The Home Front Role of Sports

Hialeah Race Track postcard. Flamingos were imported from Cuba in 1934

The movies and newsreels of WWII provided information and diversion for many at the home
front, but none could provide the escape and release of stress for the civilian as much as sports.

South Florida maintained a carnival atmosphere with the Hialeah Race Track and West Flagler Kennel Club, which took in $100,000 nightly – just to prove my point. And, somehow, travel restrictions did not deter the action at Miami’s Tropical Park. Horse racing went on, despite the war, in every country. All in all, racing boomed as the 68th running of the Kentucky Derby went off with 100,000 in the crowd. Unfortunately, this was the same day that 68 men had been taken by the Japanese at Bataan; they were all members of D Company, 192d Tank Battalion, out of Kentucky.

Sam Snead & Ted Williams

The war did not stop the golfers either as the tournaments and professional tours continued. Sam Snead, fresh back from the Navy, played in the 1944 tourney; he came in second to Byron Nelson. (gpcox met Snead at the ‘Sail Inn’ in Delray Beach, FL when he would drop in for lunch after a game with friends.)

In boxing, Joe Louis started the idea of holding a sports event for the war effort. He announced in 1942 that his profits from the bout against Buddy Blair would go to the Naval Relief fund.  The gate was $200,000 and Louis finished off his opponent in 2 minutes and 56 seconds. Louis was drafted three days later.

Not to be outdone, a profitable pro-football contest was held between the National League AllStars and the Chicago Bears and these profits also went to the Naval Relief Fund. The National Football League was forced to reduce to a 42 game season in 1943 due to all the draftees, but
Coach George Halas brought home two championship titles for the Bears, 1940 & 1942; while Curly Lambeau’s Green Bay Packers won it in 1944.
As during most of WWII, 1943 in New Zealand had no Rugby International matches played, but the West Coast did retain the Northern Union Cup. England and Australia were unable to hold their tennis championships, such as Wimbledon, for the extent of the war.

Rose Bowl at Duke Stadium, 1942

In 1942, the Rose Bowl was moved to Duke Stadium in North Carolina to avoid having large crowds converge anywhere on the west coast. Dallas, Texas had 38,000 for the Cotton Bowl that year and 35,505 amassed in Miami for the Orange Bowl: Georgia Bulldogs 46 – Horned Frogs 40. The annual Army-Navy game brought 66,000 to Baltimore’s Municipal Stadium in 1944, when Coach “Doc” Blanchard led the Army, not only to victory, but a perfect season.

For the story of “The Game Must Go On” click here.
Professional baseball was as hot as ever when 37,815 fans watched the American League Browns, in Sportsman Park, beat the New York Yankees for the pennant 1 October 1944. This made the World Series an all-St. Louis affair against the Cardinals. Truman was there watching as the Cardinals won their fifth world crown. The Yankees won it in 1943 against the Cardinals.
As most people are aware, the baseball racial barrier was not broken until 1947 when Jackie Robinson walked out on the field, so during WWII there were two Negro leagues. (As they were called back in the day.) Out of Hometown, Pennsylvania, “Josh” Gibson and Walter Johnson dominated the games. In the Washington Griffith Stadium, he had the long-ball hitter record of 563 feet, (Babe Ruth’s record was 550’) and a .541 batting average in 1943.

And, we cannot close this section of baseball without mentioning the AAGPBL – the AllAmerican Professional Baseball League, also known as the “lipstick league.” They were the “Girls of Summer” depicted in the newspapers as “Queens of Swat” and “Belles of the Ball Game.” They referred to each other by nicknames like: ‘Jeep,’ ‘Flash,’ ‘Pepper’ and ‘Moe.” The league premiered in 1943 and would last for 12 years. There were 545 female athletes that made up the ten teams and their popularity would eventually draw a million fans. These women have been honored by the movie, “A League of Their Own” in 1992 and finally received tribute in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame in 1988.

Young adults (the word “teenager” was not really used back then), used sporting events as a gathering spot for camaraderie among friends and also to help fill the void of adult male influence that was prevalent in so many homes. In the “Corn Belt,” basketball ranked as the number one sport, but there was also tennis, golf, a tumbling club, fencing and even Ping-Pong clubs. High school games were even broadcast on the radio. The girls would join a Booster Club to be their school’s cheering squad and wearing their boyfriend’s sports jacket was a major status symbol.

