Remembering Canadian big leaguer and war hero Phil Marchildon

Penetanguishene, Ont., native Phil Marchildon was on the road to superstardom before his big league career was interrupted by World War II.

While working in the Creighton Mine in Sudbury and starring for the company baseball team, Phil Marchildon was convinced to try out with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1938.

The hard-throwing Penetanguishene, Ont., native struck out seven of the nine batters he faced at the tryout and would report to the Leafs training camp the following spring.

After two seasons with the Leafs, Marchildon’s contract was purchased by the Philadelphia A’s. In his first big league season, he recorded 10 wins for the lowly club that was managed by Connie Mack. For an encore, he would record 17 wins and establish himself as the team’s ace in 1942.

Marchildon had won 17 games with the Philadelphia A’s in 1942 before enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Poised to join the pitching elite, Marchildon was called for military duty and would serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1943 to 1945. The Canuck hurler completed 25 European missions, serving as the tail gunner in a Halifax bomber. In August 1944, his plane was shot down and five of his six crewmates were killed. Marchildon survived and was taken as a prisoner of war. He would spend nine months in a German prison camp and lose almost a third of his body weight during the ordeal.

Marchildon and his crewmates prior to their tragic mission in August 1944.

Upon his release and return to North America, Marchildon was a changed man. Relatives found him distant and reclusive and he was plagued by horrifying nightmares. Today, he would be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but in the ’40s he soldiered on with little treatment.

He was penciled into the A’s rotation almost immediately upon his return and would register 19 wins for the A’s in 1947, one of the best seasons ever by a Canadian pitcher. In all, Marchildon won 68 big league games and completed 82 of his 162 major league starts.

After he retired from baseball in 1950, Marchildon settled in Etobicoke, Ontario. He was a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural induction class in 1984 and he penned an excellent biography entitled “Ace Phil Marchildon” (co-written by Brian Kendall) in 1993. Marchildon died January 10, 1997 at the age of 84.

An 81-year-old Phil Marchildon at a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame function in 1994.

*Most of the information for this entry comes from the Phil Marchildon bio that I wrote for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame website: www.baseballhalloffame.ca

**Thank you to Scott Crawford of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for supplying the wonderful photos to go with this blog entry.

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8 thoughts on “Remembering Canadian big leaguer and war hero Phil Marchildon

  1. Thank you Kevin for that touching story. Sometimes we have to remember that baseball is just a game. Mr. Marchildon served his country and he paid in ways we are only just now beginning to understand. He is truly a deserving and honourable member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum. I am constantly amazed as I read through baseball history at the large number of baseball players who interrupted their careers and served the U.S. and Canada in times of war.

    On November 11th, We will remember…..

  2. If I remember correctly, when Phil Marchildon survived his plane crash, he sought the refuge of a Dutch
    farmer who instead turned him over to the Nazis & Marchildon spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of
    war. Marchildon was visibly affected by the farmer’s treachery & it haunted him for the rest of his life.
    Bob S

  3. If you like to read some more about Mr. Marchildon, read, “The Corporal Was A Pitcher”, by Ira Berkow. It is the story of Lou Brissie, who played with Phil on the Philadelphia Athletics team and who was very badly injured while serving with the U.S. Army in Italy. Mr. Brissie tells about Mr. Marchildon’s baseball career after the war and the problems that he had returning to a sport that he loved and was very successful at before he service with the Canadian Air Force..

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