Baseball and War
Baseball and War
When we talk about war in the modern game its normally in relation to Wins Above Replacement (WAR). We never consider the impact real war, and those who fought to serve our country, had on our National Pastime.
When NFL star Pat Tillman volunteered to fight in Afghanistan it was a headline story. How many current professional players in their prime would give up their career and millions to serve? I don’t know of anyone outside of Tillman. We forget that during World War II the military was not voluntary and stars such as Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, and Ted Williams lost significant portions of their career due to service. Feller was often was proudest of his military series saying “I didn’t worry about losing my baseball career. We needed to win the war. I wanted to do my part.” That he did as he was decorated with five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars. His bunk is marked on the Alabama at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama. Feller is the only Chief Petty Officer in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Outside of the brief hiatus after 9-11, Major League Baseball hasn’t been affected by the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Attendance is booming, the game is financial sound, and all its stars are able to continue their careers. That was not the case in 1942 when the country was in the midst of war. That July, Time Magazine did a story on “War and Baseball.” Take a look at this excerpt as it will give you a feel of the situation:
Many a baseball expert predicted at the beginning of the season that this year’s World Series, if played at all, would take place on the Fourth of July. But last week U.S. baseball, major and minor, had survived the Fourth, had staged their midseason all-star games and were making elaborate plans for their October finales.
The minors, backbone of U.S. baseball, have been hardest hit. Of their 41 leagues, twelve have folded this year: ten were frightened out of starting the season, two gave up when seacoast dimout regulations prevented night games. Approximately 25% of their players have been lost to the armed forces and higher-paid defense jobs. Another wartime blow to the night-playing, bus-traveling minor league clubs was the recent ODT ban on chartered busses. But as long as they can get around in borrowed station wagons, baseball’s bush leaguers have no intention of quitting.
The majors have had fewer problems. The only night games affected by the sea-coast dimout are those held at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, where the Dodgers and Giants now play at twilight instead. Some big-league stars have walked off to war; many more will follow. But up from the minors have come a bumper crop of rookies who have helped fans forget the Greenbergs, Fellers, Padgetts, Travises.
Imagine Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard being lost for the season? Imagine Albert Pujols losing three years of his career like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. Buster Posey just had an unfortunate injury that will keep him out for the season. The aforementioned Feller was lost to Cleveland for four years.
So today, on Memorial Day, when you are watching baseball, barbequing, or just relaxing from a day off from work, give a moment to remember why we are able to debate WAR instead of war today. It’s thanks to the service of our men and women, some of which had to give up their big league careers in their prime.By Mike Silva
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- Albert Pujols, Bob Feller, Buster Posey, Cecil Travis, Don Padgett, Ebbets Field, Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Polo Grounds, Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Ted Williams, WWII