NEWPORT, RI— The Naval War College will host a baseball game on Friday, September 29th at historic Cardines Field in downtown Newport. The program is designed as a fun event with educational programming to mark the centennial of American involvement in World War I, and is being organized in close collaboration with Naval History and Heritage Command, the Congressional World War Centenary Commission, and the City of Newport. The Army-Navy baseball game will be played in period-accurate uniforms, and is a precursor to the opening of a new World War I exhibit at the Naval War College Museum this December. The gates to Cardines Field will open at 4:30 p.m. and all are welcome to attend this free event.
As the United States mobilized for the First World War, baseball loomed large in the American effort on the domestic front and abroad. Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, issued orders for Navy warships to establish baseball teams to play Army teams on the western front to rally Anglo-American collaboration in Europe. "Admiral Sims was a very creative strategic thinker," observed Dr. David Kohnen, Director of the John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research and the Naval War College Museum. "When American forces arrived in Ireland, the Irish disliked the Americans for supporting the British." Kohnen also noted that "many British also viewed the American forces with skepticism ... because many of the ‘bluejackets’ [sailors] and 'doughboys' [soldiers] of the American army and navy were also of Irish and German ancestry." In the British newspapers of the era, "American troops were sometimes portrayed as an invading force."
For this reason, Sims used the Anglo-American Baseball League to demonstrate the uniquely American "national pass time" of baseball. "Not only did baseball provide a diversion from the horrors of war," Kohnen observed, "but baseball also demonstrated a unique American identity ... through baseball, Sims attempted to show that our troops and sailors were no longer German, or Irish, or anything other than American.”
The novelty of American baseball was very popular in Britain and on the French and Mediterranean fronts. Lacking equipment, the Americans frequently resorted to using British-made cricket balls and French-made baseball bats. The cricket balls often shattered the more fragile French-made baseball bats.
Notably, King George V took great interest in American baseball. He referred to the game as being symbolic of the reconstitution of transatlantic relations. Sims explained in the memoir, Victory at Sea, that George V and the British royal family regularly attended baseball matches “with all the understanding and enthusiasm of an American ‘fan.’”
Given British enthusiasm for American baseball, Sims unleashed his Navy baseball team of major league “ringers” during the Anglo-American Baseball League series against Army in the spring of 1918. Navy dominated the series -- earning gold watches inscribed to mark their victory and a signed baseball from King George V. The signed baseball, later given to President Woodrow Wilson, will be on display at the Naval War College Museum when the First World War exhibition opens on 7 December 2017, marking the centenary of the arrival of U.S. Navy battleships in European waters.
You can find out what’s new at the Naval War College Museum on Facebook and by following their blog – Soundings in Narragansett Bay’s Naval History. One of nine official Department of the Navy Museums, the Naval War College Museum collects, preserves, and exhibits artifacts and documents dating from the 1500s to the present day to interpret the naval history of Narragansett Bay, the Naval War College, and the history of naval strategy. For more information, visit usnwc.edu/NWC-museum or call 401-841-7276.