In a special Friday the 13th Annandale Campus Lyceum event in the Ernst Center Forum, former NOVA Adjunct Professor David Hubler discussed his book “The Nats and the Grays: How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever.”
“His historical presentation dovetailed nicely with NOVA’s 50th anniversary celebration,” said Annandale Community Outreach Specialist Bob Hull. “It was interesting to learn that the Washington Senators influenced how modern baseball is played.”
Hubler said that he became interested in the topic when he wrote a treatment for a novel about a particular baseball player whose career spanned World War II. When he found a publishing house interested in the topic, they asked that he instead write a nonfiction work.
As he delved into the subject, Hubler uncovered little known facts about the effect the war had on the game and he focused on that. The biggest question once the conflict began was whether professional baseball would be played at all during the war years. The answer to that was formulated when two people intimately involved in the decision met in 1917.
That was when then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt met a one-time major league pitcher named Clark Griffith who became the player-manager and minority owner of the Washington Senators in 1912 before purchasing a controlling interest in the team in 1920.
Griffith successfully petitioned Woodrow Wilson to allow baseball to continue to be played during World War I and he met Roosevelt, a baseball fan, when he donated baseball equipment to the War Department to be sent by the Navy to soldiers fighting in World War I.
The two became close friends and, after becoming president, Roosevelt set a record for throwing out the first pitch at eight straight Senators home opening games. Once the U.S. entered World War II, Hubler says that he is sure that Griffith used his influence to convince the president to allow baseball to continue to be played during the war.
Roosevelt urged baseball owners to play night games to give defense workers some entertainment. Griffith, who resisted playing baseball under the lights when the Cincinnati Reds first tried it in 1938, later accepted the idea when he found he made more money at night.
Griffith’s sole source of income was the team and the stadium that was named for him. He was able to make a profit by renting the stadium to others, including the Homestead Grays of the Negro League and Washington Redskins when they came to town in 1937, and he received a higher rental fee on games played at night because of “additional electricity costs.”
Both the Senators and Grays played extensive night games during the war, Hubler said, and that tradition carried forward after the 1940s and remade the way the game of baseball is played to this day. Continuing another tradition, peanuts and Cracker Jack were served at the Lyceum event.