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Frank Graham Jr.
April 17, 1967
During World War II baseball lost 500 players to the service, but the game managed to survive a one-armed outfielder and a Browns' pennant
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April 17, 1967

When Baseball Went To War

During World War II baseball lost 500 players to the service, but the game managed to survive a one-armed outfielder and a Browns' pennant

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Frank Frisch sat in an old leather armchair in the study of his home in Bradford, R.I., nursing his arthritis. Outside, the ground was covered by the untidy snows of late winter.

"Can you imagine trying to get a ball club in shape in this kind of weather?" Frisch said. "This is what spring training was like during the war. Muncie, Indiana ! Oh, brother!"

Frank managed the Pittsburgh Pirates (a trial under any circumstances in those days) during World War II. "Spring training was the worst time," he said. "The uncertainty—the rumors that the owners would shut down. If we started the season, how far could we go? Were there going to be enough ballplayers?"

In Europe, Africa and Asia, American fighting men carried on the most desperate war in our history. Here at home baseball men were engaged in a rather absurd but frantic little struggle to satisfy a vague directive of the President of the United States. And men like Frank Frisch, Ford Frick—and, yes, Sig Jakucki—kept a game alive.

As baseball's 16 major league teams prepared for spring training in 1944, they clung to existence by no very certain tenure. The game's relations with Washington, like Red China's today, were uneasy and unofficial. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, carrying his grudges to the grave, detested Franklin Delano Roosevelt and would have nothing to do with him. Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, and Ford Frick, president of the National League, kept open a clandestine pipeline to the seats of power.

Baseball owners cast many fearful glances toward Washington in those days, half expecting the sort of "Work or Fight" order that had come from the War Department during World War I to curtail the 1918 season. Hoping to dispel the uncertainty, Griffith and Frick extracted from Roosevelt early in 1942 the letter that gave baseball a "green light." Its existence during time of war was justified, Roosevelt wrote, by its healthy effect on civilian morale.

Yet jitteriness abounded. When, early in 1944, Paul V. McNutt of the War Manpower Commission expressed some doubt about baseball's place in the war effort, a reporter rushed to Ed Barrow, the president of the New York Yankees.

"Did you hear that McNutt said baseball isn't essential?" the reporter asked Barrow.

"Whoever said it was?" Barrow asked in reply.

Recalling those days recently, Ford Frick said, "Our problem was the same as that faced by any other nonessential business. We tried to keep our nose clean. We never made a plea to have exceptions made in our case. I paid several visits to General Hershey, Director of the Selective Service System, and he assured me that ballplayers would be treated like anybody else. 'But don't ask for any favors,' he said."

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