Baseball During World War II

On 1 September 1939, the German attack on Poland started World War II in Europe. Two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany. The independent Dominions of the British Commonwealth – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa soon followed the French and British example. By early October, however, Poland was occupied and Nazi Germany focused on Western Europe. By mid-1940, Hitler controlled most of Europe either directly or indirectly (through puppet states). Meanwhile, the Japanese started their offensive in the Pacific and the war soon become global.

The United States and the American public sympathised with the Allies but preferred neutrality, especially during the early stages of the war when the conflict was limited to Europe. After the Japanese advances in the Pacific, the government realised that the United States may be dragged into the war and intensified military preparations. In September 1940, the US President Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act according to which every male aged 21 to 36 was obliged to register for military service for the duration of 12 months.

The Selective Training and Service Act didn’t make exceptions and the American baseball players were required to respond as well. But while the war clouds were looming, the major league was at its height. It was during World War II when Ted Williams battled the record .406, Joe DiMaggio successfully hit in 56 consecutive games and Lefty Grove won his 300th game. The drafted baseball players as well as other men still hoped they wouldn’t be required to defend their freedom on the battlefield. The Japanese attack on Peal Harbor on 7 December 1941, however, ended their hopes.

The United States joined the Allies against the Axis Powers after the Japanese surprise attack and men of all professions rushed to enlist. Hank Greenberg who was discharged from service only two days before the Japanese attack immediately re-enlisted and volunteered for service in the Air Forces, becoming the first major league player to do so. Over the following years, more than 500 major league players and over 4,000 players from the minor league either volunteered or were drafted.

Despite the fact that a large number of baseball players joined the US war effort, the sport continued to entertain the American public. President Roosevelt said he thinks that it would be best for the season to continue. The US President also said that the shortage of players due to military service may affect the quality of the game but he added that the replacement of young players with their older colleagues won’t affect baseball’s popularity. He was right and baseball showed to have a very positive effect on the American morale during wartime although a part of the American public expressed discontent over fit men participating in sports rather than joining the war efforts.