Play ball! America’s Doughboys and the National Pastime in the Great War

Time Period
1925 to Today
Media Type
Military History
Sports & Leisure
Alexander F. Barnes

On August 29, 2019, Alexander F. Barnes delivered the Banner Lecture, “Play ball! America's Doughboys and the National Pastime in the Great War.” In 1917, there were two kinds of men in America: professional baseball players, and men who wanted to be professional ball players. With America’s entry into the Great War, these two groups merged as the United States built a mighty force to fight in Europe.

"Play Ball!" recounts the story of how baseball played an important role in entertaining the troops while contributing to their physical fitness. It also tells the story of the many major and minor league ballplayers who traded their team uniforms for Army khaki and Navy blue. For some, this trade would cause them to make the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. Playing wherever they could find enough room to throw a ball, the Doughboys brought the game with them into the front lines and then into the occupation of Germany. Sharing their military service, in combat and on the baseball diamond, were several famous professional ball players, managers, lawyers, politicians, and even an umpire.

Alexander F. Barnes served in the Marine Corps and Army National Guard. He retired in 2015 after thirty years of service. He is currently the Virginia National Guard Command historian. Al is the author and coauthor of several books, including Let's Go!: The History of the 29th Infantry Division 1917–2001; To Hell with the Kaiser, Vol. I: America Prepares for War, 1916–1918 (2 volumes); Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America's Immigrant Doughboys (with Peter L. Belmonte); and Play Ball!: Doughboys and Baseball during the Great War (with Peter L. Belmonte).

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

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