“The Draft is Worrying the Baseball Players a lot.” 

28 Jun

John Brinsley “J.B.” Sheridan of The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said the war in Europe was on every ballplayer’s mind in the summer of 1917:

“The draft is worrying the baseball players a lot.  They do not want, as a whole, to go into the army. Not that they are afraid.  Not at all.  But every baseball player knows that one month’s absence from the game is very liable to end his playing career.  A baseball player must keep training all the time, never miss a day if he can, or get out of the game.”

Cardinals’ pitcher Bill Doak agreed:

“Ballplayers are all fearful of the draft, not because they are cowards or do not want to serve their country, but because they feel if they miss one week of training or play, catch cold, are stiffened up or even slightly wounded they are done as athletes.

“I may say that ballplayers do not worry about death or wounds.  If they are taken into the army and miss one month of spring practice they are practically done.  What may happen thereafter won’t worry them much.  They will know they are through with baseball when they miss training in March 1918.”

 

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Bill Doak

 

Doak said when he had “salary differences” with the Cardinals in 1917, he was scared to miss any time with the team:

“I know that I was worried sick about missing training.  In fact, I was so much worried that I packed up and joined the team in Texas a few days after I got there, and took the chance of settling my differences with the manager afterwards.  I did not want to miss that spring training.”

Doak cited examples of players he had spoken to about missing time:

Hans Wagner told me this summer that missing the spring training had slowed him up 30 percent…Frank Baker, the great slugger of the New York Yankees, missed training and daily play in 1915…Baker told me that the loss of training and regular daily play in 1915 had done him a great deal of harm and that when he missed training or regular season again he would quit for good.

“That is the way most ballplayers look at it.  They feel that if they miss a training season they are done.”

wagnerwbat

Honus Wagner

Of his own training regimen, Doak said:

“For myself, I may say that I do not smoke or drink or stay up late and am always taking a little exercise, walking gymnasium work, etc…That won’t help any.  If you want to stay in baseball you must be in the game every minute of the season.  You must go out with the team in the spring, first day, and stick with the team until the last ball is pitched, hit and caught.”

Doak noted that given the small window of time for a ballplayer to earn a living as a professional, they were particularly vulnerable to the impact of military service:

“The young player of 25 or 26 is in a quandary under the draft.  He has spent seven or eight years fitting himself for the position he has, after tremendous effort, obtained.  He may reasonably expect three to seven years more of high salary.  Then comes the draft and he sees his profession swept away from him.

“The moment the ballplayer misses the training season or playing season or gets a cold in his arm or is slightly wounded it is all off with him.

“In other words, the ballplayer kisses his business goodbye when he misses March in the training camps.”

But he concluded:

“Of course, ballplayers owe more to the country than most other men.  They are a fortunate class, well paid, pampered, made much of, given many valuable opportunities.  They owe it to their country, to the game and to themselves to set a good example to the youth of the nation, which looks to them with admiration and respect.  The ballplayers will go.”

Doak, who claimed a dependent family exemption, and who was hampered by a bad back throughout his career, was not drafted during World War I.

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