This month, gpcox shares the role sports played during World War II in entertaining those left at home. Sports was a diversion from the everyday reports of how the war was progressing in the various fronts around the world.
The Role of Sports: WWII
By: gpcox http://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com
The movies and newsreels of WWII provided information and diversion for many at the home front, but none could provide the escape and release of stress for the civilian as much as sports.
South Florida maintained a carnival atmosphere with the Hialeah Race Track and West Flagler Kennel Club, which took in $100,000 nightly – just to prove my point. And, somehow, travel restrictions did not deter the action at Miami’s Tropical Park. Horse racing went on, despite the war, in every country. All in all, racing boomed as the 68th running of the Kentucky Derby went off with 100,000 in the crowd. Unfortunately, this was the same day that 68 men had been taken by the Japanese at Bataan; they were all members of D Company, 192d Tank Battalion, out of Kentucky.
The war did not stop the golfers either as the tournaments and professional tours continued. Sam Snead, fresh back from the Navy, played in the 1944 tourney; he came in second to Byron Nelson. (gpcox met Snead at the ‘Sail Inn’ in Delray Beach, FL when he would drop in for lunch after a game with friends.)
In boxing, Joe Louis started the idea of holding a sports event for the war effort. He announced in 1942 that his profits from the bout against Buddy Blair would go to the Naval Relief fund. The gate was $200,000 and Louis finished off his opponent in 2 minutes and 56 seconds. Louis was drafted three days later.
Not to be outdone, a profitable pro-football contest was held between the National League All-Stars and the
Chicago Bears and these profits also went to the Naval Relief Fund. The National Football League was forced to reduce to a 42 game season in 1943 due to all the draftees, but Coach George Halas brought home two championship titles for the Bears, 1940 & 1942; while Curly Lambeau’s Green Bay Packers won it in 1944.
As during most of WWII, 1943 in New Zealand had no Rugby International matches played, but the West Coast did retain the Northern Union Cup. England and Australia were unable to hold their tennis championships, such as Wimbledon, for the extent of the war.
In 1942, the Rose Bowl was moved to Duke Stadium in North Carolina to avoid having large crowds converge anywhere on the west coast. Dallas, Texas had 38,000 for the Cotton Bowl that year and 35,505 amassed in Miami for the Orange Bowl: Georgia Bulldogs 46 – Horned Frogs 40. The annual Army-Navy game brought 66,000 to Baltimore’s Municipal Stadium in 1944, when Coach “Doc” Blanchard led the Army, not only to victory, but a perfect season.
Professional baseball was as hot as ever when 37,815 fans watched the American League Browns, in Sportsman Park, beat the New York Yankees for the pennant 1 October 1944. This made the World Series an all-St. Louis affair against the Cardinals. Truman was there watching as the Cardinals won their fifth world crown. The Yankees won it in 1943 against the Cardinals.
As most people are aware, the baseball racial barrier was not broken until 1947 when Jackie Robinson walked out on the field, so during WWII there were two Negro leagues. (As they were called back in the day.) Out of Hometown, Pennsylvania, “Josh” Gibson and Walter Johnson dominated the games. In the Washington Griffith Stadium, he had the long-ball hitter record of 563 feet, (Babe Ruth’s record was 550’) and a .541 batting average in 1943.
And, we cannot close this section of baseball without mentioning the AAGPBL – the All-American Professional Baseball League, also known as the “lipstick league.” They were the “Girls of Summer” depicted in the newspapers as “Queens of Swat” and “Belles of the Ball Game.” They referred to each other by nicknames like: ‘Jeep,’ ‘Flash,’ ‘Pepper’ and ‘Moe.” The league premiered in 1943 and
would last for 12 years. There were 545 female athletes that made up the ten teams and their popularity would eventually draw a million fans. These women have been honored by the movie, “A League of Their Own” in 1992 and finally received tribute in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame in 1988.
Young adults (the word “teenager” was not really used back then), used sporting events as a gathering spot for camaraderie among friends and also to help fill the void of adult male influence that was prevalent in so many homes. In the “Corn Belt,” basketball ranked as the number one sport, but there was also tennis, golf, a tumbling club, fencing and even Ping-Pong clubs. High school games were even broadcasted on the radio. The girls would join a Booster Club to be their school’s cheering squad and wearing their boyfriend’s sports jacket was a major status symbol.
Not all sports were organized. Boys played stick ball in the city streets and in the suburbs, a basketball hoop attached to a garage door attracted neighbors. Church picnics and block parties always included a multitude of games and sports to occupy the younger set. Communities were kept closely knit that way, like Kerry Corner, the Irish working-class neighborhood not far from Harvard yard. They organized their own baseball and basketball games. John “Lefty” Caulfield formed a baseball scholarship program before he enlisted in the Navy because it had done so much for him. Those that returned from the war became part of the ROMEO Club, (Retired Old Men Eating Out), to maintain those childhood friendships.
Harry James, better known as a big band leader for the ‘Swing Era’ was also a one-time Detroit Tigers prospect. He organized his own band into a team, complete with uniforms. Louise Tobin, singer with many of the big bands, said, “The boys were hired first because they could play baseball; second for their instruments.” Fellow musicians said you had to have a .300 average to get an audition with Harry. The band’s manager added, “They carried more equipment for baseball than music… Another bus on the road would probably be a band and we’d stop and play a game.” Mr. James gave his all for baseball as captain, pitcher and the heaviest hitter.
For the home front, living during a world war was an experience no one of today’s generation has experienced. Judy and I have attempted to portray both the hardships they lived through and some of the activities that helped them to endure and be molded into the “Greatest Generation.” I’m certain I have missed at least a million or so stories out there that are related to the sports of the 40’s, so let’s hear some!!
A great big thank you to gpcox for the research needed to put together this post. I hope you enjoyed it and we’ll have another contribution next month.
During the rest of the week, we’ll be posting letters from January, 1940, when Lad is in Venezuela and the otther children are still at home.
Next Saturday, another Tribute to Arla and on Sunday, the next installment of Mary E. Wilson’s Autobiography when she actually arrives at Ellis Island.Why don’t you share this link with a friend or two who may enjoy reliving the 40’s or learning about them for the first time. It was a different world.