Guest columnist William Lambers: Baseball’s summer of war relief


Published: 07-03-2023 1:30 PM

Major League Baseball has produced many classic, inspiring moments over the years, including the World Series. But one of its most noble efforts is not well known.

It was during the Second World War, when Major League Baseball launched a plan to raise donations for the National War Fund. This fund, started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943, supported charities helping war victims overseas.

Two days were set aside in the summer of 1943 with every game played dedicated to war relief. That meant every dollar earned by pro baseball teams on the two designated days would go to the National War Fund.

Remember back then Major League Baseball was not the giant, wealthy industry it is today. Many of the regular players were in military service during the war. In fact, an Associated Press story covering the events suggested that giving entire days of ticket sales away would put some teams in the hole financially. The AP article stated, “Baseball hasn’t protested. It has voluntarily sought ways and means of further increasing its service.”

The War Relief games took place on June 30 and July 28, 1943. One of the games was a unique doubleheader between Cleveland and the New York Yankees. Cleveland won the first game. The second game was a Cleveland-New York combo team playing the Cloudbusters, which featured Navy Pre Flight School Cadet and Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams. Other cadets joining Williams on the Cloudbusters were Buddy Hassett and future Boston Braves star pitcher Johnny Sain.

The Cloudbusters prevailed 11-5, so New York took two losses at Yankee stadium that day. Babe Ruth made an appearance and managed the New York-Cleveland combo team. There were other events like sprints to see who the fastest player was. Charlie Keller of the Yankees won the 60-yard sprint.

But the big winner was the National War Fund, as all the charity games across the country raised close to half a million dollars. That would be a large sum today, but back then it was quite huge.

The National War Fund supported programs for service members and war victims in France, Poland, Greece, Norway, Italy and other nations. With the support of the fund, a school milk program for malnourished Norwegian kids was started. Just a year later, American Relief for Norway was helping war victims burned out of their homes in Finnmark of northern Norway.

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Major League baseball did right to support the National War Fund during those difficult years. And they set a great example for today’s professional sports leagues about service, especially during these troubling times.

For today we are facing the biggest global humanitarian crisis since the WWII era. Wars in Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, D.R. Congo, the Sahel and South Sudan, as well as drought in the Horn of Africa, have left millions starving and displaced. Charities including the World Food Program, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, UNICEF, Mary’s Meals, Edesia and many others need more support. They simply cannot keep up with the size of these humanitarian emergencies, which are rapidly growing.

Initiatives like Baseball’s Summer of War Relief in 1943 would be very important to reprise today. We need generous and creative people to step up to the plate and help others during this time of massive need across the globe.

William Lambers is the author of “The Road to Peace” and partnered with the U.N. World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.” His writings have been published by the NY Times, Newsweek, Cleveland Plain Dealer and many other news outlets.