Willie Mays playing stick ball

Not all sports were organized. Boys played stick ball in the city streets and in the suburbs, a basketball hoop attached to a garage door attracted neighbors. Church picnics and block parties always included a multitude of games and sports to occupy the younger set. Communities were kept closely knit that way, like Kerry Corner, the Irish working-class neighborhood not far from Harvard yard. They organized their own baseball and basketball games. John “Lefty” Caulfield formed a baseball scholarship program before he enlisted in the Navy because it had done so much for him. Those that returned from the war became part of the ROMEO Club, (Retired Old Men Eating Out), to maintain those childhood friendships.

Harry James, better known as a big band leader for the ‘Swing Era’ was also a one-time Detroit Tigers prospect. He organized his own band into a team, complete with uniforms. Louise Tobin, singer with many of the big bands, said, “The boys were hired first because they could play baseball; second for their instruments.” Fellow musicians said you had to have a .300 average to get an audition with Harry. The band’s manager added, “They carried more equipment for baseball than music… Another bus on the road would probably be a band and we’d stop and play a game.” Mr. James gave his all for baseball as captain, pitcher and the heaviest hitter.
For the home front, living during a world war was an experience no one of today’s generation has experienced.
I’m certain I have missed at least a million or so stories out there that are related to the sports of the 1940’s – so let’s hear some!

CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

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Military Humor – Stars & Stripes style – 

“TODAY IT REALLY IS”

“… and don’t try any of that funny stuff, Slim….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

James C. Broughton – Barbersville, KY; US Army, WWII, Sgt. Major (Ret.), Bronze Star

Robert Campbell – Richmond, VA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, B-17 navigator

Joseph DeMaria – Albany, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Distinguished Flying Cross

Warren Gale – No. Sydney,NS, CAN; Canadian Army, WWII

Albert Haimes – Boston, MA; OSS, WWII, ETO

Michael Mandzak – Pittsburgh, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, pilot, Lt. Col. (Ret. 26 y.)

Charles Queen – Brooklyn, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, P-47 pilot, Col. (Ret.)

Frank Rees – Newfoundland, CAN; RC Air Force, WWII, 409th Squadron “Night Hawks”, navigator

Joseph A. Richards (100) – Sellersburg, IN; US Army, WWII, CBI, MSgt., 691st Engineers

Louise Ullman – Miami, FL; Civilian, US Navy employee

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on July 16, 2020, in Home Front, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 127 Comments.

  1. Hi gp, always enjoy your posts particularly ones that highlight some of the celebrities who also gave time to serve their country, whether it be actors or sports people, their participation really bought the war into the living rooms of those at home, two that I particularly like was Dan Blocker, Hoss, from Bonanza, and the all American great Elvis, there were many others that served their country.
    Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tuan Jaya Sport

    Nice post

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I looked at quite a few images too. None compared to what was in my imagination. We don’t need an illustration though. *If* I’m able to use it, it would be different from what you dreamed anyway. Probably more like a miniature horse, just to make sense for having it on a riverboat.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is excellent that they had so many sports to keep the mind busy from thinking about things that could lead to sadness or depression. ♥️ ❤️ ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Summer is a great time for this post, GP. I love the vintage flamingo postcard too. Hugs on the (pink) wing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Teagan.
      I think the Delta is getting in my blood. Last night I had a dream about a clockwork horse! He was beautiful though!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow! GP, it’s music to my ears that you think about any of my stories offline. That sounds like a beautiful image. Hmmm… the “thump, thump, thud” actually was part of the original novel… but you may have just changed what it turned out to be coming from. I haven’t done the rewrite for the reveal of that yet. Maybe there’s a “reason” why I got your reply here before I worked on that. Not sure. I’ve reached the point where I need to integrate the new stuff I’ve written into the existing manuscript. So, I need to stop and re-read what I wrote in 2016. Thanks for sharing about the dream. Hugs on the wing.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for the nod to the “Girls of Summer”, GP. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The most interesting sports stories from my parents involved ‘Dutch’ Reagan, who was a sports announcer for WHO in Des Moines in the 1930s. Of course, that was Ronald Reagan, who went on to entertain WWII troops in other ways after his move to Hollywood. Sports certainly has changed since WWII — and so have athletes. I’ll spare you my thoughts about the way pro sports is dealing with a certain virus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The way sports “professionals” deal with a lot of things lately is poor to disgraceful, but that’s another rant. For one thing, there’s no such thing as “for the love of the game” any more!!

      Liked by 2 people

    • During Reagan’s tenure as an announcer for WHO radio in Des Moines, his job consisted of recreating the Cubs games based on telegraph from Chicago’s Wrigley Field as if it was a live broadcast. Reagan’s only clue to the progress of the game was the coded input coming over the wire.

