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Books in Review: Play Ball! Doughboys and Baseball During the Great War

JAG gives his take on military book titles. This time he reviews 'Play Ball! Doughboys and Baseball During the Great War.'

Play Ball! Doughboys and Baseball During the Great War, by Alexander F. Barnes, Peter L. Belmonte, and Samuel O. Barnes (ISBN: 978-0764356780, Schiffer Publishing, 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310; 610-593-1777; Hardcover, 256 pages, illustrated throughout, 2019, $26.99)

While parents worried, “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm (after they’ve seen Paree?) when their boys went to France to fight the Kaiser in WWI, the boys retained much of their distinctive American traditions after they stepped on to foreign soil. And one of those traditions was the most popular past time of the day — baseball.

Play Ball! Doughboys and Baseball during the Great War is the first scholarly examination of how the Great War and the Great American Past Time coexisted. A trio of scholars, each of whom brought their unique expertise to the project, show how the two million American soldiers who went to France carried their love of the game with them while another two million in training camps in the United States picked up games where ever they found a few minutes and an open field to play. By 1917, baseball was deeply ingrained in the American psyche, so it was only natural that when soldiers found a few moments free of duties, they scratched out a diamond, picked teams, and played a few innings.

Play Ball! captures the bond between baseball and the men who served in the US military during World War One. The book is divided into nine “innings” (chapters) that tells an engaging story of American involvement in World War One through the filter of baseball. It begins with a basic explanation of how “the game goes on” despite the world crisis by looking at baseball at the training camps. Subsequent innings follow the troops abroad to France, into the front lines, and across the Rhine to occupy Germany. There is a brief discussion about other sports that the doughboys played.

The seventh inning is filled with biographies of professional players, coaches, judges, and umpires who set aside the game to don the olive drab and serve in the military during WWI. The final innings of the book look at the doughboys’ return to the States and how the game carried on after the Armistice.

The book is filled with images from the era as well as photos of extant artifacts related to the game. The book is well-documented with footnotes, bibliography, and a thorough index to aid future research and reference.

Were the parental concerns about what values their boys would bring back from France warranted? Perhaps, but as Play Ball! shows, there was no need to worry about how the War would affect their love of baseball. — JAG

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