John Kelly “Buddy” Lewis Jr., who attained All-Star status at two positions for the original Washington Nationals, died of cancer Feb. 8 at his home in Gastonia, N.C. He was 94.
With young Bryce Harper on the horizon for the current Nationals, it’s worth noting that Lewis broke in with Washington in September 1935 at 18. At 19, he was the everyday third baseman and batted .291. He earned his first All-Star selection in 1938 at third base. Switching to the outfield in 1940, he achieved All-Star status again in 1947.
In 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, flying more than 300 missions to the South Pacific fronts of World War II, where he delivered supplies and transported wounded soldiers in the Pacific theater. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts during the war.
Lewis lost three and a half seasons to the war, but still batted .297 over 11 big league campaigns. He retired at 33 and bought a car dealership in his hometown of Gastonia, which he ran successfully for 35 years. He was a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the North Carolina American Legion Hall of Fame.
Late this past season, I presented Ryan Zimmerman with one of Lewis’ game-used bats to commemorate the fact that he’d become the first Washington third baseman to hit .300 since Lewis did it in 1939. Zimmerman genuinely seemed to appreciate the gift, with the added similarity of both being North Carolinians by birth.
Lewis was the last living player whose career began before 1936. He was an asset to his community, to his country and to the game.