By Megan Churchwell, Museum Curator, Puget Sound Navy Museum
When Baseball Went to War is an exhibit at the Puget Sound Navy Museum, which explores the history of Navy baseball from its earliest years through World War II.
Baseball was among the earliest team sports played at the U.S. Naval Academy, getting its start around the 1860s? By the late 1800s, many ships had their own teams and leagues. Quickly, the excellence of a ship’s ball team reflected the excellence of their command.
During World War I, baseball truly became integrated into Navy training. The exhibit even features a World War I-era Navy aviator’s baseball uniform. By the 1930s, Sailors had brought the game to dozens of countries, including Japan, China, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Haiti, Cuba, and Brazil.
America’s involvement in World War II resulted in an unprecedented explosion in Navy baseball, making wartime and baseball forever linked. During World War II, more than 500 major-league players traded their baseball uniforms for military uniforms. The stories of Navy baseball players including Yogi Berra, Bob Feller, and Ted Williams are highlighted in the exhibit.
Baseball was a major morale booster throughout the war years, both on the home front and on the fighting fronts. “Reading about the Yankees or the Dodgers made the deck of a destroyer in the middle of the Pacific seem a little more like home,” said Sailor Richard Nowak. Sailors could pick up a ball, bat, or glove in foreign theaters and feel like they were back in their neighborhood sandlot.
Sailors played baseball whenever and wherever they could. When Americans went to war overseas, so did baseball. Service baseball flourished in both the European and Pacific theaters, as well as Navy bases throughout the United States. Locally, the Puget Sound Navy Yard’s team competed in the War Production League against teams from Boeing, Sand Point Naval Air Station, the Army’s Fort Lawton, and the Coast Guard.
Don’t miss the When Baseball Went to War exhibit at the Puget Sound Navy Museum in Bremerton, Washington. It explores U.S. Navy baseball history from its earliest years through World War II. When Baseball Went to War opened on March 2016 and will remain on view for two years.