Independence Day has been recognized as a somber and celebratory event since the letter of grievances (addressed to England’s King), punctuated by a Declaration of Independence, was distributed and disseminated throughout the new nation.
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
July 4th celebrations have many traditions including national patriotic displays, the decorating of public buildings, streets and homes, parades and firework displays in every community. Another public celebration that has been part of the national fabric is the “national pastime”- baseball. Games have been played in sandlots, playgrounds, and minor and major league parks since the game’s inception in the early nineteenth century. It has been played on ice fields, desert sands, jungles and volcanic islands within earshot of small arms and artillery fire. As with Independence Day celebrations, nothing has stopped the game from moving onward.
Baseball has been a vehicle for social progression and for social change. Despite its dark history of systemic oppression (the intentional omission of an entire people), the game has also been a vehicle for righting wrongs as conscious people, such as Morrie Arnovich (see: Morrie Arnovich: Breaking Ground for Branch Rickey’s Bold Move) and Branch Rickey, took moral stands. Aside from social causes, the game has been in the forefront of national health issues, becoming a voice in the fight against polio and other diseases and physical ailments. Beginning in the 1950s, the game’s leadership changed the direction of National Baseball Day (typically held on June 26th), which was formerly used to promote baseball to America’s youth at the end of World War II.
“The National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, the official name of the minor leagues’ organization, will join the majors and amateur baseball organizations in the drive against polio, arthritis and birth defects on National Baseball Day, July 4. George Trautman, president of the National Association, has urged all teams to aid in making the day a success.” NY Daily News, 21 June 1959
The game has been a vehicle for raising funds for many causes. During World War II, countless exhibition games were staged domestically and in the Hawaiian Islands to raise funds to provide GIs with athletic equipment and to finance the Army and Navy Relief Societies. Until a recent discovery and acquisition of a piece of Australian ephemera, the extent of the reach of charitable baseball games was unknown to us.
Baseball’s history in Australia is perhaps the deepest beyond the shores of the North American continent, with the first recorded game being played on February 28, 1857, dating the game down under to only a few decades short of its establishment within the United States. The exchange of baseball between the United States and Australia has been occurring since then with subsequent tours by teams from both nations since the latter decades of the 19th Century and the early 20th (see Australian Baseball: A Brief History by Major League Baseball historian, John Thorn).
Without any hesitation (or pre-purchase due diligence, for that matter), we purchased a program that was listed in an online auction. The photos in the listing showed a two-color baseball program from Victoria, Australia for a game played between a local baseball club and a U.S. Navy team under the auspices of an “International Base Ball Match.” A quick check of the printed rosters inside showed names of Navy players who were, by all accounts, solely servicemen with no professional baseball experience. This decision to purchase was purely for the Naval historical aspect and due to the beautiful cover artwork.
The event was hosted at the St. Kilda Cricket Ground (also known as the Junction Oval) on April 8 but nowhere in the program was a year specified. Ahead of the main event, there were women’s softball-centric field games (fungo batting, base running and long throw), a women’s softball game (local Australian teams), baseball field games and the baseball game itself. The program also included a simplified explanation of baseball rules (for the local newcomers to the game) and a statement of the event’s purpose (raising money for Prince Henry’s Hospital Sportsmen’s Ward Fund for the expansion of a Melbourne hospital.)
With the program in hand, we endeavored to uncover any further details about the game (such as the outcome). A cursory internet search returned an immediate result from the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum (Cooperstown, New York). Listed among the Hall of Fame’s World War II artifacts is a poster from the April 8 event with hand-inscribed notes providing the year (1945) and the baseball game’s score (the Navy defeated Victoria, 3-0).
The information from the Cooperstown artifact provided additional details for a more specific search. A recap of the game, published in Melbourne’s The Age, revealed that the game was even closer than the three-run shutout indicated. The Navy’s starting pitcher, Pat Patterson (shown on the program’s lineup page as the Navy’s centerfielder) held Victoria scoreless but he was touched for seven hits scattered throughout the seven-inning contest. The bat of Navy’s Joe Coyne accounted for all three of the game’s runs while Jim Robey, Henry Marshott and Patterson all reached base and contributed to the victor’s offensive output. Remarkably, spectator turnout for “International Baseball Day” accounted for 12,000 clicks of the St’ Kildare’s Cricket Ground gate, contributing 200 pounds to the Prince Henry Hospital Sportsmen’s Ward Fund.
US Navy Team (reserves in italics)
|G. Tippett||P||North Melbourne|
|R. Howard||C||South Melbourne|
|C. Ingram||CF||St. Kilda|
|E. Lynott||OF||St. Kilda|
Searching dates prior to April, 1945 revealed no preceding International Baseball Day recognition, nor are there references following the Navy versus Victoria event, leading to the conclusion that this was an unrelated, single instance with no correlation to the aforementioned National Baseball Day.
In the years after World War II, Baseball Day was moved ahead to coincide with Independence Day since games were already traditionally played on July fourth. Even during the War, service teams participated in larger Independence Day baseball events (see: Independence Day Baseball Program, 1943 Schofield Barracks). Teams began to promote patriotic events, such as capping off an evening game with a fireworks show, which tended to draw larger audiences. The increased draw made the Independence Day games a perfect opportunity for fund-raising opportunities.
On this Independence Day anniversary, July 4, 2020, our nation is facing an internal (social) struggle and a health scare that threatens to all but overshadow our most sacred of national holidays. Amid many historical national crises such as a bloody civil war and two global world wars, the anniversary of Independence Day has been recognized with proper ceremony and celebration due to its national importance. However, in 2020, the panic and fear surrounding the current viral outbreak has stirred politicians to reprioritize the national holiday to a mere afterthought. Across the United States, traditional festivities and ceremonies have been cancelled or “postponed.” Major League Baseball announced on June 30, the full cancellation of the 2020 minor league baseball season, leaving the future state of the minors very much in question.
Through this simple, 75-year-old program from a time when the future of the world and mankind was very much in question, we can see that baseball provides a solid reminder that life will go on and that baseball always finds a way to continue.
For More on Wartime Baseball Down Under, See: