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

By Steven R. Bullock | Go to book overview

Chapter 4 Finest Team Assembled

Exceptional Militar y Teams

In addition to organizing participatory baseball programs to include as many soldiers and sailors around the world as possible, all of the armed forces attempted to assemble elite squads for reasons of morale, pride, and interbranch rivalry. Many commanding officers of military installations shared the philosophy of Navy rear admiral A. E. Montgomery of the Naval Air Training Center in Corpus Christi, Texas: “representative athletic teams are ... a potent factor in helping maintain the high morale of all hands. The teams belong solely to the Bluejackets and play competitively for their entertainment.” 1 Similarly, other military leaders were seemingly driven, in the words of one author, by the “screwy idea that the excellence of [their] ball team[s] reflected on the excellence” of their commands. Thus, efforts by military authorities to obtain the services of professional stars such as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, and numerous others increased as the war progressed.

Occasionally, the military authorities' efforts to amass baseball talent was extraordinary and borderline unethical. 2 Authorities at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago, for example, regularly contacted professional athletes who were eligible or likely to become eligible for the draft and encouraged them to enlist in the Navy. Great Lakes officials then promised the athletes they would make every effort to have them assigned to the naval installation and accorded special privileges for participating in the Great Lakes athletic programs. One of the athletes contacted, Frank Baumholtz, who played in the

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