Should Sports be Stopped During the War?

How baseball was almost canceled thanks to a world at war.

Lead Image: 66th Inf team in foreground with the 71st Div. band in background at baseball game between 5th Inf and 66Inf at Tiger Field, Sand Hill area, Fort Benning, Ga. 168-L-44-16567.' Army Signal Corps photograph Photographer: Griggs. 14 October 1944”

From the Collection of the National World War II Museum.  Gift of Linda W. Graves.  ACCESSION NUMBER: 2011.065.1783

Background: In 1940, baseball was the most popular game in the country. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, triggered a serious discussion as to whether or not the MLB season should be canceled. This question was the main topic of discussion at the annual winter baseball meetings held in Chicago on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. On January 14, 1942, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Landis wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking his advice about the correct course of action. President Roosevelt was passionate about baseball and enjoyed throwing out the first pitch on opening day whenever he could. In February 1941, the New York Times identified the President as the “Nation’s No. 1 Fan.” 

How do you think the average American responded to this March 1942 poll concerning playing professional sports during the war?

Do you think that professional sports should be continued during the war or should they be stopped until after the war?

___ Continued
___ Stopped
___ No Opinion

Army Air Force Sergeant Joe DiMaggio and Navy Chief Specialist Harold Pee Wee Reese autograph baseballs for commanding officers before their respective teams play for the Central Pacific Area Service Championship on July 7, 1944. Courtesy of the National Archives 208-PU-45947.

The Results:

Source: Gallup Poll, Mar, 1942

Source: Gallup Poll, March 1942, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University.

What happened?

Play ball!

On January 15, 1942, Roosevelt responded to Commissioner Landis with what has become known as the famous “Green Light Letter.” The President wrote, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” He did make it clear that this was his opinion and not an official point of view. Baseball was played throughout the war and made contributions to the war effort. Servicemen were supplied with bats and balls to play baseball wherever they were, the product of what was commonly known as the Ball and Bat Fund. MLB also raised money for the Army and Navy Relief Societies. Most of the funds raised were from ticket sales from stadiums across the country. The President requested more night games so day shift workers had an opportunity to enjoy a baseball game when they were off. Baseball critics were initially concerned that players would try to be classified as 4-F and avoid military duty to keep playing, but baseball doctors were not allowed to classify men as 4-F. Only military doctors had that power. Over 500 major leaguers served in the military during World War II, including future Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Hank Greenberg, Bob Feller, and Joe DiMaggio, not to mention the thousands of minor leaguers. Roosevelt continued to support baseball throughout the war, stating “I consider baseball a very good thing for the population during the war.”


WWII Polls

Public opinion polls give us unique insight into America in the WWII era. Each week, historians from the Institute of War and Democracy work with the archives of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research to explore what Americans believed and how they felt about events and people related to the WWII years.

Read more polls!

Dan Olmsted

Dan Olmsted served as a Research Historian in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. He started at the Museum in 2014 and, unt...
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