In August of 1918 Harry “Moose” McCormick returned to the United States from the front lines in France—he served in the 42nd Infantry, The Rainbow Division, and according to The Washington Herald “has been in the front line trenches for nearly six months.”
The former outfielder-pinch hitter, who played his final big league game with the New York Giants in 1913, was at the Polo Grounds to watch the Giants sweep a doubleheader from the Boston Braves, and he came to deliver a message; one that had come repeatedly from the general public, but not yet from someone within baseball.
McCormick told reporters that while baseball was hugely popular among the troops in Europe, the major leagues were not. The Washington Times said, under the headline:
Soldiers ‘Over There’ Sore on Baseball Players
“It may surprise the professional ball players of the United States to know that the American soldiers now fighting in France do not hold them in high esteem; that they do not scramble for news of how the big league races are going, and that they do not care whether (Ty) Cobb, and (Tris) Speaker, and (Frank) Baker are hitting .300 or 3,000.
“The fact that the ball players aren’t hitting in the big, big game across the water is the reason for this feeling.”
The Washington Times said McCormick, then a Lieutenant, “who had just returned from the shell-swept front,” and was in the states “under orders, the nature of which is secret.”
There were various reports as to why McCormick had returned.
The New York Globe said he had come home with “Wound Chevrons on his arm,” having received the badge after being “Mussed up considerably by a German shell.” The New York Tribune said he had been “Invalided home” suffering from “Shell shock.” The New York World said he returned with “A hacking cough caused by gas.”
McCormick told reporters:
“The feeling among the boys over there seems generally to be that the ball players haven’t acted on the level. The soldiers feel that there has been too much evasion, too much hanging back, too much side stepping by the ball players when other men, just as good, have given up paying places and gone into the big game. That seems to them the ONLY thing for real men just now.
“The boys are generally incensed over the statements they read to the effect that ball players have sought work in munitions plants and shipyards, where they can keep playing ball. They regard that as ducking, as a sort of dodging of the issue.”
McCormick said, so complete was the disgust with baseball that “Stars and Stripes, the soldiers’ paper, has stopped printing the big league scores and standings. That, it seems to me, ought to make baseball men, both players and owners, wake up.”
He said the men at the front were still “interested in baseball,” and “like to play ball,” but were having trouble getting enough baseballs:
US Soldiers play in France
“Governor (John) Tener sent me two every week, and they were worth their weight in gold. The soldiers get plenty of chance to play it themselves. They don’t take any interest in men playing it here anymore.”
McCormick, who would be promoted to the rank of captain by the war’s end, concluded that the consensus at the front was that America’s game had failed the country:
“The talk of the soldiers is that the ball players should have volunteered in a body and made up one big organization and gone into the country’s service to fight right at the start. That would have been a great thing to do.”