II veteran. It will be one of Lucroy’s two trips to the nation’s capital this winter; he also plans to travel with military veterans in November on a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight for the second straight year.

“I’m very excited for that again,” he said. “Any time I leave home in the offseason, it’s going to be for either a vacation or a very special reason. I really believe that trip with those guys again like I did last year [qualifies]. I had such a good time. It was a very, very humbling experience.”

I wasn’t familiar with the Feller Award, but it must be quite an honor for Lucroy to react that way. After a little research, it looks like one reason fans may not know of the award is that it has only been around since 2013. According to the inaugural press release, the Feller Award was created as a “crossover effort” that involved the Indians, MLB, and the Navy, and players nominated “will be judged on displaying good character, assisting those less fortunate, supporting the United States and its servicemen and women, and how the recipients conduct themselves on the field and off.”

That Lucroy displays good character on the field and off is evident to anyone who follows the Brewers. His involvement in the Honor Flight would seem to qualify as supporting servicemen and women, and I think we can assume he’s got nothing against the less fortunate. If the Feller Award is something Lucroy is proud of, then good for him.

That being said – was there really a need in 2013 for yet another way to conspicuously honor the U.S. military and those who support it? The military is by far the most respected institution in American society, with a Gallup poll in June finding 72% of respondents have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the armed forces. As Lucroy himself observed, he’s not the only baseball player who supports veterans. Plenty of teams, including the Brewers, recognize a member of the military as part of between-inning activities. The U.S. armed forces have plenty of allies in MLB, not to mention among the public at large. Does anyone need to be congratulated for supporting something that 70% of Americans also support?

If someone chooses to support the military through charitable donations or what have you, fair enough. It just seems that the U.S. armed forces occupy a unique place in our culture – they are so revered by most folks that they are largely beyond criticism, and many people make a point to publicly declare their respect for this overwhelmingly well-respected institution. No one respects branches of the U.S. government, most elected officials, or individual agencies that much. In a country with a relatively high level of skepticism of the state, the military is the one government entity that few people question.

One could make a serious argument, all things being equal, that the U.S. military gets a little too much respect. It probably wouldn’t be a popular argument and it might result in hurt feelings and name-calling, but it could be made. But even if most folks are too patriotic to consider that the military is over-respected, they might at least be open to a discussion about how casually the word “hero” is used to describe those who enlist.

Far too often, military service in and of itself is characterized as heroic, as opposed to individual actions or circumstances. The 2015 Feller Award press release highlights Lucroy’s work with Fisher House Wisconsin and that he “[invites] wounded heroes to home games each month as his guest.” Now I’m willing to bet that if someone is wounded while serving, there’s an above average chance they did something heroic, but that’s not entirely clear. There are all sorts of circumstances in which a solider might be injured as a result of an accident or negligence that wouldn’t necessarily be heroic.

Even if we stipulate that wounded veterans probably deserve more respect than the average soldier, the label “hero” isn’t typically restricted only for injured servicepersons. The Act of Valor Award Foundation organized a “Walk of Heroes” event this past May in New York City that celebrated the 37 MLB Hall of Famers who served during World War II. It doesn’t seem like they were using the word “hero” to describe only those who were wounded. That’s closer to the way a lot of folks use “hero” as a breezy synonym for “any soldier.”

This is a different military than when Feller served. Everyone in the U.S. armed forces is a volunteer who chose that profession knowing that it could be dangerous. In fact, some analyses find that enlisted military personnel have one of the most dangerous jobs in America. But so do truck drivers, airline pilots, and animal care workers. Few would characterize those professions as being heroic just for being dangerous and likely to result in injury and/or death. And of course there’s a fair number of troops who serve in non-combat zones like Korea that are not in a position to do anything heroic even if they wanted to.

Obviously, people like Lucroy respect veterans for more than just the inherent risks of their profession. Indeed, Lucroy seems to have a healthy sense of humility when it comes to being recognized for supporting the troops. That kind of modesty is a good example for those who would unquestioningly and proudly proclaim that they believe all veterans are heroes regardless of the nature of their service.

(Image: Cait Covers the Bases)

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