Home Doolittle, Nationals honor Homestead Grays vet at Arlington National Cemetery

Doolittle, Nationals honor Homestead Grays vet at Arlington National Cemetery

Chris Graham
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Photo: Department of Defense

UVA alum Sean Doolittle led a group of Washington Nationals personnel and military officials to Arlington National Cemetery earlier this month to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and to honor Negro Leagues baseball player Ernest “Jud” Wilson, who is laid to rest in Section 43.

Doolittle, a two-time All-Star who was a key member of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series championship team, is back with the club as a pitching strategist, basically a liaison between the pitching staff and the analytics department.

Doo led a group from the franchise on Feb. 2 for the wreath laying at Arlington, joined by Col. Tasha Lowery, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall commander, Col. Todd Randolph, commander of the 316th Wing and installation commander of Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility, and Air Force veteran Mike Burns, Washington Nationals mailroom coordinator.

The group was greeted and hosted by Col. Michael Binetti, Army National Military Cemeteries chief of staff, and Senior Enlisted Advisor Sgt. Maj. Donnie Davis.

Laying the wreath meant a great deal to Doolittle.

“I was more nervous than at the World Series,” Doolittle said. “The World Series was just baseball; once the lights came on, it was the same. But I felt privileged and proud here.”

After the wreath laying, the group traveled to Section 43 to honor Wilson, a World War I veteran.

Wilson played for the Homestead Grays, among other teams. The Grays played many of their home games in Washington, D.C.

Air Force veteran Dennis Burgart, a Nationals Park tour guide, explained at the gravesite that Wilson earned the nickname “Boojum” for the echo made by his bat hitting the ball.

“He was considered one of the hardest-hitting players in the Negro Leagues,” Burgart said. “Some people called him the Black Babe Ruth, but in other circles, they called Babe Ruth the White Jud Wilson.”

In 2010, the Nationals inducted Wilson and five other Grays players into their ballpark’s Ring of Honor.

“So, when you’re in National’s stadium, look at the concourse behind home plate,” he encouraged. “When you see the capital G next to Wilson’s name, you’ll know that’s for the Homestead Grays.”

Wilson joined the U.S. Army on June 29, 1918, in the last year of World War I, serving in the segregated Black 417th Reserve Labor Battalion, stationed at Camp Meade, Md.

“We stand on the shoulders of those giants who served before us,” said Randolph, the first Black colonel to command Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility. “It’s through their service, commitment, sacrifice, that we’re able to hold positions to help defend our nation the way we do today.”

Lowrey thanked the team for remembering Wilson’s legacy.

“What the Washington Nationals are doing, and what we are all doing,” Lowrey said, “is making sure that we are doing the right thing for those who came before us, so that we can continue to do great things for our country.”

Once the ceremony ended, Doolittle reflected on Jud Wilson. “Unfortunately, because of the era that he played in, with its racism and discrimination, he never got to be called a major leaguer,” said Doolittle. “He deserved a chance to play.”

With reporting by Becky Wardwell, Arlington National Cemetery

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].