Middle Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1900-1948

By Dean A. Sullivan | Go to book overview
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6
Baseball in Wartime and Peacetime

World War II affected baseball deeply. Many players and fans were drafted into service overseas, and others worked in defense plants. Concern for the postwar economy inspired Spokane, Washington businessmen to plan production of many different aluminum products, including baseball bats.

Racial prejudice was still rampant in factories, on the battlefield, and on the ballfield. Tensions exploded in Detroit in 1943, resulting in thirty-four deaths and hundreds of casualties. It took the threat of two separate marches on Washington by black labor leader A. Philip Randolph to force Presidents Roosevelt and Truman (in 1941 and 1948, respectively) to initiate the integration of the armed forces, but baseball owners still could not be persuaded to break their own color line. The return of veterans generated both enthusiasm, as in the case of Hank Greenberg, and bitterness over contractual inequities which led to the formation of yet another players' union. While the long-overdue integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson was clearly the most significant moment in baseball during the 1940s, marking a new era for the sport, the previous era effectively ended with the death of Babe Ruth, in 1948.


87 FDR Gives Green Light to Wartime Baseball (1942)

SOURCE: Washington Post, January 17, 1942

In the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into
World War II, baseball owners in the major and minor leagues were concerned about
Washington's stance regarding the continuance of professional baseball. They remem-
bered the effect that the 1918 “work or fight” order had on baseball. President Franklin D.
Roosevelt responded to a query from Commissioner Landis with a letter, known as the
“green light” letter, written on January 15. The unofficial letter made clear that while

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