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Work, Fight, or Play Ball: How Bethlehem Steel Helped Baseball's Stars Avoid World War I (Hardcover)

Work, Fight, or Play Ball: How Bethlehem Steel Helped Baseball's Stars Avoid World War I By William Ecenbarger Cover Image
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In 1918, Bethlehem Steel started the world’s greatest industrial baseball league. Appealing to Major League Baseball players looking to avoid service in the Great War, teams employed “ringers” like Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Shoeless Joe Jackson in what became scornfully known as “safe shelter” leagues. In Work, Fight, or Play Ball, William Ecenbarger fondly recounts this little-known story of how dozens of athletes faced professional conflicts and a difficult choice in light of public perceptions and war propaganda.

Some players used the steel mill and shipyard leagues to avoid wartime military duty, irking Major League owners, who saw their rosters dwindling. Bethlehem Steel President Charles Schwab (no relation to the financier) saw the league as a means to stave off employee and union organizing. Most fans loudly criticized the ballplayers, but nevertheless showed up to watch the action on the diamond.

Ecenbarger traces the 1918 Steel League’s season and compares the fates of the players who defected to industry or continued to play stateside with the travails of the Major Leaguers, such as Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, and Grover Cleveland Alexander, who served during the war.

Work, Fight, or Play Ball reveals the home field advantage brought on by the war, which allowed companies to profit from Major League players.

About the Author

William Ecenbarger, a freelance writer, is the author of Pennsylvania Stories--Well Told (Temple), Walkin’ the Line, Glory by the Wayside: The Old Churches of Hawaii, and Kids for Cash: Two Judges, Thousands of Children, and a $2.6 Million Kickback Scheme. He is the coauthor of Catching Lightning in a Bottle: How Merrill Lynch Revolutionized the Financial World (with Winthrop H. Smith) and Making Ideas Matter : My Life as a Policy Entrepreneur (with Dwight Evans).

Praise For…

“As a military historian and a huge baseball fan, I found William Ecenbarger’s Work, Fight, or Play Ball to be both compelling history and an extremely fun read. Ecenbarger’s work tells the important story of the nexus of sports, war, and big business in delineating how industrial leagues became a safe haven for baseball players who sought to avoid the western front. Work, Fight, or Play Ball also allows readers to sit in the bleachers and watch as ballplayers from Babe Ruth to Shoeless Joe took their at-bats for an important yet under researched portion of baseball’s historical world.”Andrew Wiest, University Distinguished Historian at the Dale Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Southern Mississippi, and author of The Illustrated History of World War I

“What effect did World War I have on Major League Baseball and its players? In Work, Fight, or Play Ball, Bill Ecenbarger provides the answer in glowing detail. This absolutely fascinating and extremely informative book contains masterful research on what players such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Rogers Hornsby did during the war, how the major leagues survived, and the special leagues that formed to compete with them.”Rich Westcott, author of Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate and twenty-six other books

"Patriotism and America’s pastime converge in this exceptionally written history from Ecenbarger, who provides baseball stats alongside a compelling narrative of the U.S. ensnared in the perils of global war. The story of cooperation between professional sports and the U.S. government over a century ago proves prescient to the present day."Booklist

Product Details
ISBN: 9781439925171
ISBN-10: 1439925178
Publisher: Temple University Press
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2024
Pages: 212
Language: English