      One day, the wire went off-line during a game. Reagan didn’t dare stop the broadcast, so he made stuff up and kept going with the only thing that might not be contradicted by the newspaper the next day: foul balls. Foul balls all over the ballpark, punctuated with a fight, conferences at the mound, a tornado, all fiction.

      After what seemed like an eternity, Reagan finally saw a new message on the wire: “Batter popped up on first pitch.” “Dutch” had a lot of catching up to do. He later said this spur-of-the-moment mixing of fact and fiction was “great preparation for politics.”

      Liked by 2 people

  8. That cartoon! I still remember when I found out what SOS was! My dad used to make it on the weekends. We’d have buttered toast and pour the warm meaty gravy over. I had NO IDEA what the initials stood for. Dad just said that’s what they ate in the army and I thought it was pretty yummy. I have to say, I don’t eat that any more. 🤦‍♀️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sports gave the war-weary public some relief.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I absolutely loved this post, GP! Sports were huge for people during the war. It kept the troops going and gave the folks back home something positive to enjoy. I think baseball was the most important.

    I discovered baseball on the radio when we spent more time outside by the pool. Honestly, it is a sport that is as good on the radio as on TV. I understand what a thrill that was for people during the war.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Here from Herb’s award blog.
    Just wanted to say hello. I’m not really a history buff, but thanks to your site, I now know how to fold the flag. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t expect these posts to all be of interest to everyone. But I do try to have something for most. There are readers who just read the Military Humor for example. I appreciate your visit, Sam.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wonderful overview of the world of sports during WWII, GP. Nice to hear some of those old great names again, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Your photo of Hialeah Race Track brings back joyful memories of the late 1980’s and early 90’s which were the last days of the track when horse racing attendance began a precipitous decline. I raced horses there with my parents under the name Three G Stable. We also raced at Calder Race Course where the Tropical Meet was part of the season. This has nothing to do with WW II sports, but it is submitted as a footnote to the eventual fate of Hialeah. It had it’s glory days in the thirties, forties and fifties.

    Your blog about the sports front during the Second World War is very informative. Very interesting too. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for your visit, David. And also for helping to contribute to the post. I try to keep the posts at a decent size, so I don’t always have the room or time to put in all the history. I enjoy hearing the personal stories the articles bring to the readers’ minds as well.
      Stay safe and I hope you’ll return for future posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m always amazed (and somewhat mystified) at how powerful and important Sport (entertainment) has been throughout our history – and particularly needful during the War. I’m not saying that’s bad though – just interesting. I’ve played a ton of Hockey, Football, Baseball myself and been a huge fan also. It’s very meaningful to a great many people.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I found the information about the Big Band ball teams particularly interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. What a bright person to draft Joe Louis just after he’d made $200,000 for the war effort! Having said that, if Joe Louis hadn’t been drafted, my Dad would never have had the pleasure of watching him in an exhibition boxing match during WW2.

    Liked by 2 people

    • haha, I was surprised they did draft him. You would think he would have been used to amass more money for the cause. But I’m glad your father got to see him.

      Like

  17. Sports have been a popular way to forget your troubles for a little while for ages. They are missed in the world today but hopefully will return soon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know I’m looking forward to 23 July – despite the NY Yankees being the opening game. (I’m a Red Sox fan – my better-half is the NYY fan).

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been a Cleveland Indians fan since childhood. My grandfather, Dad, and all the uncles used to listen to the games while playing cards on the weekends. In more recent years, I’ve enjoyed going to their Spring Training games where you get to meet the players up close and personal.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. This is some good stuff. In all the war info I have accumulated I know so little about the home front. Tis sports thing is fascinating.

    I came by because you were recommended by Herb, but I will be back on my own

    Stay well and laugh when you can

    Liked by 2 people

  19. This is so interesting and cool, GP!
    I’m sure the on-going of sports was so good for those at home AND so good for the soldiers, too!
    Sports have always been a big part of my families lives…so we find joy and fun when we can watch or play. 🙂 I remember us sending my brother sports-from-home-updates in letters while he was in the Army and in Vietnam.
    Ha! on the funnies! The Slim one made me snort-laugh!!! 😀
    It is always an honor to me to read the names in the Farewell Salutes aloud. And every time, after I read the last name, I say, “Thank you!”.
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  20. so interesting – especially to imagine the musicians that could also play baseball – how cool is that!

