8/19/2014 1:40 P.M. ET
Videos shed light on intersection of baseball, military
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Maybe you've never seen Ted Williams in Marine aviator combat gear instead of a Red Sox uniform, heard about Warren Spahn's injury at the Bridge of Remagen, looked over Phil Rizzuto's Navy jumper, studied up on Jackie Robinson's Army courtmartial, or viewed artifacts like a ticket from the 1943 War Bond Game or the Cardinals' "desperate" advertisement to find players in 1945.
These are just some of the topics explored in a new series of MLB.com videos that were shot in the archives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum during last month's Induction Week, as part of Bank of America "Military Moments" program.
"The breadth and depth of the Museum's collections contains countless stories of baseball's intersection with American history," said Brad Horn, the Hall's vice president of communications and education. "Baseball's longstanding connection to our nation at war is one of the game's most important connections to our nation's resolve. The accomplishments of these true American heroes go well beyond the baseball diamond."
Hall curator Erik Strohl hosts the museum tour in each of the videos, and you can see that some of the Gallery plaques are honored with medallions beneath each one, representing their branch of service. Nearly 75 Hall of Famers have that designation, if they served in wartime. Video clips include:
Ted Williams. The Red Sox legend started with the Navy and later became a Marine aviator. "He never actually served in the foreign theater in World War II," Strohl said, "but he's also the only player who served in two different wars (Jerry Coleman served in two but wasn't a Major Leaguer until 1949). So when Korea comes around, and he's asked to serve again, he does." As a fighter pilot in Korea, Strohl says of Williams: "He was an awesome Naval gunner. In fact, when he was in training in World War II, he won a number of awards for his gunnery ability. I guess that's not surprising with his hand-eye coordination."
Warren Spahn. The winningest left-hander served in the Army and was a combat engineer, earning a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in the Battle of the Bulge and in Germany. At the Bridge of Remagen, Spahn was among troops trying to prevent Germans from bombing what was then the last bridge standing over the Rhine. "The Germans were doing their best to destroy that bridge so they could cut off the (Americans') last mode of transportation over the Rhine," Strohl said. "He received a piece of shrapnel in the leg. He was taken out of active service, and he goes and has to recuperate. The following day after his injury, the bridge was actually taken down, and 30 of the combat engineers in his battalion were killed."
Phil Rizzuto. Strohl calls it "one of our most fantastic artifacts related to baseball and the military" -- the Navy jumper worn by the Yankees' shortstop when he was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. "It's a nice piece. If you look on the back, it doesn't have his name on it," Strohl said. "Phil gave this to us himself. But it goes to common occurrence for anyone who served in the military or served aboard ship life: What you went to the ship with and what you leave with are probably an entirely different set of things, and you end up with a lot of stuff originally owned by other sailors, including parts of your uniforms."
New York Giants and war bonds. There are a few fascinating facts to glean from this clip. One, the 1942 All-Star Game was originally scheduled for Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, but was moved to the larger Polo Grounds to maximize the funding that was going to happen for relief causes. Two, see the program for the unprecedented 1944 "tri-cornered baseball game." The Giants, Dodgers and Yankees all played the same game, each team going six innings and sitting for three, in rotation. Third, more than $800 million in war bonds was raised in a 1943 War Bond Game, featuring a team of Yankees, Giants and Dodgers All-Stars that beat a Camp Cumberland All-Service Team featuring Hank Greenberg and Enos Slaughter. "That goes to show you how baseball was helping the war effort," Strohl said.
Jackie Robinson. He joined the Army in 1942 and went to officer training school, immediately encountering racism in the service -- and overcoming each hurdle. As a lieutenant, he wound up at Fort Hood in Texas. "Going back and forth within the camp, the Army would provide transportation from the barracks to the mess hall," Strohl explained. "One day he refused to get in the back of the bus, which of course was still standard protocol in the South. Because he didn't do that he was court martialed, and that ended up being adjudicated, and he was acquitted because the War Department had made a policy that there could be no racial discrimination involving transportation or entertainment activities within the Army."
Billy Herman. He played in four World Series, three for the Cubs, but were any of his teams really better than his 1944 Great Lakes Naval Training Center team? They went 48-2, at a time when different training centers would play each other. That team also included Virgil Trucks, who missed two seasons due to service and in 1952 threw a pair of no-hitters.
Cardinals. The 1944 Cardinals beat the old Browns in an all-St. Louis affair, but in reality it was all the clubs could do back then to keep their organizations stocked with able pros in those days. Strohl shows viewers a unique advertisement from '45, placed by the Redbirds, "To show you how desperate some teams were ... in terms of trying to find players to play." The ad called for any free agents who had previous pro experience to contact the Cardinals and "we may be able to place you to your advantage on one of our clubs."
That Cardinals clip also shows how television cameras began to change the game, even in wartime.
"The 1943 World Series was the first one in which they made a World Series film," Strohl added. It was "a highlight film that they sent to servicemen abroad so they could enjoy that at their barracks or camps, to get updated on what was going on with the Series back home."