Playing Baseball for the Cause
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval forces of the Empire of Japan…”
-President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Our nation entered a costly World War and the American people demonstrated their great patriotism and resolve to finance our country’s entry. Not the least was our own National Pastime!
It was on June 12, 1944 that Roosevelt opened the “Fifth War loan drive.” Via an unusual exhibition game of baseball, fans contributed $56.5 million. This triple-header was billed as the “Tri-Cornered Baseball game Fifth War Loan.”
It pitted New York City’s three major league teams against each other. The War Festival was held on June 26, 1944 at the Polo Grounds. It was an idea conceived by the New York sportswriters and billed as a triple-header. But in reality, it was actually a ’round robin.’ It was a nine-inning game with each team playing six. This would be baseball’s first and only three-sided game. New York Times writer Arthur Daley said: “All in all, it was a wonderful affair-crazy but wonderful.”
That day, fans were not just entertained by just a baseball game but several innovated contests. Many dignitaries and former baseball greats were in attendance. Between the game and contests, radio and movie comedian Milton Berle boisterously ushered in a series of musical numbers. Berle eventually handed over the master of ceremonies responsibilities to New York’s former mayor James J. Walker. Walker then introduced several baseball old-timers from New York such as: Zack Wheat, Nap Rucker, and Otto Miller from the Dodgers. Then Roger Bresnahan, George “Hooks” Wiltse, and Moos McCormick from the Giants, this was rounded out with Wall Schang, Herb Pennock, and U.S. lieutenant commander Bill Dickey. Other baseball luminaries on the team’s roster were HOFers Paul Waner, Leo Durocher, Joe ‘Ducky’ Medwick, Mel Ott, Ernie Lombardi, Joe McCarthy and Jocko Conlan, the umpire. Al Schacht, the Crown Prince of baseball entertained the crowd of 50,000 fans.
There were several contests pitting players from each team. The Dodgers not only won the ball game, they won the fungo and throwing competitions. Brooklyn had the first and third best hitters in the fungo contest. Rookie pitcher Calvin Coolidge McLish won it with a 416′, 5″ drive, Harry Feldman of the Giants was second when his best attempt traveled 412′, and Dodgers’ Rube Melton also reached 400′. The Yankees failed to have anyone in the top three.
Next came a throwing for accuracy event for catchers. The contestants crouched behind the plate, then got up and tried to throw a ball into a barrel located at second. Bobby Bragan of the Dodgers was the only one to get close.
George Stirnwiss of the Yankees bested Gregory Ruker of the Giants in a sprinting contest.
Below is a breakdown of the game:
Dodgers: 1 2 X 0 0 X 0 2 X 5
Yankees 0 X 0 0 X 0 0 X 1 1
Giants X 0 0 X 0 0 X 0 0 0
The Dodgers batted at the top of the first and scored the first run with singles by Goody Rosen, Augie Golan, and Dixie Walker off Al Lyons of the Yankees. In the second Brooklyn scored twice, using a walk, a double and a single off of the Giant’s Johnny Allen.
It seemed that while the Dodges were scoring runs, their counterparts were still trying to determine how the game was played.
The rosters of the teams were made up of “has beens” and “never weres.” For example the Dodgers had 41 years old, Paul Waner in right field. Paul’s eyesight was so bad; he relied on the sound of the ball hitting the bat in guiding him to make a catch.
The admission to the game was by the purchase of series E, F, and G war bonds. To get one of the 40,000 general admission unreserved seats cost $25; 5,809 reserved seats in the lower stands went for $1000; and box seats for both the lower and upper sections went for $1,000. Bleacher seats were free to servicemen.
The game lasted three hours and four minutes. The Brooklyn Dodgers won 5-1-0 with Mel Ott’s Giants scratching out only two hits.
“…One sure way every man, woman, and child can keep faith with those who have given, and are giving their lives, is to provided the money which is needed to win the final victory.”