Weintraub: The U.S. military’s integrated ‘World Series’ in Hitler Youth Stadium in 1945

From SABR member Robert Weintraub at Slate.com on December 5, 2014:

Some 500 Major League Baseball players traded in their team uniforms for service uniforms during World War II. With so many men absent from the diamond, the sport marched on from 1942 to 1945, though it was just a shadow of the real thing—“the tall men against the fat men at the company picnic,” in sportswriter Frank Graham’s matchless phrase.

Many of the players who did join the military during the war years—especially stars like Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial, were kept from the front lines. They played service ball in the United States and in Hawaii (then still a U.S. territory), in exhibitions that entertained the troops before they went off to war. But those without reputations to protect them, including the vast majority of minor leaguers, went off to combat.

Ad hoc games abounded among deployed servicemen (and in POW camps) during the war, but there was little formal play. That changed when the Nazis surrendered in 1945. The U.S. Army decided the best way to keep hundreds of thousands of its (restless and heavily armed) soldiers occupied was to set up, virtually overnight, a massive athletics apparatus, with intramural competition in every sport imaginable. Baseball was the most popular game among the G.I.s, and a large league was formed, with representatives from most of the divisions in the theater.

A majority of the games were played in a most unusual site—the conquered, repurposed Stadion der Hitlerjugend, the Hitler Youth Stadium in Nuremberg, home to Nazi Party rallies just a short time before. Now, the swastikas were painted over and America’s national pastime was put on display.

Read the full article here: http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2013/04/baseball_in_world_war_ii_the_amazing_story_of_the_u_s_military_s_integrated.html

Originally published: December 5, 2014. Last Updated: December 5, 2014.