    “The boys were hired first because they could play baseball; second for their instruments.”
    I can only imagine how tired they were

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Thanks for the sport history lessons during the war. I must admit, I’m not into sports although I’m outnumbered in my house. However, I love the movie “A league of their own”. I have seen the movie a few times with Matt. We have several books about sports that Matt used to read but I never read them. Someday, I might.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. I agree with Annie, sports help many people unwind in times of trouble. The virus has changed the game for all of us though.

    Michael’s tree is doing well, much taller than me now! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh sure, the virus has changed far too many lives, and we sure could use more sports back – even stick ball, to get out exercise, but since we can’t – watching will be great again, in the future.
      Thank you for the Michael’s tree update – always welcome!

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Hello,good and attractive post

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Love the baseball stories, especially in this summer of no baseball. So far.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Lt. Dale Wilson’s B-25 flew to Oahu in July 1942, on their way to Australia and to combat in New Guinea. While the extra gas tank was removed, etc., the flight crew visited Honolulu and saw an Army and Navy baseball game.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. I enjoyed this one, GP. The Harry James story was terrific. Joe Lewis was a Detroit man with a lot of heart. For us kids, he was a hometown hero even after his fighting days were over.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Great post, GP. Did you know that after WWII and through at least the 1950s (not sure how long it lasted but it was gone by the mid-70s.) the Armed Services had semi-pro football teams? When my father was a JO (junior officer) he was assigned to a ship but his ‘real job’ for the Navy was playing football at Little Creek Amphib base in Norfolk, VA. I think I recall him mentioning that the ship’s CO was not happy with how often playing football took priority.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. I wish sports would return to those roots, an escape from the world rather than more of the same. Sigh.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. Oh yes, sports is best for distraction too. I am always wondering about soccer is not as important in the States, like in Europe. Could this depend on Europe’s history fullfilled of orders and less freedom? 😉 Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Thanks for the history I did not know about…. my parents spoke little about life other than the rationing. Still have several of the books.

    Liked by 3 people

  31. Sports keep people’s minds off the worries during times of war. Music and entertainment were also important factors.

    Liked by 3 people

  32. “A League of Their Own” is one of my favorite movies. I love sports: love to participate and love to watch them. But my favorite is baseball and softball. (I’m partial as my oldest daughter is a softball pitcher— a lefty. And my son plays middle infield and switch hits. They both train daily, even through this crazy ‘lockdown’. We basically live, eat and breathe it.)
    What would we do without sports?!?! To say I love this post is an understatement. One of my favorite books was written by Dennis Lehane “The Given Day” It opens with a baseball game. He writes about Babe Ruth and the Negro leagues (as they were called). It is incredible story telling and really takes you to that place and time period.
    Great post! (As always) Thanks, GP!

    Liked by 3 people

  33. We had boxing on my ship, but we called it “Smokers”
    Sadly, it’s hard to imagine the US pulling together like back then.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Nice post, over here it was mainly football (soccer to you I think) but not by the usual professional teams as most fit blokes, footballers included, went to war. Factories and offices made up their own teams though and played against each other, and even ladies had teams.

    Liked by 3 people

  35. Loved Hialeah race track as a child and adult too.Just plain beautiful. Oh, and those rows of royal palms…

    Liked by 3 people

  36. It does seem that sport is vital in times of trouble. The lack during recent lockdown(s) caused much grief here.

    Liked by 3 people

  37. Boxing aboard Navy ships was evidently a long time event. Doris “Dorie” Miller, the Navy messman and laundryman who took up a machine gun on the USS Virginia at Pearl Harbor was the heavyweight champ aboard his ship. Shipboard boxing matches date back much further than WWI and WWII, I understand.

    Liked by 3 people

  38. I’m sure my dad followed sports as best he could. He played football in high school and semi-pro ball after the war. He didn’t talk much about what went on during the war, but he did talk about baseball games they played in the Philippines. It’s interesting to read about the many ways the people at home kept a full lifestyle going in spite of all the requirements and restrictions. Thanks for another great post, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. It was all interesting but the Harry James bit was fascinating.

    Liked by 2 people

  40. I can well imagine that the war weary public needed a beak from the constant news of the war, Kudos to Joe Louis for stepping up and raising funds.

    Liked by 3 people

  41. My Dad played for the official Army cricket and football teams when he was stationed in India during the war. A circket ball knocked out two of his front teeth during a match against an RAF team, and that was his only wartime injury!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 4 people

  42. A great uncle of mine was due to play cricket for Lancashire but went to war instead.

    Liked by 2 people

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