January 3, 2005


That summer of '41 - US baseball nostalgia before Pearl Harbor (Jeffrey Hart, Dec 16, 1991, National Review)

BY THE summer of 1941 France had fallen, Britain was losing the naval war, and, late in June, the war had taken another dramatic turn with the German invasion of Russia.

But our minds were on other things. That summer's baseball season saw the record-breaking hitting streak of Joe DiMaggio. High on the Hit Parade was a tune the refrain of which referred to "Joltin 'Joe DiMaggio." The kid from a family of San Francisco fishermen boosted the national morale as Europe became incomprehensible.

Up in Boston, an astounding batter named Ted Williams, the "Splendid Splinter" in sportswriters' jargon, was batting over 400-the last time such an average has been maintained over a whole season. He played one more year before heading south for training as a naval pilot, along with a chance companion, Seaman Second-Class George Bush. Among the men already drafted was the great Detroit Tiger slugger Hank Greenberg.

In the summer of '41, however, no one wanted to fight in Europe again. In a wonderful book, Baseball in 41: A Celebration of The Best Baseball Season Ever" in the Year America Went to War, Robert Creamer describes the mood:

There was a strong anti-British attitude among Irish Catholics in America, the majority of whom were the children or grandchildren of immigrants who had fled British oppression in Ireland, and there was a general anti-European feeling among Italians, Poles, Germans, and other ethnic groups who had left Europe because they hadn't liked it there. There was little search for roots, little interest in European forebears. We were Americans now and fiercely proud of it.

I treasure the stylistic understatement of Creamer's "they hadn't liked it there." We liked it here.

What concerned many of us in the spring of '41, however, was not the Germans or the Japanese, but the improbable Brooklyn Dodgers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 3, 2005 5:37 PM
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