Baseball on the Front Lines, 1917

12 Nov

In 1917, a soldier with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Third Battalion, First Brigade, just returned from Europe, wrote a letter to Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune, just as many Canadian troops were about to be supplanted by newly arrived Americans at the front lines.  The soldier said he was writing Rice to tell him “something about bomb throwing” and how the best pitchers of the day would fare in Europe:

“It is not speed that is counted upon, unless it is getting the bomb away, once you pull the pin, and in the second place, it is not a baseball throw that hurls the bomb into the trenches.  It is more of a throw on the style of a cricket player with an overhand delivery that loops the bomb into the enemy trench.  A straight throw, such as an outfielder’s peg or a slap across the diamond, would invariably hit the top of the parapet and do no mortal damage.”

The soldier also wrote about baseball games near the front:

“Let me tell you, Mr. Rice, about baseball in France.  We Canucks surely did have to have a game to try to try to get our minds off the hell that was going on, and it would have done Ban Johnson’s heart good to see two rival teams playing within a mile and a half of the firing line.”

With bombs dropping near their “stone-based diamond,” the game went on as though it were taking place in “some back lot in Toronto,” and the soldier claimed an outfielder briefly chased what he thought was a fly ball that turned out to be “a four-pounder from the Huns that lit and puffed up in the next field.”

The soldier said he wanted Rice to understand that although they were “intermingled in all the most vivid essences of hell, sport is the only relaxation for the nerve-wrecked body.”

wwi.jpg

American soldiers play baseball at the front in gas masks, 1918

He wanted Americans to know that just “because you are in this scrap” that baseball should continue to be played in the states.

The soldier closed by saying he would like to return to the front:

“I would like to get back to it, but that is impossible now, and we who have returned look to see many of your boys take our places, for God knows we have done our bit.

“Sincerely,

“No. 7,128—A Co., 3d Bat., 1st Brigade, Canadian Expeditionary Force.”

 

 

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