American Baseball in the Korean War

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American Baseball: Serving in Korea, but Larger than the War

The Korean War, ranging from 1950-1953, marked the end to a major era in the sporting world as it was the last time professional athletes were expected to fight in war, regardless of their status as celebrities. Because of the time frame of the Korean War, famous athletes such as Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle, some of the greatest to ever play the game of baseball, were expected to be willing and able to fight. Each one of these men had different stories and attitudes when they were called on to serve, but one common denominator of all the men is that their legacies as soldiers were soon forgotten, whether positive or negative, in favor of their legacies as baseball players. This fact showed the change in social dynamics of the American public, as they now did not see these baseball players as regular Americans whose profession was baseball, but as celebrity baseball players who were larger than normal American life. Through this, these players were able to overshadow the Korean War through the controversies surrounding their participation in the war and their return to baseball being larger than their legacy as soldiers. The fact that these men were able to overshadow the Korean War through simply playing baseball shows that while the Korean War was a huge deal, American baseball was even bigger.

Many men were affected by being called to service, but the man who was possibly the most affected was the left fielder for the Boston Red Sox, Ted Williams. Williams, the best hitter in the history of baseball, was wildly popular at the time. Williams had won two of the last four Most Valuable Player awards in the MLB and was fresh of his 1949 MVP campaign (Montville p. 148). He also was placed in high regards after serving as a pilot in the Marines during World War II. However, once Williams returned from World War II, he was placed on inactive reserves. Williams and the public had largely forgotten about his status as an inactive reserve until the advent of the Korean War in 1950 had caught the Marines unprepared and in need of pilots (Montville p. 152). Many baseball fans were beginning to grumble about the possibility of the best player in the game being called for service. Then, it happened, Ted Williams was called to report for active duty on January 9, 1952 (Montville p. 152). Williams’ agent, Fred Corcoran, issued an initial statement that he claimed came from Williams: “I’m no different from the next fellow. If Uncle Sam wants me, I’m ready” (Montville p. 152). However, it was highly unlikely that Williams said anything of that nature, as he was livid. Williams believed that his war ended in 1945, and this was not his to fight (Williams p. 202).

Williams resented what he called “gutless politicians” and believed that he was being used by the military because of his fame in order to boost public support of the war (Williams p. 153). An inadvertent slip to a reporter one time at a New Orleans airport showed Williams' true feelings: “I wouldn’t have resented it if they recalled everyone in the same category as myself, but they didn’t. They picked on me because I was a ballplayer and widely known… I had already served three years. My career was short enough without having it interrupted twice” (Williams p. 154). While there were a few minor negative reactions to Williams' comment, the public largely overlooked Williams' comments and treated Williams' recall with impending doom (Williams p. 155). While Williams strongly disagreed with his call for duty, he was willing to go and report for service. Many were saddened to hear that Williams passed his physical and was to leave Boston and his career behind. Bostonians were saddened as Williams was the key player on their team, and baseball fans were saddened in general as they realized that Ted Williams was 33 years old and probably would not play again until he was 35, a...
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