GI World Series of 1945 featured diverse heroes of the diamond
The ballpark, however, was anything but conventional.
This game was played at Stadion der Hitlerjugend, the Hitler Youth Stadium in Nuremberg. Here, Adolph Hitler had delivered his incendiary antisemitic speeches at the Nazi rallies.
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Now, four months after Germany's surrender and Hitler's death, American troops had painted over the swastikas, laid out a baseball diamond and transformed the Fuhrer's platform for bigotry into a showcase of democratic ideals.
Baseball had swept through Europe that summer with the advance of American troops and the defeat of the Axis powers. Each military branch and its different divisions had their own teams. All told, more than 200,000 American servicemen played baseball across the continent, which culminated in the European Theater of Operations championship, better known as the GI World Series.
The St. Louis Browns signed him midway through the 1947 season. He became the first African American to hit a home run in the American League – a pinch-hit, inside-the-parker off Hal Newhouser – but the Browns released him after a month. He played two more seasons with the Monarchs and several for the Santurce Cangrejeros (Crabbers) in the Puerto Rican Winter League, winning its Triple Crown twice. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
There's a story – unconfirmed – that Jackie Robinson tried to convince Day to play with him in Montreal, where they would integrate organized baseball together in 1946, but Day opted instead to return to his old team in Newark. He pitched a no-hitter on Opening Day and helped his team win the Negro League World Series. Despite arm trouble, he pitched several more seasons in the Caribbean and the minor leagues before having to retire. On March 8, 1995 – six days before his death from complications of diabetes and heart trouble – Day took a call in his hospital bed informing him that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame.
"I'm so happy, I don't know what to do," he said. "I never thought it would come."
Each one of these men had their moments of glory elsewhere, but it was united as teammates during the '45 GI World Series – and in particular their combined heroics in Game 5 – that two African Americans and the Jewish manager/pitcher/first basemen staged an upset not only of their opponents on the field but of the Nuremberg stadium's legacy in an extraordinary exhibition of equality.
John Rosengren is a freelance writer from Minneapolis