By Bob Lemke
Organized baseball – from Yankee Stadium to the Class E Twin Ports League, owners, players and clubhouse boys alike – relied on the forbearance of the federal government to stay alive during World War II.
To assure they retained positive public sentiment, there was no group more diligent in their efforts to financially support the U.S. war effort than professional baseball.
There was no end of fund-raising exhibition games and player appearances at bond-sale rallies.
The largest single event in that effort was the All-Star War Bond Game of Aug. 26, 1943, at the Polo Grounds in New York, sponsored by the New York Journal-American newspaper.
When the event was initially proposed it was expected that sales of $100 million worth of war bonds would be realized. When the dust had settled from the last out of the all-star game, it was reported that $800 million in bond sales and pledges had been made. (In today’s dollars, that’s about $11 billion!)
The purchase of war bonds was the price of admission to the event. Unreserved seats could be had for $18.75 (the price of a $25 bond). Nine thousand reserved seats were available to those buying a $1,000 bond. The 50 front row boxes around the stadium were priced at $1 million each. Sales of advertising in the program and around the stadium and sales of the program enhanced the revenue stream.
Maybe I’m ignorant about such fund-raisers, but I don’t see where the reported $800 million in bond sales came from, based on the above figures. However, that’s the total that was widely reported at the time.
The principal feature of the day’s activities was an exhibition game between the War Bond League All-Stars and an assemblage of major and minor leaguers then in military service billed as Camp Cumberland.
The War Bond League team was comprised of players from the New York Yankees, New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. They were nominally selected by the newspaper’s readers and managed by then-Dodgers skipper Leo Durocher, filling in for an ailing Mel Ott.
The Camp Cumberland All-Service team had been pulled together from military bases all over the Eastern U.S. by Lt.-Col. Larry MacPhail, former Dodgers president, who was Assistant to Under-Secretary of War Robert Patterson. The service team was managed by Capt. Hank Gowdy, the only major leaguer to serve in both World Wars. (Camp Cumberland, near Harrisburg, Pa., was part of a military complex that included a top secret, black-ops-type interrogation site for high-value German and Japanese prisoners.)
More than 38,000 attended the game and saw 10 future Hall of Famers in action. Among the current major leaguers who played were Arky Vaughan, Joe Medwick, Joe Gordon, Billy Herman, Paul Waner, Ernie Lombardi, Bill Dickey and Carl Hubbell.
The Army team featured Capt. Hank Greenberg and Enos Slaughter, along with such stars as Billy Hitchcock, Pat Mullin, Elmer Valo, Danny Murtaugh, Birdie Tebbetts, Sid Hudson and 1942 Cardinals World Series pitching hero Lt. Johnny Beazley.
In all, 43 players participated on the field.
The current all-stars defeated the military men 5-2, though the servicemen out-hit the major leaguers 14-9.
While the exhibition game was the main attraction, another baseball feature seemed to capture the attention of the public and the sporting press.
Prior to the ballgame, what the Journal-American called the “Tableau of Yesterday” was presented, featuring seven of the 12 then-living Hall of Famers and several more who would be inducted in future years.
Decked out in their old uniforms (including Eddie Collins in an old-style pillbox hat), the all-time greats took their familiar places around the field to the roar of the crowd.
Walking to the mound was Walter Johnson. His batterymate was Roger Bresnahan. At first base was George Sisler. The keystone sack was manned by George Sisler. At the hot corner was Frankie Frisch. And, of course, Honus Wagner was the shortstop. Left-to-right in the outfield were Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker and Red Murray. Umpire Bill Klem took up his post behind the plate, and Connie Mack assumed the manager’s position.
The cheers from the crowd redoubled as Babe Ruth strode to the plate. Swinging at the Big Train’s pitching, the Bam sprayed hot shots around the infield, fouled one off his foot, then lofted a home run into the right-field stands, just 260 feet away.
Besides the baseball activities, the crowd was entertained by a bevy of Hollywood film stars, radio and recording artists and actress Carole Landis, who logged more miles than any other entertaining troops during the war, and was one of the most popular pin-up girls among G.I.s. Former New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker introduced the entertainers, including James Cagney, Ethel Merman, Milton Berle, Cab Calloway and Fred Waring.
There are a number of souvenirs from the game available to collectors today.
Certainly the most attractive is the 65-page 10-by-12-inch program. Among its features were pages dedicated to each of the Hall of Famers, including a photo, career summary and a box score of their first major league game. In nice condition, the program is a $150-$250 item today.
Less common is the scorecard that included the names of all the players scheduled to play in the exhibition game. It’s about $75-$125 now.
Ticket stubs from the event are popular and surprisingly plentiful in the market today. The smaller unreserved seat stub is worth $50-$100, while the larger, more ornate ticket to the $1,000 reserve seats can bring double that.
While they were not sold at the game, posed press photos of the players from the “Tableau of Yesterday” are plentiful and popular with collectors.
You could spend a couple of hundred dollars for a Type 1 original print, or $10-$20 for a recent reproduction.