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

By Steven R. Bullock | Go to book overview

Chapter 6 What Might Have Been

The Impact of World War II on the Careers of Major Leaguers

In December 1941, the outbreak of World War II wrought drastic changes in nearly all sectors of American society as the nation mobilized toward global conflict. This was particularly true in the realm of Major League Baseball, where over 90 percent of all players active in 1941 eventually served. The majority of Major Leaguers in the American military lost between one and four years of their baseball careers, an interruption that often proved devastating for their abilities to perform on the diamond. Although a small number of players endured debilitating injuries or illnesses, the primary impact of the war on players was simply the abbreviation and curtailment of their careers. For most occupations, a hiatus of a few years is relatively insignificant. However, the brevity of the period during which the typical professional ball player's skills are at their physical and mental peak magnifies any career interruption. Inevitably, the years the war era's players missed because of the conflict have led to unending speculation about what “might have been” on the diamond if historical fate had not intervened.

Although a comprehensive anecdotal and statistical account of war- era players' performances after they returned home would be quite lengthy, a review of some of the most dominant offensive players' numbers is illustrative. Although it is impossible to precisely project career statistics for players who spent substantial time in the armed forces, one can reach general conclusions by analyzing trends in players' performances before the outbreak of World War II. Joe DiMaggio and

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