Baseball's Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service

By Ames, Drew | America in WWII, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Baseball's Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service


Ames, Drew, America in WWII


Baseball's Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service, by Gary Bedingfield, McFarland and Company, 272 pages. $39.95.

AMERICANS TAKE professional sports very seriously. Only major events or national tragedies interrupt the sports seasons' normal flow. For example, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, prompted Major League Baseball to postpone games immediately afterward. A greater though somewhat less-remembered impact was felt by the minor leagues, as various member leagues cancelled their playoffs that year for the first time since World War II. Gary Bedingfield's Baseball's Dead of World War II is a compact but comprehensive book that revisits the last time a national crisis had a profound impact on professional baseball.

In the early '40s, major-league teams filled their ballparks on a daily basis, and nearly 5,000 minor-league players--in 287 teams spread over 43 leagues--competed to make it to the big leagues. By the end of the war, more than 500 major-leaguers and 4,000 minor-leaguers would serve in the military. These players-turned-warriors' stories were diverse, but they all shared a love of baseball and, very often, an un-ironic patriotism. Many players were just out of high school when they started playing professional baseball, and not much older when they joined the military. A few major-leaguers who were famous before the war are well remembered for their wartime service to this day. But this book's focus is on preserving the memory of the 125 minor-league and two major-league players who died during the war and are all but forgotten today.

The first 25 pages of Bedingfield's book are a well-written introduction to baseball's cultural importance in the late '30s and during the war, and a description of the war's impact on professional baseball. The introduction touches on the baseball careers and military service of prewar baseball stars like Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and Ted Williams, as well as players who would become famous after the war, like Yogi Berra, who as a navy gunner's mate took part in the Normandy Invasion. But true to the book's theme, the intro then focuses on the progression of the war and the resulting wartime deaths of ballplayers.

The first deaths were from stateside car and airplane accidents, but as the war progressed, more players died in combat. …

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