We All Play Ball

Baseball: America's Home Run

As the forty-hour work week became standard, urban laborers joined company baseball teams. By 1927 there were hundreds of these baseball clubs in the United States, making it the most popular form of outdoor industrial recreation. Usually described as a morale-boosting activity, team sports were also intended to blunt labor unrest and head off potential strikes.

Display case containing memorabilia in the wood-paneled Postmasters Suite gallery
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U.S. Army soldiers play baseball in France during World War I, circa 1918
Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
YMCA postcard with an illustration of Servicemen playing baseball
YMCA postcard from World War I, circa 1918

America's armed forces were the first workers to embrace baseball as recreation on a large scale. During and after the U.S. Civil War, they redefined the game from a gentleman's club sport to a working-class pastime. Military play during the Spanish–American War (1898) brought baseball to some newly won territories for the first time and cemented its popularity in others. During the two World Wars, hundreds of major league players served in the U.S. armed forces. More recently, baseball has been used by the military to build understanding between U.S. forces and local populations in war zones.

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Lajoie model bat used by U.S. Troops in France, 1917
Loan from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

The YMCA shipped nearly 250,000 Napoleon Lajoie professional model bats to France for the recreational use of U.S. soldiers in World War I. Lajoie, a second baseman, had a batting average on par with Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb but is little remembered today.

 
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"Forgotten Convoy" bat, 1943
Loan from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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"Forgotten Convoy" baseball, 1943
Loan from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
 

After delivering food and supplies to Murmansk, Russia in 1943, several American merchant ships were stranded by a German blockade. Their crews turned a bat on the ship's lathe and fashioned a baseball from a Navy boot.

 
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Trophy cup won by the American Field Service Secunderabad Softball League, 1941–1945
Loan from Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs

The American Field Service operated ambulances for British forces in the Burma and India theaters during World War II. The volunteer drivers played softball in their spare time.

Military and diplomatic mail services maintain ties between overseas personnel and their home communities. Particularly during the four years of American involvement in World War II, each mail call during baseball season brought longed-for news of how the home team was faring. Servicemen also wrote long letters home describing games played in deserts, on aircraft carriers, and other exotic locales.

 
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V-Mail from Yeoman R.L. Wyckoff to Seaman A.L. Brennan, April 16, 1945
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Dayton, Ohio Journal Herald V-Mail letter sheet, March 25, 1943
 
 
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Bangkok, Thailand postal card, December 17, 1896
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Back of postal card
 
 refer to caption Postal baseball team game-worn jersey

Baseball teams composed of postal clerks and letter carriers first appeared in large cities around the turn of the twentieth century. Teams formed by postal inspectors, attorneys, and other managerial and executive staff developed later. Some teams preferred to play softball because it was friendlier to intergenerational workplaces and less prone to cause injury.