Hey folks….I apologize for being absent the past few days. I am working feverishly towards the deadline for my new book scheduled for release in February. It is called simply Spring Training in Bradenton and Sarasota! But more on that later. I have decided that I will repost some of my own particular favorites and I hope you enjoy them. Being that we are between our two political conventions as we move towards choosing our next Commander in Chief, I thought this would be an apporpriate place to start. Thanks for your patience…..
From December 7th!
It was 70 years ago today……………………….
In 1918, when the USA was fighting the “war to end all wars” or if you prefer, the Great War, the widely held feeling was that baseball should shut down. It was trivial, it was frivolous. The 1918 season was brought to an end a month early and baseball’s immediate future was in doubt. It was all rendered moot when the war ended two months later.
When America entered World War II, the same question was raised and by none other than baseball’s Commissioner, Judge Keneshaw Mountain Landis. However, by that time baseball had woven its way into the fabric of America. President Roosevelt, recognizing that, wrote to Landis, “if 300 teams use 5000-6000 players, these players are a definite recreational asset to 20,000,000 of their fellow citizens— and that, in my judgement, is very worthwhile.” This did not mean however, that professional baseball, at all levels, did not feel the effects. At the minor league level alone, there were 44 leagues in 1940 and 12 by the end of 1942.
Through enlistment or the draft countless players answered the call, as star and bench jockey alike were willing to bear any burden. Minor leaguers were willing to meet any hardship and for many of them it meant their chance at the major leagues was gone forever. And then there were those, at every level of baseball, who “gave the last full measure of devotion”…..”to assure the survival and success of liberty”.
No less than 30 members of the Boston Red Sox organization served in World War II. “The Teammates” (Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio) are immortalized in bronze on the streets outside Fenway Park.
Each of them served and each of them have become Red Sox legends. However, I dare say, most Red Sox fans have forgotten or never heard of Earl Johnson.
Earl “Lefty” Johnson was a 21-year-old pitcher who showed much promise in 1940, winning six of eight decisions. He alternated between the bullpen and the rotation in 1941 and like so many, was gone for 42, 43, 44 and 45. Returning to the Red Sox in 1946, he went 5-4 and was the winning pitcher in game one of the 1946 World Series throwing two innings of no hit relief in the Red Sox come from behind 10 inning victory at Sportsmans Park in St. Louis.
Drafted into the Army in January of 1942, Johnson served with the 30th Infantry Division. Landing on Normandy Beach, on D-Day plus five in 1944, they spearheaded the St Lo breakthrough. In September of 1944, Johnson was awarded the Bronze Star for keeping vital information from falling into enemy hands. Braving “severe hostile fire” to do so Johnson also received a battlefield promotion to 2nd lieutenant. Three months later fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, he received the Silver Star for bravery and another promotion, to 1st lieutenant.
Johnson pitched seven seasons with the Red Sox going 40-32. His promise as a pitcher was never quite fulfilled as his career was shortened by the four years of service which he gave to his country. He remained working in the Red Sox organization for 44 years and he passed away in 1994.
So today let’s pause; pause and remember. Remember all those who answered the call then, who answered the call before them, who have answered the call since and who answer the call now. And the next time you’re at the grocery store and you see a rickety old man a bit unsteady on his feet; he may be wearing a cap which identifies him as a World War II vet, pause and remember, extend a hand and say thanks!
And so it was on this date in Fenway Park history, December 7, 1941