Baseball and the American Military during World War

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Just as my grandpa spread the love of the game to my family, the United States Navy was instrumental in introducing and popularizing the game of baseball around the world. Baseball was first brought to Japan in 1870 and when U.S. naval ships docked later in the 1870s, they began playing against the local teams.

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From Japan, the game spread to Korea and Taiwan. Before the start of World War I, the U.S. Navy had introduced the game in China, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Nicaragua, and the Philippines.3 Countries surrounded by water were easily reached and were common stopping points for the U.S. Navy. During World War I, baseball was what brought soldiers together. It was an integral part of Navy training. The War Department developed the slogan Every American Soldier a baseball player and it was assimilated into training camp drills and activities. Throughout the course of the war, 440 major and minor league ball players fought overseas, and only six died. Baseball was often used as a diplomatic tool. Tensions in a meeting could be lessened on the playing field because sports bring people together in a way that nothing else does.

At the start of the 1941 baseball season, America was not yet involved in the war in Europe. A national publication that dominated in covering baseball called The Sporting News, released a cartoon that was titled Europe’s national pastime seems to be war; America’s is baseball. That season would be the last for a while, with the war raging on in Europe, many players enlisted to join the fight. The 1941 season was known for three things; Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees had a 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox accrued a .406 batting average, and the World Series was between two New York rivals – the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The United States entered the war just two months after the World Series ended, with DiMaggio and Williams both enlisting in 1943.

December 7, 1941 was the day that the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was to have their baseball championship. The baseball teams from the battleship USS Arizona and the USS Enterprise were set to play. Unfortunately, the game was delayed due to the USS Enterprise being unable to return to port on time, and the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred instead. 1,177 crewmen died on the Arizona, many of which were the baseball players who were meant to be playing in a game that day.5 The USS Arizona was completely destroyed during the strike and was sunk by the Japanese. Parts of the sunken battleship still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor where there is a memorial to those who died on it.

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