Keep Baseball Going
“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.”
“Baseball feels highly honored that Mr. Roosevelt has chosen to regard our game as such a vital asset to popular morale.”
The president’s Green Light Letter was front page news all over the country, with headlines reading “Stay in There and Pitch: FDR” and “President Says U.S. Needs Its Baseball.” Fans, players, and owners applauded the president and breathed a collective sigh of relief. Clark Griffith, president of the Washington Senators, said, “Baseball feels highly honored that Mr. Roosevelt has chosen to regard our game as such a vital asset to popular morale.” And Larry MacPhail of the Brooklyn Dodgers told the Chicago Sun-Times, “President Roosevelt’s letter has clarified the entire baseball picture. The needs of the government are paramount, but I believe baseball can contribute a lot in these times.”
Some still questioned the safety of organizing large sporting events during a period of war and pointed to Roosevelt’s request for more night games as a potential danger. Joseph A. Sasso, a baseball fan from Philadelphia, wrote to the commissioner expressing a concern that the bright lights used during night games, “may tip off enemy bombers of that fact and they could plan their destruction accordingly.” In general, though, fans were excited for the continuation of baseball. Sid Keener, sports editor at the St. Louis Star-Times, wrote an open letter to Landis and the presidents of the American League, National League, and National Association of Minor Leagues on January 30, 1942, asking them to organize a “President Roosevelt Night” at every professional ballpark in the country. Keener believed it would be a fitting way to show baseball’s appreciation, but it would also be a chance for them to raise money for organizations like the Red Cross or Navy Relief Fund.
In the months and years that followed the Green Light Letter, others echoed Keener’s ideas and a few wished to take it a step further. J.G. Taylor Spink, publisher of the Sporting News, printed a letter in 1945 calling for the induction of President Roosevelt into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Spink argued, “…that but for his support, encouragement, and active espousal of the game in Washington, professional baseball would have been shut down as early as the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor…[without] Franklin Roosevelt, you would have had no baseball these past four seasons.”
During those four war-time seasons, 1942 to 1945, many major leaguers joined the armed services. Some, like Hall of Famer Bob Feller saw combat. Others were assigned non-combat duties and were able to play on military baseball teams.
In their absence, rosters became dotted with an unusual collection of players, such as Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder who batted .333 for the Southern Association in 1944, earning MVP honors, and played 77 major league games for the St. Louis Browns in 1945. Many veterans came back to give baseball another go and some younger players, like 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall of the Cincinnati Reds, got a shot at baseball glory at an early age. But the need for players did not push owners towards integration, and black players continued to be shut out of the major leagues. Hall of Famer Satchel Paige spent the war years playing in the Negro Leagues, while white players of considerably less talent signed big league contracts.
An interesting period of history would be missing from the record books had it not been for the president’s letter. The St. Louis Browns, known for being perennial losers, went to the 1944 World Series, their only appearance in franchise history. And although the Chicago Cubs won the 1945 National League Pennant, most Cubs fans today wish that the season had been canceled due to the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. During Game Four of the 1945 World Series, local tavern owner Billy Sianis was forced to leave Wrigley Field because he had brought a goat with him to the game. As he was being ushered out, Sianis is reported to have said, “The Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,” and the curse was born.