Ted Williams Photograph Showing His Favorite Swing

Ted Williams Photograph Showing His Favorite Swing

From the Ballfields to the Battlefields

1940 - 1952

"As you will, of course, realize the final decision about the baseball season must rest with you and the Baseball club owners... I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going."

President Franklin Roosevelt

to Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, January 15, 1942, in a letter indicating he wanted Major League Baseball to continue despite the start of World War II

From the Ballfields to the Battlefields

1940 - 1952

During the summer of 1941, New York Yankee outfielder Joe DiMaggio held America enthralled for two months while he hit in 56 consecutive games, a mark that would become one of baseball’s most enduring records. The same season, Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams batted .406, the last time any Major Leaguer has surpassed .400. By December 1941, the United States was at war, and the landscape of the game — and the country — changed dramatically. The day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, baseball’s most dominant pitcher, speedballer Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, enlisted in the United States Navy. That was big news, for “Rapid Robert” was at the height of his career, having won more games than any other pitcher over the previous three seasons. “It never dawned on me," Feller would later say, "not to immediately join and fight for my country.”

Soon Joe DiMaggio exchanged his Yankee pinstripes for Army khakis, and the game’s other great hitter, Ted Williams, enlisted in the Navy and became a pilot in the United States Marines. During the war, other star players in both the Major Leagues and Negro Leagues served their country well. In the meantime, for a period of time back on U.S. soil, Major League Baseball was left to aging veterans, the physically infirm, and upstart teenagers such as Joe Nuxhall, who appeared as a 15 year old for the 1944 Cincinnati Reds.

Thanks to President Roosevelt, who felt it was important for the National Game to continue even as the war dominated the world in the 1940s, baseball continued. The St. Louis Cardinals, led by Stan Musial (a superior batsman who served in the United States Navy), Enos Slaughter, and the battery of brothers Walker and Mort Cooper, dominated the National League during the war years, winning three consecutive pennants. In 1944, with the jumbled wartime rosters, even the lowly St. Louis Browns captured their only pennant, although they lost to the crosstown Cardinals in the all–St. Louis World Series. The Yankees, ever dominant, with a seemingly endless stash of star players, won five pennants during the decade and defeated their New York City rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the 1941, 1947, and 1949 World Series. “Wait Till Next Year!” the rabid Brooklyn Dodger fans would exclaim year after year.

During the summer of 1945, with the Allies victorious in Europe, players who had served their country in war began to return to the diamond. Slugging first baseman Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers led the vanguard and hit a home run in his very first game. Soon, the stars were all back, and baseball experienced a boom even greater than that which followed the First World War. Night baseball, which originated in the 1930s, became more frequent and made the game accessible to more fans. Major League attendance, which had dropped to a wartime low of 7.5 million in 1943, soared to 18.5 million in 1946 and passed the 20 million mark two years later.

The late 1940s saw two other changes that would dramatically change not only the game of baseball, but American culture, forever. First, on April 15, 1947, an ex-serviceman named Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues since 1884. By the end of the decade other African-Americans such as outfielder Larry Doby, pitcher Don Newcombe, and catcher Roy Campanella had become stars. Even the ageless legend, Satchel Paige, saw action in the Majors. The inclusion of these and other black players elevated the talent level and was a giant step toward making baseball a true National Pastime for all Americans.

Second, by the end of the 1940s, some fans were following baseball on television in the comfort of their own living rooms. The initial major league telecast took place in 1939, but it did not become a regular vehicle for watching games until after the war. In 1947, the World Series was televised for the first time. Although fewer than 100,000 Americans had sets in 1947, the number would expand exponentially during the next few years, ushering in a new fan base and bringing baseball a lucrative new source of revenue. At first executives feared the new media, believing that delivering the product free would discourage attendance, but the opposite proved true. Seeing the game on “the box” at home whetted the fans’ appetite for live action, and the 1950s — the baby boomer’s decade — proved to be one of the greatest decades in the history of the sport.

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  • 1941

    Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio dominate the American League with their impressive slugging. With a .406 average and 120 RBIs, Williams becomes the last Major Leaguer to hit over .400. However, he loses the AL MVP Award to DiMaggio who led the Yankees to a pennant with a .357 average, 30 homers, 125 RBIs, along with a record 56-game hitting streak. Less than two months later, World War II breaks out.

  • <p>Joe DiMaggio’s bat used during his 56 game hit...
  • <p>Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams photograph</p>
  • <p>Ted Williams photograph showing his famous...
  • <p>September 12, 1941 signed Kansas City Monarchs...
  • <p>October 5, 1941, Bob Feller and Satchel Paige...
  • 1943

    The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is born featuring professional women baseball players for the first time. Cubs owner Philip Wrigley founded the league as an entertaining wartime distraction.

  • <p>1944 Satchel Paige Kansas City Monarchs signed...
  • <p>Bob Feller striking out Joe DiMaggio on...
  • <p>Negro League Yearbook with Jackie Robinson...
  • <p>Over-painted proof sheet of Jackie Robinson...
  • <p>Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese warming up...
  • <p>Ted Williams game-used bat used after he...
  • <p>Monte Irvin photograph from Cuba shortly...
  • <p>Yogi Berra, rookie catcher for the New York...
  • 1947

    On April 15th, Jackie Robinson debuts with the Brooklyn Dodgers and becomes the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues in the 20th century.

  • <p>Celebrating in triumph, Steve Gromek and Larry...
  • <p>Wire photo showing New York Giant Bobby...
  • <p>Willard Mullin original drawing of Bobby...
  • 1948

    October 5th, the Homestead Grays defeat the Birmingham Black Barons in the final Negro League World Series.

  • <p>Mickey Mantle game-used baseball bat from the...
  • <p>New York Yankee Mickey Mantle photograph as a...
  • <p>This is the only autographed game-used bat...
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Why is baseball universally considered our National Pastime? Some say the game, at its apex, often achieves something lofty. However expressed, we all can agree that baseball, with its deep American roots, touches us all.

 

 

When a baseball player uses the main tool of his trade, the baseball bat, he is gripping the most important single weapon in his arsenal. Each is customized to a certain weight, length, and feel. This exhibit features the bats used by some of baseball’s greats during their professional career.