Just in time for the start of the new Major League season and to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of WW2.
By Jacob Engels
Anyone who thinks Major League baseball during the Second World War was dull, amateurish and devoid of truly exceptional play because most of the stars were off fighting the war should pick up a copy of “The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever” to be disabused of such erroneous notions.
Just in time for the start of the new Major League season and to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of that war, this extraordinary history by David E. Hubler and Joshua H. Drazen is filled with colorful stories and previously unknownanecdotes that can fuel a hot stove league for weeks, if not months. For example, who can be credited (or blamed) with wartimenight baseball?
If you said President Franklin D. Roosevelt you’d be correct. Not only did he insist that baseball continue during the war years, but in a well-known note, called the “green light” letter, to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, FDR said he hoped “that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.” And indeed they were extended, and successfully too. After the war night baseball became standard with day games reduced to a rarity.
The Nation’s Capital is the focus of “The Nats and the Grays” because of the close personal ties between FDR, a baseball lover since childhood, and his long-time friend and occasional diamond tipster, Clark Griffith, owner and general manager of the D.C. team popularly known as the Washington Senators, but as this book shows they were in fact the Washington Nationals, or justthe Nats. Griffith quickly became the de facto Major League envoy to the White House, a position he held into the Truman yearsdue in large measure to their shared Missouri roots.
Among the many fascinating facets of wartime baseball detailed in “The Nats and the Grays” — the curtailment of rail travel led to squeezing the 154-game schedule into a shortened season; the three-year ban on spring training in Florida and Californiaforced the teams to train close to home in the East and Midwest and play local opponents, often military base teams; Negro League baseball flourished, especially for the Homestead Grays who played in Griffith Stadium, even as the16 Major League clubs refused to lift their unwritten ban on integration, infuriating the militant African American press.
And who would ever have thought that Washington and the New York Yankees would engage in a bidding war for a one-legged former POW pitcher with absolutely no Major League experience?
Those anecdotes and many others are told in sharp, unadorned prose devoid of sports jargon and a plethora of statistics, but often with insight and humor as befitting such an outstanding sports history. It belongs on the library shelves of all baseballfans and World War II history buffs.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org