“From the Dugouts to the Trenches: Baseball During the Great War” by Jim Leeke
Baseball, professional, history, war time
May 1, 2017
4 of 5 stars (very good)
When the United States entered World War I, the country was about to undergo a dramatic transformation. The sport and business of baseball was caught up in these changes as well, and what the game went through is captured in this interesting and well-written book by Jim Leeke.
Using his experience as both a veteran of the Navy and as a sportswriter, Leeke takes the reader onto both the baseball fields and the battlefields as he weaves the stories of the game, the players and the war itself seamlessly. The book begins with the details of each American League team (and some National League ones as well) learning military drill exercises using bats instead of rifles. This was done to show the patriotism of the players and owners and let people know the game supported the military. This portion of the book was very captivating, writing from several viewpoints – those of the players, the drill instructors and American League President Ban Johnson, among others.
From there, the book weaves nicely between war stories about Major League players, the struggles of the game back home in the States with many minor leagues closing the 1918 season early, and what the Major Leagues had to do with the “work or fight” edict that was set down by the government. What the sport did was to end the season early, play the World Series that was won by the Red Sox over the Cubs, and then disbanded the teams to either serve in the military or work in military-related jobs.
Lastly, Leeke writes about the armistice that ended the war and the return of the players from the war and the return of many of the minor leagues that struggled in 1918. Stories about players like Hank Gowdy, and Grover Cleveland Alexander were enjoyable reading, as were the stories about owners who supported the war effort as best as they could. Clark Griffith’s contribution of baseball equipment made for a great story, even if the good intentions fell short as the shipment did not make it to the doughboys overseas.
This is a book that is equal parts baseball, business and military history. Readers who enjoy any of these topics will enjoy reading this book.
I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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