Joe DiMaggio also fought in World War Two, but his experience was nothing compared to the other ballplayers who actually saw combat. DiMaggio’s first wife, Dorothy Arnoldine Olson, said she would divorce DiMaggio if he did not enlist with the Army. A friend of DiMaggio caught wind of the situation and promptly told the press that DiMaggio was planning to enlist. The International News Service were already running stories about DiMaggio’s planned enlistment, and for DiMaggio to backed out of the situation, it would look extremely un-American and unpatriotic. In his biography, author Richard Ben Cramer explains that DiMaggio’s wife never really intended for Joe to see any real fighting;

“She was always a planner-and she had this all worked out: Joe wasn’t
going to get hurt, wasn’t going to get near any war. Who was running
the Army? Why, men- American men, of course. And every one a
baseball fan. They’d do anything for DiMaggio! They’d carry him around
like a maharajah! So the first thing he had to do was ask for an Army
posting in L.A.” (Cramer; 207).

DiMaggio was then transferred from L.A. to Hawaii. Since the American Navy was off fighting the Japanese at sea, Hawaii had become a virtual safe haven for sailors and soldiers alike. The probability of another attack on Pearl Harbor or Hawaii itself was extremely unlikely. Therefor, the best place to send enlisted ballplayers was to the islands. DiMaggio, along with other major leaguers that were in the Army, spent the majority of their war days playing baseball against the Navy’s squad or minor league teams that called Hawaii home. DiMaggio hated the war, and hated the fact that he was loosing valuable time from his playing career. Eventually, DiMaggio checked into the Army hospital because of an attack of the ulcers. “Joe was in and out of that hospital like one of those new yo-yo toys. He couldn’t stay out and he couldn’t stay in. And he couldn’t figure out which he hated worse.” (Cramer 213). DiMaggio asked to be sent back to the mainland and put in a California hospital. Once healed, DiMaggio asked convinced Army brass to send him to “the Special Services in Atlantic City, New Jersey. That just happened to be the spring training home of the New York Yankees, who would gather there in a matter of weeks.” (Cramer 214).

Warren Spahn, the pitcher who won more games than any other lefty in major league history, served in the army for three years as a combat engineer. “Spahn saw action during the Battle of the Bulge, was wounded in the foot and survived the collapse of the Remagen Bridge in Germany” and he “returned from the war with three battle stars, a citation for bravery and a Purple Heart. Spahn also earned a battlefield commission as second lieutenant, the only major league player to earn such an honor.” (Mondore).

“The biggest wartime problem for American professional baseball was the loss of players to the armed forces. For opening day of 1944, Sporting News reported that only 40 percent of those who had played in 1941 were still in the starting lineups; all nine of the 194 Yankee starters, for example, had gone off to war.” (Rader; 172). Since baseball lost most of its major league talent, rosters were filled with men that were either too young or too old to be in military service. Some rosters were even filled with players who were handicapped. Peter Gray (real name was Pete Wyshner), an outfielder for the St. Louis Browns, only had one arm. During the war years, Gray accumulated fifty-one hits and racked up a career batting average of .218. Gray was “apparently highly unpopular with teammates who blamed him for the 1945 failure to repeat as league champs.” (Bjarkman; 306). During the war years, baseball had seen a decline in offense . This lack of offense and the loss of some of America’s favorite players to the war began to beg for some type of change in the game.

To be continued.