In 1942, a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, baseball season was approaching and the owners didn’t know how to proceed. They were unsure if there was a place for baseball in wartime America. The owners took their concerns to baseball’s first commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
Kennesaw Landis was famously known as the judge who presided over the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. He was credited with cleaning up baseball when he indicted “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and seven other members of the Chicago White Sox for conspiring to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The players were immediately expelled, which helped release the clutch gambling had taken on the sport.
Landis was a staunch Republican with a particular distaste for Democrats, and namely Franklin Roosevelt. But nonetheless, he wrote a letter to President Roosevelt asking for guidance on whether baseball should continue while the country was at war.
Landis wrote, “The time is approaching when, in ordinary conditions, our teams would be heading for spring training camps. However, inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether professional baseball should continue to operate.”
President Roosevelt responded with the famous “green light” letter in which he stated:
“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” Roosevelt stated that baseball could be a source of relaxation for American workers, whose hard work and well-being would be essential to victory. He continued to explain that, “Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.”
The value of baseball was in its ability to benefit so many while requiring so few resources, said Roosevelt, and combining the number of minor and major league teams he added, “If 300 teams use 5,000 or 6,000 players, these players are a definite recreational asset to at least 20,000,000 of their fellow citizens – and that in my judgment is totally worthwhile.”
It was Roosevelt’s belief that despite the turmoil of war, baseball would offer the nation a much needed distraction and boost morale.
Flash forward to 2017 – we’re a deeply divided nation. A venomous campaign season has left many feeling angry, anxious and at war with each other over political ideologies. Simply put, we’ve got political fatigue. But thankfully, our beloved Dodgers have reported to Spring Training and baseball… the national pastime, is back. A few hours where we can just put our differences and gripes aside and remember what unites us, baseball – Dodgers baseball.
Perhaps it’s time to sit down with that friend or family member you’ve lost touch with due to opposing political views. Put that aside for a bit and just enjoy some good baseball. Because at the end of the day politics will still be there, the world will keep turning. But cherished moments together – those aren’t guaranteed. Maybe it’s time to let baseball give us all a little distraction, unity and build our morale too – if only for a little while.