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“The players carried their gas mask cases over their shoulders the whole time in case of an enemy attack.”

Baseball Goes to War – How Doughboys Took America’s Pastime to the front lines in WWI

By Alexander F. Barnes
via the Military History Now web site

Batter Up sheet musicUncle Sam comes up to bat against the Germans in a patriotic wartime song.Famed American Sportswriter, Jimmy Cannon, wrote: “It is part of our national history that all boys dream of being Babe Ruth before they are anyone else.”

For the American men serving in World War One, Ruth was already on his way to becoming an icon. But most of them had grown up with other baseball players as their heroes. Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, “Home Run” Baker, and others filled their daydreams with baseball exploits.

Other sports of the period drew an audience but only baseball and boxing - to a lesser degree - truly had a grip on the average American male from about 1890 to 1916. And this was the era during which most Doughboys were born or came of age.

In many ways, the makeup of the U.S. military during the First World War mirrored the clubhouses of professional baseball. The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps were filled with country boys, factory workers, shop clerks, cowboys, coal miners, college students, sons of immigrants, and even recently arrived immigrants themselves. And like baseball, where Black ball players were restricted to the “Negro Leagues,” African-Americans were welcome to serve in the military, but only in their own units.

Game called on account of war

The United States declared war against Germany in April 1917. America’s entry into the conflict was followed by the Selective Service Act. The legislation required all males aged 21 to 31 to register for a draft. There were exemptions for family dependency, physical disabilities and work in a war industry. But “playing baseball” wasn’t one. As a result, most major and minor league players registered and were judged eligible to be selected. Later, when the draft ages expanded to 18 to 45, team coaches, front office staff and even umpires were required to register.

The 1917 baseball season was not good one. Bad weather forced many games postponed or cancelled. And more and more, players were being drafted and sent off to military training camps. Worse, those not yet called up faced scorn for not enlisting. Newspaper editorialists were asking why professional baseball was not doing more to support the war effort.

Read the entire article on the Military History Now web site here:

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