Given that it’s almost November and it’s finally World Series time (for the devoted baseball fan, consider Bill Mazeroski’s home run gave the 1960 World Championship to the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 7, played October 13th), here’s a baseball story that came to my attention recently.
Jim Leeke, who spoke at the National World War I Museum and Memorial recently, has written a book entitled, From the Dugouts to the Trenches: Baseball During the Great War. What follows is condensed from his book.
As the United States was preparing for war in 1917, Americans were finding ways to support the troops being sent abroad. The owner of the American League’s Washington Senators, Clark Griffith, hit upon the idea of raising funds to purchase baseball equipment for the use of the soldiers not only overseas, but in the training camps as well. Playing baseball was seen as a way to keep up the morale of the troops, and to give them some relief from the cause at hand.
The idea was an incredible success. Griffith initially wrote to sportswriters around the country, asking for a small contribution. The letter was printed in their newspapers, and the money began to roll in. Sporting goods companies offered to sell equipment at cost, which gave Griffith the opportunity to buy more equipment with the collected funds.
So where does the S.S. Kansan come in?
You may recall that Jim Patton posted an article about the Kansan last November, To refresh your memory, click here: https://www.kansasww1.org/the-s-s-kansan-has-a-close-call/
If you’ve reached the end, you know that on July 10, 1917, the Kansan hit a mine and sank rapidly. As it turned out, Griffith’s first shipment of baseball equipment overseas was on the Kansan. $1,200 in equipment was lost. Leeke writes that a Washington sportswriter wrote with tongue planted firmly in cheek that “Doubtless, the shipment comes as a godsend to the Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.”
Griffith continued to raise money for what was called the Bat and Ball Fund, and with the help of the owners, the fans and others in baseball, was able to send equipment to replace the lost baseball cargo of the Kansan.