Primary Positions: Third base, right field
Birthplace: Gaston County
First, Middle Names: John Kelly Jr.
Date of Birth: Aug. 10, 1916 Date and Place of Death: Feb. 18, 2011, Gastonia, NC
High School: Lowell High School, Lowell, NC
College: Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC
Bats: L Throws: R Height and Weight: 6-1, 175
Debut Year: 1935 Final Year: 1949 Years Played: 11
Team and Years: Washington Senators, 1935-41; 1945-47; 1949
Awards/Honors: NC Sports Hall of Fame, 1975; All-Star, 1938, 1947; Boys of Summer Top 100
G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR
1349 5261 1563 839 607 71 .297 .368 .420 +29.1
The “baby of the American League” is what they called Buddy Lewis when he broke in as the starting third baseman for the Washington Senators in 1935.[I] He was all of 19 years old, just a year or so removed from American Legion ball back home in Gastonia, North Carolina. Sportswriters speculated whether one razor blade would last him the season.
He may have been a fresh-faced teenager but there was a reason why he was starting in the majors. He could hit, and he only got better as he matured — and presumably needed more razor blades. For nine seasons, Lewis was a reliable presence atop the Senators’ lineup, hitting close to .300 each year. No telling how much better he would have been if he didn’t take three years off to fight a war. Unlike so many ballplayers who spent World War II entertaining troops by playing ball, Lewis was in the thick of it, flying transport planes on almost 400 missions over the Himalayas to ferry supplies and commandos behind enemy lines. He came back a hero, though he never thought of himself as such, and one of the most decorated of major leaguers with a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal.
But he wasn’t the same player. Time robbed him of skills and the war stanched his appetite for a game. He played only two full seasons after he returned, and his batting average diminished. Though only 33, the lifelong Gaston County resident retired and returned home where he owned a car dealership that gradually made him wealthy. He lived a long, quiet life, became a respected elder and a devoted supporter of the American Legion, where his baseball career had begun.