Playing for Their Nation: Baseball and the American Military during World War II

By Steven R. Bullock | Go to book overview

Chapter 3 The Game's the Thing

Organizing Militar y Baseball

Organizing baseball teams and leagues for servicemen became a defining characteristic of military athletics both at home and abroad during World War II. Because many American leaders viewed baseball as an important supplement to the war effort, in almost every location that American soldiers and sailors congregated on a large scale, baseball established a foothold and prospered. The catalysts for this phenomenal growth were individuals who, through ingenuity and creativity, managed to organize players and teams and promote the game, often amid chaotic conditions.

Certainly the most successful of the wartime baseball organizers was former Major League first baseman and Army master sergeant Zeke Bonura, who eventually became known as the “czar of North African baseball.” 1 After a brief stint in the Army before the U.S officially entered World War II, Bonura received his recall notice shortly after Pearl Harbor. Immediately, he seemed resigned to the fact that the escalating conflict had dealt a fatal blow to his successful professional career. He had divided an unspectacular 1941 season between the service and floundering in the minor leagues hoping to catch on with a Major League club. After December 7, however, the former American League star stated that “Uncle Sam needs me more than baseball” and vowed that his return to the highest level of baseball would have to be postponed. 2

At the time of his induction, Bonura's professional prospects were not completely dim despite the fact that he spent the 1941 season toil

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