A Baseball Salute to Veterans

A look back at baseball during WWII

It’s November 11, 2011…11/11/11…Veteran’s Day 2011. This is a day to reflect on and thank those who have dedicated a part or all of their lives to preserving the freedom we enjoy every day. But how is baseball connected to the veterans we salute today or any day?

Baseball has a rich and storied history in America. Baseball has endured through great depressions, world wars, terrorist attacks, strikes, and recessions. Baseball is America’s game, bringing together players and fans through the good times and the bad times. During wartime, baseball had players leave the playing field for battlefields. And it also had players that continued to play the game and provide a meaningful way to help America cope with their loved ones fighting overseas.

President Roosevelt asserted the importance of America’s Pastime during wartime in his famous “Green Light” letter sent to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, on January 15, 1942, shortly after the US entered WWII.

I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.

And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.

The biggest impact on baseball in wartime was experienced during WWII. 1941 was a banner year in baseball history, featuring Ted William’s .406 batting average and Joe Dimaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. Two feats that have never been closely matched since. It was also the year that players from baseball would start enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces when America was drawn into WWII. Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy was the first major leaguer to be drafted on March 9, 1941. Known for losing 76 games in 4 seasons to earn his nickname, he told The Sporting News, “My losing streak is over for the duration … I’m on a winning team now.”

Both Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio would also serve during WWII along with 26 other future Hall of Famers that include Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, and Warren Spahn. Baseball did not hold back from offering its finest players to preserve the freedoms we have today in our country. In all, more than 4,500 professional baseball players (majors and minors) would serve in WWII.

Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio both had service in the military during WWII

During wartime, professional baseball players would show their passion for baseball by finding ways to play ball during their service which helped to provide an emotional lift for other servicemen. Sergeant Joe DiMaggio played for the Santa Ana Army Air Base team and Cadet Ted Williams played for the Chapel Hill Cloudbusters team.

The Norfolk Naval Station was home to many Major Leaguers serving in the military during WWII. Two of the best military teams, the Naval Training Station Blue Jackets and Naval Air Station Airmen, were in Norfolk. Among the players you would find on these teams were Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Bob Feller, and Dom DiMaggio.

During WWII, Major League Baseball became involved in many fundraising efforts to raise money for the war efforts. Both Sergeant DiMaggio and Cadet Williams would play together in an Armed Forces All-Star team that was managed by Babe Ruth on July 12, 1943. Playing against the Boston Braves in Boston, Ted Williams would hit the game-winning home run for the All-Stars and Babe Ruth even made a pinch hit appearance in the 8th inning.

Another huge fundraising event that drew over 70,000 fans to Yankee Stadium was a face off against the greatest hitter and the greatest pitcher of the golden era of baseball. Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson would go head-to-head during the break between two games of a New York/Washington doubleheader. Just imagine the excitement baseball fans and America must have felt during an event such as that.

There is a reason that baseball is America’s Favorite Pastime. Through the thick and thin, baseball has always been there and will always be there. Since WWII, we haven’t seen players leaving the sport to serve in the military to the same degree, and it is not likely to happen again since the draft was discontinued in 1973. But the attacks of September 11, 2001 showed that baseball can continue its efforts to play an important role to help heal the wounds of America caused by such a terrifying event. All you have to do is go to any ballpark during the 7th inning stretch on a Sunday, holiday, or post-season game to hear “God Bless America” sung along side the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. This new tradition was established after September 11, 2001 and continues to this day. Baseball is full of traditions and veterans are a fundamental part of many of its traditions.

To all the veterans of the Armed Force…We Salute You!

Veterans Day, 2011

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